Vintage motorcycles and their riders roll into Kingman
These machines were the iron horses of their day - which was at least a century ago
The smell of gasoline and burning engine oil was thick in the air as 70 antique motorcycles predating 1917 sputtered into the Mother Road Harley-Davidson dealership Friday during a stop on the Cannonball Run, the oldest coast-to-coast motorcycle rally in America.
About 100 motorcycles at least a century old started out from Atlantic City, N.J., on Sept. 10 with the goal of traveling 3,300 miles across the country to San Diego.
Doug Jones of Dalton, Ga., was among the survivors who made it this far, riding a 1914 Indian motorcycle that was in a box when he bought it three years ago in Pennsylvania.
“It’s kind of like putting a puzzle together and getting it to run,” Jones said as a curious crowd of motor heads gathered around his machine. “There’s not a lot of manuals. You just got to figure it out.”
Jones rode the Cannonball a couple of years ago in his 1929 Indian, and said the difference between motorcycles manufactured in the teens and ’20s and those made in the ’30s is phenomenal.
“This one (1914 Indian), every night it’s something,” he grumbled.
David Beardsley of Golden Valley, one of about 300 spectators who showed up for the stop in Kingman, most of them dressed in Harley garb, said he couldn’t imagine riding a 100-year-old bike like that over 3,000 miles.
“It would be cool to putt around,” he said. “I give these guys all the credit. These are like bicycles with motors. If they can keep them running … and the hard-tail suspension, whatever you bump, you feel.”
Attracting riders from around the world, the Cannonball Run is broken into 15 segments, each covering around 250 miles mostly on two-lane backroads. The riders spent Thursday night in Williams, and were headed to Lake Havasu City after their lunch stop in Kingman.
Victor Boocock of San Francisco said he paid $6 for his first motorcycle, an Ariel 650, which he rode as a teenager in the fields of England. He’s really more of a dirt rider, having competed in races, but has owned his 1914 Harley-Davidson for 42 years.
“It’s mainly riding the backroads anywhere in America, so you’re away from traffic,” Boocock said of running the Cannonball. “Even (Route) 66 was very quiet, beautiful countryside. You don’t go fast, so you can admire what you see, not only the scenery, but the smells, whether it’s flowers or a skunk a quarter-mile away.”
Restoring these early American machines requires skilled mechanics and engine builders to use every trick in the book in order to get them across the country. Endurance is as much a challenge for riders as it is for their machines.
“We’ve had parts overnighted,” said Jeff Lauritsen of Kennard, Neb., who was bleeding from his finger after trying to remove the oil pan plug from his 1916 Excelsior. “It’s a challenge, especially this one here. There’s not a lot of parts for them. We had a lot of parts made.”
Lauritsen said he had a couple days’ worth of issues with the Excelsior’s valve pockets, but so far he’s made it about 2,400 miles.
Another owner said he wouldn’t estimate the value of his motorcycle, but most of the antiques are in the range of $40,000 to $60,000.
Mike Rigg, a truck driver from Florida, saw the motorcycles at a gas station in Flagstaff and followed them into Kingman.
“They looked like they were from the 1920s. Very cool,” Rigg said as he got a Cannonball Run sweatshirt signed by some of the riders.
Steve “Doc” Hopkins and his wife, “Sidecar Monkey” Dawn, from Bonduel, Wis., pulled into the lot in a 1916 Harley with a 1913 wicker sidecar. It’s got a hot dog cooker on the exhaust and a beauty box for Dawn’s makeup.
The headlights and taillights are acetylene, and had to be lit with a match, though they’ve been converted.
“I’ve been building her one piece at a time, just like Johnny Cash,” Hopkins said.
In 1914, Erwin “Cannonball” Baker rolled out his Indian motorcycle to set a cross-country record, completing his trip in 11 days. Two decades later, in 1933, he drove a Graham-Page Model 57 automobile from New York to Los Angeles, setting another record, in what would become known as the Cannonball Run.
“I just love to see all the old bikes,” said 19-year-old Gabriella Appleby of Kingman. “My dad had one. They’re amazing to me, just the way they’re built. Very unique. They’re pretty fascinating.”
Major manufacturers of the 100-year-old motorcycles included Harley-Davidson, Indian, Henderson, Thor and Excelsior.