Sep 20, 2014

Cannonball 9/19: Still a Few Surprises

Cannonball map

Lewiston, ID—3,553 miles down; 385 to go.

That’s where things stand tonight as the Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run stops in Lewiston, Idaho, on the verge of its final turn west, toward the finish line in Tacoma, Washington, where a cross-country champion will be crowned Sunday night.

But with just one full day of riding tomorrow, plus a shorter, ceremonial route on Sunday, this year’s Cannonball still has plenty of surprises for a field of riders who have already traveled from Daytona Beach, Florida to this small town in northern Idaho.

Take today, for instance. Right from the start, there were two big surprises for a couple of friends from Germany that have had major implications for the final standings when this coast-to-coast ride concludes on Sunday.

In 2012, Andreas Kaindl came over from Germany to ride across America aboard a 1924 Henderson in that year’s Cannonball, open to motorcycles made before 1930. Andreas was one of 19 riders to finish that ride with a perfect score, covering every mile of the 16-day course from Newburgh, New York, to San Francisco.

Andreas called the Cannonball the challenge of a lifetime, but he said it was a challenge he only needed to take on once. Then Thomas Trapp, a Harley dealer from Frankfurt, convinced him that they should ride this year’s Cannonball together, with Andreas aboard the same No. 33 ’24 Henderson from 2012, while Thomas would ride a 1916 Harley-Davidson Model F carrying No. 26.

Through the first 13 days this year, the two German friends matched each other exactly, keeping a perfect score as the accumulated distance added up to more than 3,000 miles. That was good enough to place Thomas first in Class II (for 700cc to 1,000cc motorcycles) and Andreas second in Class III (for motorcycles over 1,000cc).
Then yesterday, trouble hit both riders, as Andreas struggled with a grinding in the rear end of his motorcycle, and Thomas limped in with a malfunctioning magneto.

Andreas hoped his bike’s problem was due to a bad wheel bearing. But last night, he learned that it was actually in the Henderson’s transmission, which put him completely out of the running for today’s 284-mile stage, from Meridian to Lewiston, Idaho. As a result, he recorded no miles today, and dropped from first in the class all the way down to 28th.

Thomas Trapp working on engineMeanwhile, Thomas started out confident that changing the bike’s magneto would solve his problems and allow him to continue his streak of perfect finishes through today’s Stage 14. But last night, he discovered that his backup magneto also had problems, so he spent hours in the hotel parking lot trying to piece together the best parts of both.

This morning, Thomas sounded much more pessimistic, saying that he had only had a chance to test the machine with a couple of laps around the parking lot overnight.

“I don’t think that’s enough of a test,” he said. And sure enough, when he set out on the day’s ride, the bike made it just three miles before the magneto problem returned. That forced him out of the stage, and he, too, tumbled in the points standings, from first place in Class II down to 20th.

This evening, it appears Andreas’ bike is out of the competition completely. But Thomas had managed to built up a third magneto out of parts from a spare engine, and he looked confident in the parking lot. 
“I lost my first place,” he said, “but I’m glad that I can at least ride tomorrow.”

Of course, one rider’s misfortune always works to the benefit of someone else, and tonight, that means Dean Bordigioni has moved into first place in Class II aboard his No. 11 1923 Harley JS. And Mike Carson, lead rider on the Carson Classic Motorcycle team, has taken over second place in the class on his 1924 Harley JE. Motorcycle artist Scott Jacobs moved up to third aboard his No. 93 1926 Harley Model J.

Jeff Tiernan continues to hold the lead in Class III aboard his gorgeous No. 5 1919 Henderson, a machine he chose because two of his grandparents were born that year, “and I think of them while riding,” he says. Jon Neuman has now moved into second place on his No. 99 1928 Harley JD, while Peter Reeves of Great Britain is in third aboard his No. 34 1929 Harley JD.

But the Cannonball’s tiebreaker system (see an explanation of scoring here) means that the race for the overall 2014 Cannonball championship continues to focus on a group of four Class I (under 700cc) motorcycles that have a perfect score through 14 stages. And today, those smaller machines got an unexpected test from the route set up by Cannonball course master John Classen.

We all knew that Monday’s stage through the Colorado Rockies would pose a significant challenge to the riders in the smallest class, since it featured three crossings of the Continental Divide in Colorado, topping out at nearly 12,000 feet over Loveland Pass. And when the leading contenders in Class I all got over those passes without losing a single mile, it seemed likely that they would be able to roll through the final week.

But nobody counted on Classen coming up with a major mountain challenge here in Idaho today. Although the altitude wasn’t as high, today’s route included some serious climbing, including one stretch on Old Idaho Route 95 that may have put more strain on these machines than even Loveland Pass.

This road, since replaced by a more modern route, consists of narrow two-lane asphalt draped like string over the side of a mountain, climbing a few thousand feet in a series of switchbacks. Each curve meant that riders had to lose momentum, then accelerate up the next straight to another tight turn.

Amazingly, four Class I riders came into the day with perfect scores, and all four conquered the Old Route 95 climb to remain perfect this evening. That means the head of the Cannonball standings still show Hans Coertse (No. 35 1924 Indian Scout), Norm Nelson (No. 23 1928 BMW R52), Giuseppe Savoretti (No. 103 1931 Moto Guzzi Sport) and Kevin Waters (No. 28 1931 Sunbeam M9) ahead of everyone else.

This evening, Chris Alley, tuner for Norm Nelson’s BMW, said his rider reported that he was able to climb the grade in second gear without losing much momentum. And even Victor Boocock, who’s 1914 Indian is the oldest motorcycle in the competition (and the only one with a single-speed transmission) said he was able to maintain his forward progress by slipping the clutch a little from time to time and using the bike’s manual spark advance to make sure he was getting maximum power from the 100-year-old engine.

Meanwhile, the least powerful machine in the Cannonball field, a 1923 Neracar ridden on alternate days by Robert Addis and Brian Pease, continues to get stronger as the days pass. The Neracar, an early scooter-style machine powered by a two-stroke, single-cylinder engine displacing 220cc to 280cc, is no threat to take any of the top positions in the Cannonball, but its riders are having great fun exploring the performance limits of a machine with a top speed of less than 30 mph in the spirit of the original Cannonball Baker, who crossed the country on a Neracar in 1922.

After the Neracar covered only about 130 miles in the entire first week of the Cannonball, it is now running stronger and longer each day. Brian set a one-day best of 213 miles early this week, only to be surpassed by Addis, who ran 217 miles yesterday. Today, despite the hilly conditions, the little machine covered 180 miles of the 284-mile course.

Tomorrow’s Cannonball course covers 244 miles from Lewiston to Yakima, Washington. You can meet up with the Cannonball riders beginning a little after 4 p.m. at Owens Harley-Davidson in Yakima. And for a change, I should be arriving at the dealership with the bulk of the riders. Although I drive the sweep truck every other day of the Cannonball, I always get one opportunity to ride with motorcycle sweep rider Gary Haynes on his specially adapted BMW sidecar rig and take photos of the riders on the course. Tomorrow is that day for me, and the weather looks perfect.

Meanwhile, Buck Carson, whose 1936 Harley RL was sidelined by a broken connecting rod a few days ago, has graciously joined the sweep crew and will be serving as the temporary Grim Reaper in my absence. I hope he has the quietest day ever.

See you in Yakima?—Bill Wood

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