While there’s complication in keeping an 80-year old motorcycle running all day during the Cannonball, the landscape of America provides a calming counterbalance, as it’s absorbed in slow motion from one coast to the other.

Michael Lichter caught my Cannonball partner Alan Stulberg of Revival Cycles riding the Brough through Glenwood Canyon, Colorado

For the Cannonball riders, every mile held fascination and variety, as the landscape shifted from the Florida swamps, to the Georgia farms, the Tennessee and Kentucky woodlands, the Missouri and Kansas prairies, the enormous mountains of Colorado, the red canyons of Utah, Nevada’s harsh and treeless desert, Idaho’s rolling hills and hidden canyons, and Washington’s vineyards and volcanoes.

Following the ‘chopper dudes’ on their 1936 Knucklehead choppers, through the red rock canyons of Utah, which looks to be their natural habitat

An examination of our country at such a pace allows for a full range of celebration and indictment, for while there was never a mile of nature I would have missed – even the long stretches of Nevada’s forbidding dryness – the footprint of America’s inhabitants varies from placid farmlands and charming small towns, to ugly and identical strip malls, a constant refrain of Wal-Marts, boring suburbs, and the shocking blight of near-abandoned cities like Cairo Missouri. We were given bottled water at one hotel, and warned the tap water was unsafe to drink because of nitrates from farming; in other towns, chemical residue from fracking had poisoned the water, and I wondered if the seemingly innocent pleasure of riding an 80+ year old bike across the country was actually a costly luxury.

Grain silos in Kansas, near the Colorado border, in an area with tainted water supplies, near Goodland

Make of it all what you will, but we’ve seen a 4000-mile swath of the country, in all its mixed glory. The pockets of inane suburbia were dwarfed by the enormity of the country’s natural beauty, which only grew as we chugged westward, into the great, uninhabited swaths of Colorado and beyond. I was unfamiliar with landscapes further eastward, the tobacco barns, humid wetlands, and sugary lilt of waitresses in the South, and the beautiful geometric Amish barn-murals as far west as Kansas. Each rider yearned to spend more time in some charming spot or other, to hang around a bit longer on two wheels, but we all suffered the Cannonball Curse: a 17-day parade of interesting places, with no time to explore.

Frank Westfall riding in the rain in northern Nevada, just south of the Idaho border

My 2014 Cannonball was the opposite of my 2012 ride, which was a sandwich of struggle and heartbreak, with a glorious 1000-mile ride on my Velocette KTT in the middle. This year, I’d arranged a partnership with Alan Stulberg of Revival Cycles of Austin, who took care of prepping our borrowed 1933 Brough Superior 11-50 (many thanks to Bryan Bossier of Sinless Cycles for the loan), plus cross-country transport and support, in the form of mechanic Chris Davis. Thus, I was relieved of mechanicking to concentrate on riding the Brough responsibly, an onerous task given its capabilities. Whatever reputation British motorcycles may have acquired for unreliability and fragility simply didn’t apply to the Brough, which was a rock. George Brough blew a lot of smoke, but there’s fire in his handiwork, and the consensus among Cannonballers was surprised respect; it was clearly the most all-around capable machine on the rally.

Team #38 chief mechanic Chris Davis from Revival Cycles at 6:30am, without a wrench in hand. Why? That was his day to ride from Springville Utah to Elko, Nevada, which might be the reason he looks a bit excited.

Which isn’t to denigrate the seven 1936 Harley EL Knuckleheads on the Cannonball, none of which experienced significant trouble, and most of which received perfect scores by Tacoma. I was offered a 240-mile ride over the Rockies on Matt McManus’ lovely blue/white Knuck, and it traversed the two 11,000’+ passes with aplomb, roaring across them at 60mph. The handling wasn’t as sure-footed as the Brough, but it was difficult to parse the square tires from the quality of the chassis. It took determination to heel the beast around hard bends, and is the only bike I’ve ever had to wrestle the bars in a steering – as opposed to counter-steering – manner. I came away impressed that Matt rides his machine so quickly through the bends, as even this corner-scratcher would be more circumspect. The engine, though, was willing and smooth, revving freely and feeling perfectly modern.

Darryl Richman explains his gearbox woes to Doug Wothke; a temporary repair with set screws to a bearing housing ‘only’ held for 3000 miles, and we still had 984 miles to go! Darryl got it sorted the next day…

Quite a few bikes made all the miles, 32 in total, which included four ‘Class I’ bikes of 500cc, from the ’24 Indian Junior Scout of Hans Coertse (from South Africa, and the eventual Grand Prize winner), to a ’31 Moto Guzzi Sport (Giuseppe Savoretti from Italy), a 1932 Sunbeam Model 9 (ridden by Kevin Waters, with an engine built by Chris Odling of Scotland), and the BMW R52 owned by Jack Wells and ridden by Norm Nelson. Other Class I bikes struggled with the enormity of America, and gave bother, including a marque one might assume a cake-walk; early BMW’s have never had an easy run with the ‘Ball, and two retired completely before the first week had passed, while others found creative ways to lose mile points. The middle category, Class II, was dominated by Harley J series machines, which made up the bulk of the Cannonball entry. A litany of complaints prevented them swamping the leaderboard, as broken conrods and melted pistons, even a catastrophic fire, took a toll on their numbers.

Spirit of the Cannonball winners! Shinya Kimura, Ayu Yamakita, and Yoshima Niimi

The four-cylinder brigade of Hendersons, Excelsior-Hendersons, and Indians did well, and all were still running by the end. The big boys, Class III, generally did well, and had an easier time of the rally, being faster and more comfortable than the 1920s-era machines, yet cruised with their 1920s brethren at 50mph out of self-preservation. Riders of slower machines experienced a different rally, being unable to pass vehicles up big hills, and suffering the wake of large trucks as they hammered past; a slow ride is a patient ride, and vulnerable, but faster traffic (not that we encountered a density of cars) proved ultimately safe.

Ron Roberts with his ’36 Indian Chief he found in a basement

As our Rally Master, John Classen, was unable to make the final banquet, I was asked to emcee the prizegiving ceremony, in which all rivalries were set aside for noisy celebration. As mentioned, Hans Coertse won the big prize with his pretty ‘24 Indian Junior Scout, which he described as having two speeds – 35mph or 45mph, and that’s how he crossed the country. Perhaps the most significant prize, regardless of points or mileage, went to the Japanese team of Shinya Kimura, Yoshimasa Niimi, and Ayu Yamakita, the only team using the same machine in all 3 Cannonballs, their 1915 Indian, which has become a rolling accretion of unusual mechanical compromises and artful fixes, changing daily as the next 100 year old part broke or vanished beside the highway. For all their persistence, they received a standing ovation, and the Sprit of the Cannonball award. Well deserved.

The sole Rudge this year; four valves, four speeds, but a real challenge over the vastness of America
With a cruising speed of around 45mph, Stu Surr had plenty of time to watch the scenery on his 1924 Rudge
A salt flat; pushing Ziggy’s ’36 Indian Chief with a flat tire into the panoramic photo session on very mushy salt at Bonneville – no records set today!
Half the panorama; Michael Lichter set up two full-group shots – first on Daytona Beach, then Bonneville, but the latter shot had only 73 bikes, 35 less than Daytona…
Scotland? No, Nevada, in Wild Horse Canyon; an oasis of good riding roads in the midst of a very large desert.
Scott Byrd on his JD bob-job north of Elko, Nevada
Shinya Kimura on his 1915 Indian, the only 3-time Cannonball machine
Shinya contemplating maintenance
Shinya Kimura doing night maintenance on his 1915 Indian
More grain silos; corn and soybeans fill up America’s Middle
Yes, quite so. Running sweet and smooth, no problems, less worries as the days droned on…
Francisco Tirado of Spain on his cheater Indian Chief, a ’36 rolling chassis with ’47 engine…but he made it!
Team #38: Susan McLaughlin, Paul d’Orleans, Alan Stulberg, Chris Davis, at the finish line in Tacoma
The Brough didn’t mind a few extra-curricular miles of exploring
Thomas Trapp (Germany) and Marcin Grela (Poland) stop to admire the Nevada desert

t’s difficult to express the vastness of the America landscape in photos, but this gives a clue
At times, any flat spot helps when trouble strikes. At least it wasn’t raining on Terry Richardson and his ’32 Harley VL. Built in the thick of the Depression, this bike comes from a very limited run that year…
Despite the ‘helmet hair’, the Brough kept thundering along; here in Meridian Idaho.
Official Cannonball photographer Michael Lichter, and the groovy fringe jacket he found en route.

Picturesque ruins in eastern Utah, before the canyonlands, but after the mountains of Colorado
Arriving at David Uhl’s studio for a fantastic dinner spread under a wedding tent
Shinya Kimura’s 1915 Indian lost compression one afternoon. Or half its compression, anyway. He had it fixed that evening, and was on the road the next day.
Niimi addressing the Indian

A welcome, if unusual, sight at the top of Chinook Pass in Washington: the 1923 Neracar of Martin Addis

‘Morticia’, the ex-wall of death ’29 Indian 101 Scout, with a wheelbase shortened by 4″, and her owner Ryan Allen
Riding Loveland Pass on a borrowed ’36 Harley was pretty special
Kevin Waters on his ’32 Sunbeam Model 9, somewhere in eastern Washington
Testing the tires of a pair of matching Knucks, and a Brough, down Loveland Pass. Michael Lichter photo
Another Knuck in America’s grainlands, Idaho

Some of Colorado’s autumn splendor, and a few Knucks to boot (plus Fred Lange’s special OHV JDH)
Some of Colorado’s autumn splendor, and a few Knucks to boot (plus Fred Lange’s special OHV JDH)
It was great to see Jared Zaugg in Idaho, here with his father’s swanky Daimler convertible
John Stanley on his 1933 Harley-Davidson VLE
Just so you won’t forget our Frera riders from Italy, Claudia Ganzaroli and Sante Mazza

Our German and Polish guests relax in the vineyards of Washington
Steven Rinker’s ’36 Indian Chief in the middle of nowheresville
Fashion is where you find it; while wet and very cold in Kansas, we stopped in a Wal-Mart for warmer clothes, and found some groovy camo gear too. Every man needs a Gillie suit.

The 1933 Brough Superior 11.50 and a grain silo, in the canyons of eastern Washington state
Ciro Nisi and his 1924 Moto Guzzi Sport in Utah. Ciro had a small spot of trouble, but made most of the miles
3 weeks of helmet hair is hard on a man, so I got a haircut at Legends Motorcycles in Springville Utah, from Dayna Boshard at the Refinery. Looks good! I’ll post Paul Ousey’s haircut next time, in my Wet Plate story…
Across the finishing line with Alan Stulberg.
I made a detour in Pasco, Washington, for some bank business, and came across a farmer’s market, with a Louisiana fish fry truck. Best lunch of the Cannonball.
The riders who made it all the way.
Dottie Mattern turned 70 on the ride, and her ’36 Indian Scout was a sight for sore eyes.
He kept calm, he carried on. Peter Reeves from Britain, on his ’29 Harley JD
Inside Jeff Decker’s Hippodrome Studio. Treasures untold.
Jeff Decker’s customized Crocker and ‘Vincent Black Lightning’ specials
Dan says it’s just too easy on a Knucklehead…
Craig Jackman pleading with his hotrod twin-carb VL
The Cossacks Drill Team are a Seattle staple, and have been training for decades; they put on a great show!
Back in civilization after miles of desert…
Chris Davis ponders the Brough in the sage
Used as the maker intended. Even after it won the Born Free 6 show; Bill Buckingham’s chopper.
Buzz Kanter in the vastness. Fires in California brought smoke all the way up to Idaho
A pair of cool cafe racers greeted us in Meridian Idaho; Triumph and BSA twins
Brough, sage, sky
Canyonlands; off-piste in eastern Nevada
The world famous Washington apple orchards

The red canyons of Utah offer an exceptional riding terrain – with a lot of groomed red dirt roads. The Brough didn’t seem to mind.

“But for me, that endless blacktop was my sweet eternity.” The Loveless
A little roadside repair for the BMW boys

Any vintage BMW owner has considered Todd Rasmussen at some point during a restoration or rebuild…here with his ex-Bulgarian BMW R51/2
“Sweet days of summer, the sagebrush in bloom”

Two bikes, one team; Alan Stulberg on the Brough, and me on Matt McManus’ Harley Knucklehead
The final banquet of the Cannonball – general mayhem after 17 days on the road.
Our grand prize winner with his Jeff Decker sculpture; Hans Coertse of South Africa.