Sep 26, 2016

Cannonball Final Stage

More than 3,300 miles and 16 days after it began in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the 2016 Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run ended today in Carlsbad, California.

Between the Atlantic and the Pacific, this Cannonball truly lived up to its name: The Race of the Century. It tested 90 riders on motorcycles made more than a century ago with heat and humidity, rain and fog, thunder and lightning, parched deserts and flooded highways. It went through 14 states and four time zones; from a low point 234 feet below sea level to 10,856 feet above. And in the end, it provided a bit of history, with the first documented crossing of the United States by a motor vehicle more than 100 years old.

Actually, it wasn’t just one motorcycle that can now claim that status. A total of 20 machines and their riders covered every bit of the 3,306-mile mostly back-roads route laid out by course master John Classen. And of those, 16 earned the maximum 3,306 points—one for every mile covered within the designated time limit.

Jason Sims, director of operations for the Cannonball, summed up the accomplishments of those riders—and of all the competitors—in three words at tonight’s awards banquet:

“We did it,” he said.

This year’s Cannonball was a true test of endurance. The difficult course and the extremes of weather meant that the percentage of riders tied with maximum points was the lowest of the four Cannonball rides so far. But as they have every time so far, Cannonball riders proved that they could conquer America on bikes of the distant past.

The day’s stage covered 101 miles from Palm Desert, California, to Carlsbad, starting with a challenging 20-mile run on state Route 74 up Seven Level Hill, a steep, winding road made famous in the 1963 film, “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.”

From there, the riders traversed open countryside where they were exposed to strong Santa Ana winds, before descending into Temecula for a lunchtime stop at a local Harley-Davidson dealership.

It was a short 35 miles from there to Carlsbad. But after 2½ weeks of the Cannonball, no ride is easy. Our sweep truck followed Stu Surr, a British rider aboard a 1916 Triumph, and his final miles perfectly symbolized this Cannonball run.

Stu’s Triumph was clearly struggling every inch of the way. On a level section of road, it was capable of about 25 mph, and on the uphills, that speed quickly dropped to 15 or less, with Stu resorting to paddling the bike like a skateboard to maintain momentum. Every time he stopped, the bike was enveloped in a cloud of smoke. But at no point did Stu think about giving up. He rode it all the way to the finish line, where a crowd of hundreds waited to congratulate him and every other Cannonball rider, whether they completed 3,306 miles or 300.

That spirit of celebrating the achievements of all Cannonball riders carried over into tonight’s banquet, where Jason called the roll of every competitor by name, and master of ceremonies Paul d’Orleans recognized those who have participated in one, two, three or all four Cannonball rides.

Of course, the main business of the evening was handing out trophies to the winning riders in every class of competition. But before getting to that, Paul and Jason presented awards to riders who truly represent the spirit of this event, founded in 2010 by Lonnie Isam Jr.

The Cannonballs Award went to Brent Hansen, who entered the event on a 1913 Shaw, a clip-on motor in a bicycle frame. Brent never figured that he could make all of the miles, but he set a goal of riding the Shaw more than 1,000 miles over the course of 15 riding days. And in the end, he came close, recording 970 miles and accumulating more than 100 miles on four days.

Brent indicated that he was inspired by his fellow Cannonball riders, who embraced his quest and cheered him on.

“Every time they would pass,” he said, “they’d wave or give me a thumbs-up, and that kept me going.”

Paul also presented a special award to Victor Boocock, who is, in many respects, the godfather of the Cannonball. In 2010, when Lonnie Isam Jr. announced the first coast-to-coast Cannonball ride for motorcycles made before 1916, Victor decided to test the concept by riding a 1914 Harley twin across the country by himself. His successful trip served as an inspiration to everyone who entered that first Cannonball. And although Victor himself missed out on the official ride that year, he has been an entrant in every one since. This year, he and the same ’14 Harley (“It’s the only bike I own,” he says), successfully completed every mile of the Cannonball, earning him fourth place in the overall standings.

“For me,” Victor said afterward, “it’s not about the motorcycle. It’s about the scenery, and the people, and the geography.

“This year,” he added, “I spread the ashes of my father along the route. He loved seeing the country as much as I do.”

Also honored was Alex Trepanier, a 23-year-old who entered as a solo rider and mechanic on a 1912 Indian single. Alex fought through problems and somehow kept his machine going well enough to finish with 3,202 miles covered.

And Jon Szalay was recognized for his determination to keep going aboard a 1913 Thor twin despite a seemingly endless series of problems, eventually covering 2,225 miles. Jon’s unwillingness to give up showed in today’s ride, when his bike caught fire just a few miles from the start. He was able to put the fire out, load the bike into his van, make a few repairs, drive it to the staging area for the finish and then ride it for the final miles.

The main awards of the evening recognized the winners in each of the three classes of competition: Class I, for single-cylinder, single-speed motorcycles; Class II, for single-cylinder, multi-speed motorcycles and multi-cylinder, single-speed motorcycles; and Class III, for multi-cylinder, multi-speed motorcycles.

The Class III championship went to Steve DeCosa, but only after he demonstrated his determination to win in the final miles today, when the brake stay failed on his 1915 Harley twin. Steve simply resorted to using his boot as a brake when necessary, wearing down his sole to nothing by the time he reached the finish.

The Class I championship was accompanied by another honor—the Lonnie Isam Jr. Spirit of the Cannonball Award. And both went to Dean Bordigioni, who racked up 3,306 miles with his underpowered, belt-drive 1914 Harley single, but lost a single point when his machine was towed the final half-mile up Wolf Creek Pass in Colorado.

Dean described how he was inspired by the man who founded the Cannonball.

“I never would have considered doing anything like this if it wasn’t for Lonnie,” he said.

The final award of the night was for the Class II winner, who also claimed the overall Cannonball Championship based on the tiebreakers established within the event’s rules. That trophy—a bronze statue created by artist Jeff Decker, went to Frank Westfall, whose 1912 Henderson was the oldest motorcycle to complete every mile of the 2016 Cannonball.

Frank has pursued a cross-country trophy for years, twice competing in The Great Race, a coast-to-coast event primarily for cars that he nearly won on a Henderson motorcycle. He is one of only three competitors to have entered every Motorcycle Cannonball (the other two are Doug Feinsod and Shinya Kimura). And this year, all the work he and bike builder Mark Hill put into the Cannonball was rewarded with the overall victory.

Frank said he was inspired by Carl Stearns Clancy, who became the first person to circumnavigate the globe aboard a motorcycle over 10 months from October 1912 to August 1913. Clancy’s mount was a 1912 Henderson four, just like the rare example Frank rode this year.

As for why he has pursued this cross-country title, Frank had a ready answer:

“I’m going to be 64 next month,” he said, “and as we age, what do we look forward to. For me, it’s the next ride and the next bike to ride. No matter how old you are, you just have to go for it.”

That philosophy of going for it certainly applies to all 16 riders who scored the maximum 3,306 points in this year’s Cannonball: Frank Westfall (1912 Henderson), Byrne Bramwell (1913 Henderson), Jeff Tiernan (1913 Henderson), Victor Boocock (1914 Harley-Davidson), Verne Acres (1914 Henderson), Steve DeCosa (1915 Harley-Davidson), Ben Brown (1915 Harley-Davidson), Erik Bahl (1915 Harley-Davidson), Anthony Rutledge (1915 Harley-Davidson), Doc Hopkins (1916 Harley with wicker sidecar and passenger Dawn Hamilton), Jon Neuman (1916 Harley-Davidson), Kevin Naser (1916 Indian), Dave Minerva (1916 Harley-Davidson), Scott Byrd (1916 Indian), Steve Rinker (1916 Indian) and Jared Rinker (1916 Indian).

Nearly as impressive were the four riders who completed all the miles, but didn’t score maximum points because they incurred penalties. They are: Dean Bordigioni (1914 Harley-Davidson single), Tanner Whitton (1913 Henderson), Eric Trapp (1916 Harley-Davidson) and Kevin Waters (1915 Sunbeam).

Special recognition goes to Doc Hopkins and Dawn Hamilton, who became the first couple to complete all the miles in a Cannonball riding together on a sidecar rig, and to Kevin Waters, who became the first rider to complete all the miles on a British bike in 2014, and repeated that feat this year, both times aboard Sunbeam motorcycles.

Of course, this year’s Cannonball included dozens of other achievements—some public and others entirely private. And all of them are true to the vision of the Cannonball’s founder, Lonnie Isam Jr., who was with the ride for the first few days this year before returning home to deal with heath issues. And an emotional Jason Sims called upon the spirit Lonnie brought to the event as the assembled riders rose in a standing ovation to the father of the Cannonball.—Bill Wood

Here are the final results for the 2016 Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run:

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