BOWLING GREEN, OH—At 273 miles, today’s route from Jamestown, New York, to Bowling Green was hardly the longest in this year’s Motorcycle Cannonball endurance run. This Saturday, for instance, riders will need to cover 314 miles from Spirit Lake, Iowa, to Pierre, South Dakota.
But 273 miles on tight, hilly back roads in the East, aboard a motorcycle that cruises at 45 mph or less, can make for a long day. And it certainly did for the 101 riders who started Stage 4 this morning.
Over the course of this long day, 16 machines fell victim to mechanical problems and had to be loaded on the sweep truck. That was one more than Day 2, when the ride covered 251 miles from Keene, New Hampshire, to Binghamton, New York, and 15 bikes had to be transported to the finish.
But today’s sweep-truck total doesn’t even count one of the most dramatic incidents of the day, when fire almost claimed another rare and valuable classic machine.
When the Cannonball started in 2010, there were a lot of concerns about the ability of bikes that were at or close to their 100th birthdays to cover the entire country from coast to coast. No one knew if the engines would hold together, or if they could be safely ridden on modern highways. But few of us suspected that spontaneous combustion would rank among the greatest hazards Cannonball riders would face.
In 2014 and again in 2016, Cannonball bikes were badly damaged or destroyed when they caught fire. Many riders heeded the warning and began carrying fire extinguishers on their machines. And twice in just the first four days this year, those extinguishers have helped avert disaster.
Today, it was a four-cylinder 1928 Indian Ace being ridden by Rick Salisbury that survived a near-death experience. Rick was well into the day’s ride when the bike quit and he coasted to a stop along the side of the road. He and Kyle Rose, riding a 1927 Henderson Deluxe, decided to check for spark by pulling one of the bike’s plugs and cranking the engine over with the plug touching the cylinder head.
As Kyle described it, the engine started and the bike started to lurch forward. So he attempted to shut it down by slapping his gloved hand over the carburetor mouth. In the process, he dropped the still-sparking plug, which ignited gas that had dripped from the carb and—Woosh!—a fireball exploded. Fortunately, both riders were carrying extinguishers and they quickly put out the blaze.
In the end, the damage was minimal. Rick was able to restart the bike and finish the day. But it’s another reminder that when it comes to early bikes, internal isn’t always the only kind of combustion a rider needs to be concerned about.
Young guns: At a mere 47 years old, Shane Masters qualifies as one of the youngsters in the 2018 Cannonball. But don’t let his age fool you. Shane, assisted by his dad and his dad’s friend, John Steelman (who happens to be Shane’s boss) has been working on vintage machines since he was 8 years old. To give you an idea of the depth of his experience, at just 13 Shane was elbow deep into a 1927 Harley-Davidson single restoration, and he still owns that bike today!
Shane, who hails from Dayton, Ohio, comes from a long line of motorcyclists. His grandfather visited every state in the U.S. aboard a bike. And with that background, you can understand how Shane caught the bug of riding and restoring old bikes.
Shane says he caught the Cannonball bug when he saw of the stops of the 2016 edition of the ride. Steelman and another friend, John Basham, joined with a couple of others to help Shane prepare the 1925 Indian Big Chief he’s riding.
So far Shane has a perfect score after Stage 4, in spite of a rear brake failure on the second day of the run.
“It made it exciting going through the Adirondacks with only a minimal front brake,” Shane laughs.”We were going at a good pace.”
The thing that has impressed Shane most so far in this year’s Cannonball in the camaraderie of his fellow competitors.
“It’s like a big family,” he says. “Everybody’s really friendly. It’s like, ‘Hey where you from? Come hang out. Here, you want a beer.’ I’m having nothing but fun.
“It’s been two years of just really being excited, you know, ‘I can’t believe I’m going to do this!’ That kind of feeling. And now we’re doing it.”
Who’s on top: Today’s breakdowns had little impact on the overall Cannonball standings, as the top competitors all emerged unscathed. As of tonight, 72 riders are all tied with 680 points—one for each mile successfully completed within the daily time limits. Out of those 72, the top spot on the list is held by Chris Tribbey, riding a 1911 Excelsior, thanks to the tiebreaker system that favors the oldest Class I (single-cylinder, single-speed) bike with a perfect score. Second and third places are held by the other two Class I machines with 680 points—a 1912 Excelsior single ridden by Dan Emerson and a 1914 Harley ridden by Dean Bordigioni.
In fourth place overall is Mark Loewen, riding the top-ranking Class II (multi-cylinder, single-speed or single-cylinder multi-speed) bike, a 1912 Excelsior twin. And Steve DeCosa holds down first place in Class III (20th place overall) aboard a 1915 Harley twin.
Rider change: Actually, make that a writer change. For the first four Cannonball rides, our coverage of the ride here on the AMCA website has been written entirely by Bill Wood, Editor of the AMCA magazine, traveling with the sweep team along the entire route. This year, our Associate Editor, Larry Lawrence, is stepping in to take over the middle leg of the Cannonball, from Ohio to Montana. Then Bill will be back for the final leg into Portland, Oregon.
Basically, Larry will get the flat states of the Midwest and Great Plains, then Bill is returning just when things get interesting in the approach to Glacier National Park and the run across Washington and Oregon to the finish.
Don’t worry, though. You’ll still be able find your nightly fix of Cannonball news right here.
That’s it for now. Here’s where you can catch up with the Cannonball along our 260-mile route from Bowling Green to Bourbonnais, Illinois, Wednesday:
8:00; 8:15; 8:30 AM: Official Start Times for Classes I, II, III, Hampton Inn, Bowling Green
2:30 PM: Lunch, Kersting's Cycle Center & Museum, Winamac, Indiana
4:15; 4:30; 4:45 PM: Finish Times for Classes III, II, I; Holiday Inn Express, Bourbonnais, Illinois