From the Antique Motorcycle Club of America Website
The coast-to-coast adventure is over.
The Motorcycle Cannonball ride rolled to the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, California, 16 days and 3,294 miles after leaving the Atlantic Ocean behind at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Of the 45 pre-1916 motorcycles that began the journey September 10, 37 were still running for the completion of the transcontinental journey, motoring out to the city's famed pier, where a crowd had gathered to greet the Cannonball riders.
The main challenge of today's 115-mile route from Victorville, California, to Santa Monica came in the final 30 miles, which put riders onto a collection of surface streets leading to Santa Monica. But the bikes and riders who had conquered mountains, heat, rain and fatigue over the past two weeks weren't going to be stopped by LA traffic.
In the end, Brad Wilmarth was crowned the overall champion of the Cannnonball ride. He was one of 10 riders who ended the event with a perfect score of 3,294 points, one for every mile covered. Wilmarth's title came on a tiebreaker provision—his was the oldest motorcycle among those with a perfect score.
That championship was a little surprising, since Wilmarth won it on a bike from Class II, for multi-cylinder, single-speed machines, against a number of Class III (multi-cylinder, multi-speed) machines. But Wilmarth said he didn't consider his Excelsior's lack of a transmission to be a handicap.
“I think I actually had the advantage,” he said. “I had the same size motor as those guys in a bike that was maybe 150 pounds lighter.”
Wilmarth said the key to his victory was preparing the motorcycle well, so that he didn't have to fix it along the way. In fact, he said the bike finished on the same set of spark plugs he installed before the ride began.
In addition to claiming the overall title, Wilmarth also topped the Class II standings, beating longtime endurance-racing contender Alan Travis, riding a 1914 Excelsior. Third in the class went to Joe Gardella, on his 1914 Harley-Davidson. Gardella lost only eight miles when his bike suffered a magneto failure on the fourth day.
The Class III victory went to Rick McMaken on a 1915 Harley-Davidson. Like Wilmarth, McMaken finished with a perfect score, as did seven other riders in the multi-speed class: Fred Lange, Wayne Stanfield, Steve Huntzinger, Dave Kleptz, Mike Madden, Dave Fusiak and Steve Barber. In this case, all of the motorcycles were 1915 models (six Harley-Davidsons plus Steve Huntzinger's Excelsior), so the victory went down to the final tiebreaker—the age of the rider. That tiebreaker determined that the top three in the class would be McMaken, Lange and Huntzinger.
“I never thought that my age would be a factor,” said McMaken, who is 69. “I didn't think that I would be lucky enough to finish on perfect points, although I thought several other people would.”
McMaken said that his '15 Harley made the ride easier than he expected.
“These things are Cadillacs,” he said, “Until two days ago, the only thing I had done to the bike was adjust the rear chain.”
The most interesting competition came in Class I, for single-cylinder, single-speed machines. These motorcycles were truly challenged by the course, and in particular, by steep uphills in North Carolina, New Mexico and Arizona. None of the Class I machines completed every mile of the ride, but Katrin Boehner of Germany came closest, completing over 3,000 miles on her tiny 250cc 1907 J.A.P. machine.
What made Boehner's victory all the more impressive was that her motorcycle relies on a direct belt drive, meaning that each time the motorcycle stops, so does the engine. The only way Katrin could start it was to run alongside until the engine caught, then jump aboard. She demonstrated that bump-starting technique dozens of times a day and hundreds of times over the course of the coast-to-coast ride.
Boehner, who came to America for the event with her husband, Dieter Eckel, said the two of them enjoyed the entire Cannonball experience.
“Everything was better than we expected,” she said, “the scenery, the people and the result. We never expected to go this far on the bike without some kind of problem.”
Boehner edged out second-place finisher Vince Martinico, riding a 1914 Pope, by just 63 points to take the class victory. Martinico rode an advanced 625cc overhead-valve machine with chain drive that he noted could match many of the twins in climbing ability and cruising speed. But on the third day of the ride, the organizers offered a shorter alternate route to competitors that avoided some of the steepest climbs in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Martinico chose to run the short route, while Boehner attempted the entire course, and completed all but one mile of it. That gave her a 100-point lead that she never lost.
Third place in Class I went to Paul Ousey, on a 1913 Harley single with flat-belt drive. Like Martinico, Ousey skipped some of the steep mountain sections, putting himself behind in the points standings. But he still completed more than 2,600 miles on the machine.
The ride wound down with an awards ceremony this evening, in which artist David Uhl presented original paintings as trophies to Brad Wilmarth and Rick McMaken as the winners of Classes II and III, and Jeff Decker presented an original sculpture to Katrin Boehner as the winner of Class I.
Organizer Lonnie Isam closed the evening with a few comments about the event he created.
“I just had the idea,” he said, “and it took a lot of people to make it happen. For the past year, everybody had been talking about us making history with this ride, and I think we did.”--Bill Wood