STURGIS | The Motorcycle Cannonball Run isn't a headlong charge to get to the finish line first, rather, the aim is just to get there in the first place.
Endurance, not speed, is the name of the game for approximately 100 vintage motorcycle riders who set out from Portland, Maine, on Sept. 8, and will finish—the gods of motorcycle maintenance willing—in Portland, Ore., on Sept. 23.
This is far from a cross-country motorcycle run. The year’s Cannonball is limited to machines at least 90 years old, built in 1929 or earlier.
“Many of them are over 100 years old,” said LeeAnn Sims of Sturgis, who along with her husband, Jason, took over ownership of the event after founder Lonnie Isam, Jr., also of Sturgis, died from brain cancer in August of 2017.
This year’s 3,400-mile, coast-to-coast journey is being run in Isam’s memory.
The Motorcycle Cannonball Run is unique, taking vintage bikes out of garages and museums, and showing that they can still be ridden, and ridden hard, she said.
“Not just a little ride around the neighborhood, but across the country,” Sims said. “That’s what so cool about it.”
Last weekend the tour came through Pierre and stopped in Sturgis for a scheduled rest day on Monday, then set out bright and early Tuesday morning for the approximately 350-mile jaunt to the next stop in Billings, Mont.
The rest day was hardly that for most riders and mechanics, preparing for this week's climb over the Montana Rockies, with altitudes in excess of 7,000 feet.
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Jay Medeiros of New Bedford, Massachusetts, a mechanic for rider James Maloney, spent Monday checking nuts and bolts and changing the oil on Maloney’s 1918 Indian.
Most riders routinely spend at least two to three hours, or more, working on their bikes after each day’s ride, Medeiros said.
“Sometimes they’re working through the night just to make sure they can make it through the next day,” he said.
That level of maintenance is vital, because breakdowns on the road can only be fixed by the riders themselves. No help from support teams is allowed during a stage.
The run is scored by total miles completed. If a breakdown results in a bike being brought in by the event’s sweep team, the rider loses those miles from the total.
In case of a tie in miles completed, the age of the motorcycle and the rider serve as a tiebreakers.
Cole Deister of Colorado serves as the starter for each of the event’s 15 stages and also serves on the sweep team picking up disabled machines.
“When we get to the end, we’re just amazed,” Deister said. “It’s like, really, did we just do that? Did all these bikes just make it?