SPIRIT LAKE, IOWA (Sept. 14, 2018) -- Mother Nature turned up the thermometer Friday as afternoon temperatures reached into the 90s as the 2018 Cannonball Run made its way across Iowa for the 274-mile Stage 7. It was another mostly sunny day in the Hawkeye State as the tour progressed from Cedar Rapids to Spirit Lake on the northwestern reaches of Iowa.
Most riders said the heat didn’t bother their bikes too badly as long as they were moving, and with the exception of some traffic after lunch in Mason City and at the conclusion of the day in Spirit Lake, roads were clear and wide open.
Iowa is known for growing corn and soybeans and we certainly saw mile upon mile of corn rows and soybean fields just now turning, yet the well-planned stage also took riders through Amish country, scenic river valleys and around sparkling lakes.
Interestingly, one stretch of highway went 30 miles completely straight with no curves whatsoever.
Each day Cannonball riders visit wonderful stops along the cross-country trek and are greeted at resting points by enthusiast fans. The word even got out at the little towns along the way and townspeople brought out lawn chairs, waved flags and took photos as the the Cannonball came through.
Lunch stop was at Harley-Davidson of Mason City and an entire city block was marked off to form a wonderful promenade of historic motorcycles.The shop fed the riders sandwiches and baked beans. They also opened their garage to let several riders work on their bikes at lunch.
Friday ended at the tidy Indian Motorcycle factory in Spirit Lake. Indian employees and area motorcyclists came together to form a massive welcoming party. Planning for the conclusion of Stage 7 was perfect. About 200 motorcycles lined up on both sides formed a chrome-glittering lane to parc ferme where Cannonball bikes went on full display for fans to enjoy.
All but 10 bikes made the distance today. Four of those on the sweep trucks were because of flat tires.
This was the first stage of the event so far to stay in one state. Tomorrow the Cannonball will travel a gruelling 314 miles from Spirit Lake, Iowa to South Dakota’s capital city of Pierre.
BMW R52 becomes R26
Norm Nelson and his crew came up with some innovative ways to keep his 1928 BMW R52 on the road on Friday. The temporary fix didn’t look pretty, but it held and Norm sat smiling on his German-made machine at the Indian factory at the end of the run.
The right side cylinder was coming loose, resulting in a weeping head gasket. Norm’s mechanic Jack Wright had an answer - safety wire and vice grips.
“We were doing our normal tightening every night,” Norm explained. “We realized a stud was not setting in right and we took it apart and when we did one of the studs broke. We tried another one and it got worse, so Jack came up with the idea of putting JB Weld on one side and Loctite on the other. The JB Weld held pretty good, the other one didn’t. Then Jack came up with the idea of using these vice grips.”
Jack’s improvised solution got Norm to the finish Friday and his team found a machine shop to fabricate new studs.
“Hopefully we can get the head milled because I’m sure it’s warped now.”
Norm described running across Iowa with just one cylinder working the last two hours of the ride.
“You see the wind blowing,” Norm said pointing to a nearby American flag. “I’d put it in third gear and try to ride tucked in. Heading north I was OK, but when we turned west against the crosswind I would be in third at 35 miles an hour and then it would go 34, 33, 32… I’d get down to about 28 and say ‘Aw, the heck with it.’ And by the time you pull the clutch in, crank the gear and come back on you lost about another five miles per hour. So I’d go from 35, to about 23. So I just kept in in second gear, tucked in and wide open.
“This is an R52, but today it was an R26.”
A Triumph Super-Sprocket
Sharp-eyed fans gathered around and were pointing and talking about Paul Warrenfelt’s 1920 Triumph Model H. Their discussion centered on a massive rear sprocket on the 98-year-old Triumph. It looked like something off a hillclimb machine and everyone was wondering if that’s the way the Triumph was originally made. It wasn’t.
Paul’s Model H was originally a belt drive, something some Triumph models used through the mid-1920s. Paul had to come up with a more reliable way of connecting the motor with the rear wheel. The big sprocket and long chain was what he came up with.
“With the belt when it would rain the belt would slip,” Paul explained. “To try to make it work better we started with a timing belt, a grooved belt. We worked on that project for three weeks and then realized you can’t actually put the belt on without disassembling the rear end. We scrapped that and went to a chain, so we had to make this back sprocket out of a big industrial sprocket. We machined it out and then made the aluminum plate that’s in the middle.Both the front and rear hub are from a ‘65 Triumph Tiger Cub because we needed to upgrade the brake too. And then the same thing on the front - we used a small industrial sprocket using the hub that was on the original pulley sprocket. We had to make an idler for it. That also was a big project with two different designs and about eight different springs to get the right tension.
“I don’t want to jinx it, but it’s really working well.”
Paul is one of the three Triumphs in the Cannonball this year along with Adrian Lockery and Arrie Redelinghuys. The Triumph trio are sticking together as a team and helping each other out along the way. The Triumph Trio are in a friendly British brand competition with a Norton gang of three with Richard Asprey, Chris Parry and Keith Martin.
At lunch I overheard an interesting discussion of fueling these century-old machines. Riding through Iowa, it’s often difficult to find gas that does not have ethanol in the mix. Even normal ethanol-free gas can be problematic with no lead. The best solution according to this group of riders is aviation fuel used for piston-powered planes. That gas is hard to come by though , since airports don’t sell the fuel for non-aviation use. Yet some riders have found sources for the coveted aviation fuel.
The other trick a lot of these guys use is mixing just a small amount of two-stroke oil or Marvel Mystery Oil when fueling up.
Speaking of fueling up, one problem cropped up in the ride today, when one of the gas stations marked on the route sheet recently closed, leaving many riders scrambling and sharing gas to make it to the next stop.
The Indian Factory
The Indian Motorcycle factory that concluded the run Friday, makes every motorcycle model Indian produces. According to company representatives, the factory puts out one new motorcycle off the assembly line every five minutes, producing approximately 150 machines per day.
The company is experiencing tremendous growth and the Spirit Lake factory now employs about 600. So far only one shift runs per day, but that could change in the future is the manufacturer's rate of growth continues.
So that’s about wraps up the adventures of today in Cannonball 2018. Check in again tomorrow and find out how our intrepid group of riders are making out as we roll ever farther west.
Saturday, September 15 Stage 8 (314 miles)
7:00; 7:15, 7:30 AM CDT: Official Start Times for Classes I, II, III; Ramada
5:00, 5:15, 5:30 PM: Finish Times for Classes III, II, I; Steamboat Park, Pierre, South Dakota
5:00 PM: Dinner, Steamboat Park
6:30 PM: Parc Fermé closes, Steamboat Park