Motorcycle Cannonball 2014, Part I – Preview


From l., Buzz Kanter, Cris Sommer Simmons, Pat Simmons, and Paul Ousey, ready to ride!

By Buzz Kanter, photos by Michael Lichter, Jim Dohms, and Buzz Kanter

Part I: 3,938 Miles of Blood, Sweat & Gears

The ride is almost 4,000 miles from Daytona Beach, Florida, to Tacoma, Washington. If the bikes — all 1936 and older machines —have mechanical issues, other riders could help without losing points, but team mechanics can’t help as they follow a different route from point to point. If you think this is fun, you’re right. If you think it’s easy, think again.

CANNONBALL 14This was the third running of the Motorcycle Cannonball, a timed endurance event for antique motorcycles that will push even the most experienced rider to his physical and mechanical limits. Some 101 motorcycles were officially recognized as starting the event in Daytona Beach. Seventeen days and 3,938 miles later, 72 of us were considered finishers in Tacoma. Along the way, we encountered some of the most stunning and mind-numbing experiences a motorcyclist is ever likely to encounter. While most of the riders, including me, were focused on getting our antique motorcycles and ourselves across the country with minimal drama, some were focused on winning this event.

Yes, this was a competition with a complete set of rules and scoring procedures. In terms of scoring, you earn a point for every mile ridden provided you make it to the start and finish lines at the scheduled times. If you get lost, run out of gas, or break down, you can do what you need to make it up as long as no one from your support team helps you. If you switch riders, you lose points. If you swap engines, you lose points. If you leave a hosted event early, you lose points. 7 Burning HarleyIn addition, if you DNF (do not finish) more than seven days, or the last day, you were disqualified and listed as DNF for the entire event. In the event of a tie (and there were many), Class I motorcycles (700cc or smaller engine displacement) beat Class II (701cc to 1000cc), which, in turn, beat Class III (1001cc or larger displacement). After that, the next tiebreaker was the age of the motorcycle: the older one beats the newer one. In case of a tie where the bikes are in the same class and the same age, the tiebreaker is the age of the rider, with the older rider beating the younger one. Got it?

After covering the planned 3,938 miles, an impressive 32 riders covered them all on course, but, due to scoring issues, only 24 were considered as perfect scores. The others were penalized points for various reasons. This year’s overall winner was …



Riveted yet? The full version of this story appears in Issue #318 of American Iron Magazine, on sale 12/9/14!

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Classic 1936 Harley VLH Motorcycle Cannonball Bike

How much do you know about a 1936 Harley flathead motorcycle? A short walk around with Buzz Kanter of American Iron Magazine for his 1936 Harley VLH motorcycle during a brief stop while breaking in the recently rebuilt engine. Less than 2 months before the start of the 2014 Motorcycle Cannonball ride – 4,200 miles from Daytona Beach FL to Tacoma, WA.

Suggestions Wanted For 2014 American Iron Kickstart Classic Motorcycle Rides

We at American Iron Magazine encourage all motorcycle owners to ride and enjoy your bikes – old, new or in between. It’s pretty easy to find a local ride for newer bikes, but not always so easy for those classics that are not as comfortable at highway speeds.

American Iron Magazine's Kickstart Classic Ride Spring 2013

American Iron Magazine’s Kickstart Classic Ride Spring 2013

That is one of the reasons we created the Kickstart Classic rides. We held the first one in 2010, another in 2011 and 2012 and 2 in 2013. So now we need to decide what and when to hold the Kickstart Classic rides in 2014, and we’d like to hear your suggestions.

Legendary Harley drag racer Pete Hill and his street legal hot rod Knucklehead with Buzz Kanter and Dale Walksler

Ideally the Kickstart Classic rides should be fun for classic motorcycles and last two full days ending at a great motorcycle-related event, destination or rally. And the rides should not be within a month before or after the Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run in September 2014.

Suggestions please?

May 2013 Motorcycle Kickstart Classic Wrap-Up

The May 2013 Kickstart Classic was a great success and lots of fun. We want to thank our sponsors – Spectro Oils, GEICO Insurance, Wheels Through Time, and Wrench Ride Repeat, as well as all the Harley dealers who welcomed and fed us along the way. The ride from Charleston, SC to St. Augustine, FL was spectacular, with AIM Editor-In-Chief Buzz Kanter and several other riders leading the pack on their pre-1930 Motorcycle Cannonball bikes. Over 50 riders aboard kickstart motorcycles of all ages and brands took part on the ride.

Look for full coverage of the May event in American Iron’s summer issue going on sale 7/23. For the digital edition, on sale 7/5 click AIM DIGITAL.

The next Kickstart Classic will be in the Northeast at the end of this September. Details and registration info will be available at within the next couple of weeks. We look forward to seeing you there. – Ride Safe.


1909 Vintage Harley Police Motorcycle, The earliest police model in existence

At the dawn of the last century, Harley-Davidson recognized that its rugged and reliable motorcycles were perfectly positioned to service law enforcement. Back then, good mobility was vital, and a single-cylinder Harley-Davidson provided that at a time when our country was just beginning to make the transition from the horse and carriage to motorized transportation. Easy to operate, economical to use, and a form of transportation that allowed widespread access to remote areas that needed policing, the earliest Harleys fit the bill. The archives state that the first sale of a Harley to a municipality for police work occurred in 1908, and Detroit was the first customer. From that humble beginning, Harley has expanded its efforts and focused on the law enforcement market to great success. Today, in the United States, over 3,400 police departments ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Worldwide, Harleys are used in over 45 countries, to keep the peace.

Our featured bike is an amazing, all-original 1909 Harley-Davidson police motorcycle owned by our good friend and amazing motorcycle enthusiast John Parham. It’s part of his vast collection of rare antique machines and one of my favorites for many reasons. It’s all original, and it’s also the earliest known Harley-Davidson police motorcycle in existence. That says it all.

The bike was sold to the La Crosse, Wisconsin, Police Department where it spent many years in service to the community. It passed through a few additional owners until it had outlived its usefulness and was then disassembled, put in boxes, and stored indoors for decades. It was then rediscovered,
reassembled, and donated to the La Crosse Historical Society. With no place to display it, the bike was then loaned to the local Harley-Davidson dealer who displayed it in a showcase for many years. Many people wanted to buy it, including John, but it was not for sale, and it remained on display for all the world to see. The La Crosse Historical Society was in need of cash to restore a local landmark building, so it decided to sell the machine to finance that restoration. A few collectors were aware it was on the market, but the price was steep due to its rarity and desirability. However, John was able to step up and become its next caretaker.

If you look the bike over carefully, you can see how well-preserved the machine really is. Complete down to its core, this motorcycle wears all its factory parts; its tall stance and proud heritage speak volumes about its journey through time. The paint, although worn, is all original and the La Crosse Wis PD designation resides in a small rectangular area outlined by factory pinstripes. The lettering was probably done by a local sign painter employed by the city. Wis of course stands for Wisconsin; this was long before the advent of the two-letter state designations we’ve all come to know and recognize.

The year 1909 was the first for the redesigned frame that incorporates a second top bar for added strength. The gas tank was also redesigned as a three-sided affair, a marked improvement over the 1908 frame and strap tank design. A metal toolbox first appeared that year, and beefier components like the front forks make the ride smoother and the chassis sturdier. The 28″ wheels put the rider up on a perch; and the 3.00″ clincher tires, though shaky by today’s standards, were state of the art back then. The handlebars have the cables running through them with the left grip used to retard and advance the spark and the right grip to control the throttle. This setup would last for decades. The single-cylinder motor has a bore of 3-15/16″, displaces 30″, and pumps out a claimed 4 hp! Power is transmitted to the rear wheel by a leather belt drive, and the clutch is activated and deactivated by the belt tightening handle on the left side of the bike. The rear brake is a coaster brake design, similar to what you probably had on your first bicycle. The bike retailed for $210, expensive by standards of the day, but well under what a car cost in the same period.

Harley also introduced its first V-twin in 1909, but that would disappear from the lineup the following year and return a few years later, remaining the heart and soul of a Harley-Davidson to this day.

Two colors were offered in 1909: Renault Gray with carmine striping and Piano Black. Together with their nickel-plated cylinders and assorted hardware, they were striking machines at the dawn of motor transportation.

There was great optimism during this period, and motorcycling in general was gaining favor. Production numbers continued to climb for all brands, and it was anyone’s guess as to who would dominate the two-wheeled trade in 1909. Indian was becoming a powerhouse back East, and other brands were entering the field on a regular basis. It was an exciting time in the business, punctuated by innovation and advancement.

In 2010, John was invited to display the 1909 police bike at the world-famous Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance. The bike is on loan to the National Motorcycle Museum, John being the museum’s founder. So, anytime you’re in Anamosa, Iowa, stop by and view this amazing time capsule from the dawn of cycling. Thank you, John, for your continued stewardship of this great machine and for putting it on display for all to enjoy and appreciate. AIM

Words by Jim Babchak, photos by Pam Proctor

Story as printed in American Iron Magazine.

Vintage 1948 Harley-Davidson Panhead

Nothing captures the heart of a motorcycle enthusiast more than a crusty old Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Period. They are things of beauty that conjure dreams of the adventure and romance of earlier times when cycling was in its infancy, and they absolutely captivate us with their honesty and integrity. Motorcycles of all types, in original condition, have been leading the pack from a value standpoint for the last number of years, and their newly earned status in our hobby speaks volumes about how far we have come in the collecting world. By original condition, I mean specifically original-paint machines that still wear the factory enamel laid down on the assembly line in Milwaukee, when the bike was brand-new, as well as still retain their original chrome plating, original parkerized parts, original wiring harness, original leather seat and saddlebags, original rubber parts, original tires, original nuts and bolts, etc. Obviously, the range of value varies by condition, the better the paint and plating, and the more accessories and add-ons, the more highly regarded they are by collectors. Look at any eBay auction for old machines, or comb the web for motor­cycle auctions across the country; you will see the large spread between the restored bikes and the original, unrestored machines.

When I coined the term rustoration back in the 1990s here in American Iron Magazine, mainstream collectors were catching onto the idea that a rough, unrestored motorcycle garnered more attention and enthusiasm at meets and shows than its restored brethren. The dignity of age and the unmistakable patina of an original bike spoke volumes about its history and lineage, and an awakening of the preservation movement was at hand. This was true not only in motorcycling, but also in the car collecting hobby and across other disciplines of collecting.

Of course, as with all trends, there are always leaders. In the antique motorcycle circles, my old friend Joe Barber, founder of the 74 Shop, understood the value or these rare gems early on, as did “Doc” and John Pat and other old-timers from the AMCA. Thank goodness they collectively saved many a motorcycle from undergoing what was the trend in the 1970s through the 1990s of restoration and overrestoration of our historical time pieces.

Our featured 1948 Harley-Davidson Panhead is another example of a rescued machine that dodged the restorers’ onslaught during that period. Owned by David Monahan of Forest Lake, Minnesota, it has a wonderful history that is as interesting as the bike itself.

Apparently, the original owner was a returning World War II veteran who established himself after the war in a job that paid well and allowed him to pursue his passion of cycling. He bought the bike new in 1948 and rode the wheels off it. He met and courted his wife on it, and they spent many a relaxing day touring the countryside two-up with their knees in the breeze! They eventually settled down into married life. Kinda … it seems every chance he had, he took the liberty of disappearing on his motorcycle til one day the ultimatum came. So in response to his wife’s demands, the bike was parked out in the yard under a tree in plain sight of the kitchen window where she could keep an eye on it and him. There it sat for 40 years, slowly sinking into the ground until the frame rested in the dirt.

Finally, sometime in the late 1990s, the old biker passed away, and his wife sold the bike in a yard sale/estate sale to an antique dealer. The dealer recognized the marketing opportunities the motorcycle held and put it in his antique shop window, where it sat there for another 10 years. David learned of its existence, bought it in 2008, and began its rustoration. He had a lot of talent and practice in all things motorcycle related; as he ran his own restoration shop called Perfect Timing for over 20 years and had restored over 50 machines in his shop by that time. His goal was to preserve the bike in its original state but perform a restoration on it so that it would be a ridable machine. He would leave the wonderful patina but return the insides to factory standards. The motor and transmission were locked up tight; every internal part needed to be replaced or reworked. It was, internally, the worst bike he’d ever seen or worked on. Although capable of doing all the work on the motor and tranny himself, he chose to have his buddy, Jim Long of Jim Long Motors, rebuild the engine and transmission. The complete disassembly of the rest of the machine followed, and attention to every part was mandated. David had a set of old Knucklehead rims that were laced in place of the rotten ones, but everything else is original to the bike plus a few add-ons he had in his collection (saddlebags, balls on springer, shift knob). A Bruce Linsday OE-style wiring kit complete with cloth covers was added and retains the original look and feel. The sheet metal was cleaned and treated to loving care: washing, waxing, etc. I’m told if you stand on your head and look under the fenders you can see what remains of the original paint! What really impressed me was that all the little things were restored to perfection — the throttle is tight and responsive, the brakes have no play in them, the shifting is tight and clean — all signs of a master craftsman at work!

In the past, David’s restoration work has delivered to owners AMCA Junior, Senior, and Winners Circle awards, and probably the highest compliment possible in the antique motorcycle world is that one of his restorations, a red 1947 Knucklehead was featured on the cover of Bruce Palmer III’s world-famous book How to Restore Your Harley-Davidson, the absolute bible of antique motorcycle restoration. That, my friends, is a major accomplishment!

Great job, David, in preserving another Milwaukee marvel for the ages. AIM

Words by Jim Babchak, photos by Buzz Kanter

Story as published in the July 2011 issue of American Iron Magazine.

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