BILLINGS, MT (Sept. 18, 2018) -- It was heartbreak for Chris Tribbey today. After leading the first nine stages of the 2018 Cannonball Run, and overcoming major obstacles at Mt. Rushmore on Sunday, an electrical issue on his 1911 Excelsior K Single (the oldest machine in the run) forced his motorcycle to the sweep truck. The misfortune took Tribbey out of the lead and put Dean Bordigioni and his 1914 Harley-Davidson into the top spot after Tuesday’s Stage 10.
After a rest day on Monday, the run resumed today leaving Sturgis, South Dakota, at dawn, running across the far northeastern corner of Wyoming before entering Montana. And after 299 miles, riders reached the end of today’s stage at Beartooth Harley-Davidson in Billings, Montana.
Conditions were perfect for the machines today, with temperatures most of the day in the 60s, breaking into the 70s for the final miles into Billings. There was even a strong tailwind most of the way.
The ride skirted the northern edge of the Black Hills before heading northwest across a small stretch of Wyoming. Riders witnessed leaves beginning to change colors in the middle stretches of the stage. From there it was into Montana and the Custer National Forest. There was a fairly significant climb up the hills into the forest, which had many bare and blackened trees from massive 2015 wildfires in the area. Then it was on through Northern Cheyenne and Crow Indian Reservations.Finally it was a gorgeous descent from the bluffs overlooking the Yellowstone River into Billings and a tasty dinner of fried chicken, cheeseburgers and brats at Beartooth H-D. An appropriate offering on National Cheeseburger Day.
Tribbey’s Amazing Run Atop the Standings Comes to a Heartbreaking End
Chris Tribbey defied the odds for over half of the 2018 Cannonball Run. The Wisconsin rider turned in amazing performance after amazing performance to finish every stage of the run on the oldest motorcycle in the competition, a 1911 Excelsior. Today at mile 133, the odds finally caught up with Chris. His trusty Excelsior came to a stop. He worked on the bike for an hour, racing against the clock. He methodically went over the 107-year-old machine checking everything that might keep the motor from firing. He even installing a new coil, but to no avail. Suspected electrical issues put his day to an end, meaning his rugged old Excelsior made it 2,177 miles across the country before running into a problem that brought it to a halt.
Chris glanced away for just one moment from the motorcycle and stared pensively skyward. It was the moment of realization that his shot of winning the 2018 Cannonball was likely lost. But after experiencing just a few seconds of melancholy, he turned around and shook the hands of those there to offer whatever help they could and told the Cannonball support crew to put his bike on the trailer.
“I approached this one day, one mile at a time,” Chris said. “Every morning when I got up to ride this year was a bonus, and to do this well for this long was something I never dreamed we could do.
“I tried everything I knew to get the bike going and I had a couple of very capable mechanics at my side offering their advice as well. The best I could figure it was a coil, or wiring or some electrical problem. We were getting gas to the motor, so I really don’t know for sure.
“The shame of it all was the bike was running great today, never better. We would have had a great finish with the way things were going up to that point. We’ll get it sorted out tonight hopefully and keep going.”
It was a sad day for all of those who were rooting Chris on. He’s such a likeable guy and the underdog Excelsior was impressing everyone with its performance. Here’s hoping the crew is able to get Chris back on the road strong on Wednesday’s Stage 11.
UPDATE: In the hotel parking lot tonight, the Tribbey crew discovered the problem that took the Excelsior out today. It was a broken exhaust valve. Interestingly, the valve that was in the engine—the one that covered 2,158 miles in this year's Cannonball, and who knows how many before that—was an original, 107-year-old Excelsior valve. Those aren't easy to find these days, so the crew adapted the machine to use a Harley VL valve from the ’30s.
Back on Top
It’s the nature of the Cannonball—one rider’s disappointment is another rider’s opportunity. And thus, when Chris Tribbey’s 1911 Excelsior got loaded on the sweep truck today, a familiar name jumped to the top of the overall standings.
Two years ago, Dean Bordigioni took over first place in the Cannonball standings early aboard his 1914 Harley-Davidson belt-drive single. And he held that lead all the way across the country until the bike failed to get to the 10,857-foot summit of Wolf Creek Pass in Colorado. Dean needed help on just the last mile of that climb, but that one-point penalty dropped him out of the lead, and in the end, Frank Westfall won the overall title aboard his 1912 Henderson.
Now, Dean finds himself in the same position, holding the overall lead on his ’14 Harley with the mountains looming. After a 248-mile ride through rugged Western terrain tomorrow, riders face the challenge of surmounting Logan Pass on the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park Thursday (there were concerns about wildfires along that route over the past weeks, but as of this morning, the road has reopened, just in time for the Cannonball’s arrival).
But Dean is used to the pressure of leading the Cannonball, and he’s ready for what’s to come.
“I was out front from Day 2 in 2016,” he says, “so I was in the crosshairs for a long time. And I know the only time first place counts is in the final mile.”
No single-cylinder machine has ever finished a Cannonball ride with a perfect score, but having come up just a single mile short of perfect once before, Dean says he feels good about his machine.
“The bike has been running like a beast,” he says. “It’s climbing better than the last time.”
Plus, Dean knows that Logan Pass tops out at 6,646 feet, more than 4,000 feet lower than Wolf Creek Pass in 2016. And tonight, he’s looking forward to the challenge.
“If I can get through the mountains over the next couple of days,” he said, “I think I’m looking pretty good."
Notes from the Sweep Truck
It was a tough day for breakdowns, and at this point some machines are giving up the ghost for good in this year’s Cannonball.
Denis Sharon had a strong run going this year until his 1916 Harley-Davidson 16F locked up solid at about the 130-mile mark today. He had to use considerable riding skill to stop the bike safely after the rear wheel locked up while he was traveling at near 50 mph.
The motor on Jeff Lauritsen’s 1914 Excelsior 7-SC began making expensive rattling sounds and he had to shut it down just a mile up the road from Denis.
There were a string of bikes broken down in a fairly short 9-mile stretch of road, starting with Denis and Jeff’s machines and ending with Doug Jones and his 1914 Indian Model F with a broken rocker-arm. Doug said he thought that was it for him, since he was out of spares.
Mark Tatum was sidelined with electrical and clutch problems on his 1925 Harley Davidson JDCB.
Also seen on the sweep truck at the end of the day were Michael Gontesky’s 1925 Harley JD, the 1915 Harley Davidson 11F of Rowdy Schenck, The 1916 Harley-Davidson J of Ted Walters and Justin Rinker’s 1916 Indian Powerplus.
One week ago, Mike Carson went down hard in a crash aboard his 1917 Harley in Indiana. At the hospital emergency room, they told him he had four broken ribs, plus broken bones in his shoulder that will require surgery.
It’s the sort of thing that could be reasonably expected to send even a diehard Cannonball rider home early.
But Mike didn’t leave. He traveled in the Carson Classic Motors support truck for a few days while Vinnie Grasser rode his bike. And during yesterday’s rest day in Sturgis, South Dakota, Mike decided he might try a few miles aboard the bike, just to see if he could ride.
No, the bones aren’t healed, and he hasn’t had that operation to fix his shoulder. But the test went enough that Mike decided to climb aboard the Harley and take the start for today’s 299-mile stage from Sturgis to Billings, Montana. He applied a layer of duct tape to the wounded shoulder, put aside his sling and hit the road.
And tonight, he rolled in with a perfect 299 points, finishing the day well inside the time limit.
“On a scaled of 1 to 10, I’d say the pain was about an 8,” Mike said. “But I’d have been hurting riding in the truck, so decided I might as well hurt riding the bike.”
He did note that there a couple of bumps on the road today that sort of hurt.
“On one of them,” Mike said, “it went right up through my spine. That wasn’t fun.”
Will he try it again tomorrow? We’ll find out in the morning. In the meantime, here’s where you can catch up with the Cannonball Wednesday:
8:00; 8:15; 8:30 AM: Official Start Times for Classes I, II, III; Red Lion Hotel, Billing, MT
4:10; 4:20, 4:30 PM: Finish Times for Classes III, II, I; Big Sky Harley-Davidson, Great Falls, MT
4:00 PM: Dinner, Big Sky Harley-Davidson