When Lonnie Isam Jr., honcho at Jurassic Racing in Sturgis, South Dakota, talked to some of his fellow vintage bike buddies about climbing on their old scooters and going for a ride, he let the cat out of the bag. Almost overnight he had nearly 100 people clamoring to take part in a 3,000-mile jaunt from the sand dunes of North Carolina to the beaches of Southern California. But a reality check clicked in when the concept of climbing mountains, traversing deserts, and having to deal with Sunday traffic in L.A. culled the number of entrants to an even 44.
Lonnie Isam Jr., master restorer and the founding force behind the Cannonball Run. A man known for brevity of statement, at the closing ceremonies Lonnie said, "I had a dream and you guys made it happen. Thank you."
Lonnie Isam Jr., master restorer and the founding force behind the Cannonball Run. A man k
The band of merry men, and two merry women, ran astride a literal wealth of antique machines, including a Flying Merkel, a Pope, a Henderson, and a slew of Harleys and Indians, all true-blue American precious metal built prior to 1916 (rules of the game). The Yanks were also joined by two Brit bikes: two BSAs. Actually it was not a race, rather a run, and therein lies the rub. For every mile you and your bike made each day during the allotted 16 days, you accumulated a point. One mile, one point; the goal to accrue as many of the 3,294 points/miles possible. The three classes were divided between single- and twin-cylinder machines and bikes with or without transmissions/clutches.
Bookmakers in Vegas, theoretically at least, would have given high odds on no one even finishing. At the Santa Monica Pier and the official western end of historic Route 66 and the finishing line for the Cannonball, all the naysayers were silenced. Thirty-eight of the bikes showed up, albeit some in tow, while no less than 10 of the riders achieved perfect scores. Keep in mind that not only were the bikes at least 95 years old, many of the riders themselves had seen a half century or more; a hale and hardy wild bunch indeed.
Several issues back, we ran a pre-race introduction to the Cannonball and spoke with a quartet of riders gearing up to take on the challenge. We wanted to get their take on the event once completed, if completed, and here's what we learned.
Matt testing the ergonomics of his Sears project bike in preparation for the Cannonball. Fate would throw a major mishap his way. (photo courtesy of Matt Olsen)
Matt testing the ergonomics of his Sears project bike in preparation for the Cannonball. F
Matt Olsen - 1913/1914 Sears
Matt's dad Carl started Carl's Cycle Supply, the Aberdeen, South Dakota, shop specializing in vintage Harley Knuckleheads and Panhead restorations. At 18, Matt rode a '48 Panhead to the West Coast. In 2009, he rode not one but two Iron Butts in one month aboard Knuckleheads. At 25, he was the youngest rider in the Cannonball event for which he scratch-built a 1913-14 Sears, a twin-cylinder, single-speed machine powered by an original 70.62 Spacke engine as would have been built back in the day. He modified the bike to accommodate a disc brake and safety rims instead of the original clincher types for (some) safety's sake. These efforts unfortunately would prove insufficient to avoid the intervention of fate on a rural stretch of well-worn road.
Matt Olsen's 1913 Sears carried to the finish line by a special sidecar rig his shop had previously built.
Matt Olsen's 1913 Sears carried to the finish line by a special sidecar rig his shop had p
"The first day was great but I had some carb problems. The next day was awesome, and I rode about 170 miles. But then I stuck my front piston and fortunately was able to make repairs at Dale Walksler's Wheels Through Time Museum, one of our scheduled stops. The next day was a great ride through Tennessee. The following day I made it about 70 miles into Alabama and was just cruising along at 55, enjoying everything. Then I felt something wasn't right with the rear hub and my attention was drawn to it. At the same time I hit this really rough patch of road."
Time seemed to slow down as Matt's front wheel dug into something and went careening off the road, smacked hard, bent the frame, and broke the fork legs. Arriving at the hospital still conscious, he learned his nose was also broken along with his forearm in two places. The usual two-hour operation took four and a half to pin it all back together. Still there was no giving up. Matt's friend Tim Yeates brought the Sears to Los Angeles so it would be there at the finish.