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Cannonball 2012 - The Roadies View


October 2011 - Jeff Alperin declares intention to do the 2012 cannonball, and asks if I would like to wrench for him all expenses paid. Turn offer down as I don’t know what I am doing next week, let alone next year. 

July 2012 - buy ticket to US to look after Fort Yarocki and Mrs Yarocki while George is on the cannonball. Looking forward to a nice quiet month in Connecticut.

August 2012 - Third member of Team Yarocki pulls out at the last minute, Jeff rides off in Florida with kickstand down, flips the bike, newly rebuilt 101, into a steel barrier. Breaks ankle and wrist. George calls and asks if I can come on the run and fly out early to check the bike over.  Cool, I think, I’ve ridden the Beast before, it’s a great bike, and I know that even if the frame and fork are bent, we have time to fix it at George’s facility. Look forward to spending the whole trip learning about Harley Js and Hendersons. 

End of August - Arrive in Torrington a day before Jeff does. Next day I am out test riding the Beast. Have to finish the fettling, as Jeff hasn’t ridden since the accident. Fortunately the bike is a little dog eared, but otherwise undamaged. Over the next week we put several hundred miles on the beast, adjusting oiling, completing the run in, making sure everything is easy for the invalid, who removes casts and has first ride since the accident with only a few days to go. He is sore but has no adverse reactions. Getting throttle as easy as possible a necessity.  Life is good. 

Tension mounts as Ian Patton arrives from UK, him and bike picked up from airport by Buzz Kanter, the publisher of American Iron. Buzz has a 101 and is a regular visitor to Torrington. Final testing and loading of bikes, tools and spares done, we still don’t know if three of the other 101s will make it, Josh Wilson desperately troubleshooting his newly acquired scout, Doug Wrothke has lost a wrist-pin (gudgeon pin) on the ride up from Alabama, and Marcin Grela from Poland has disappeared from the face of the earth. 

Tuesday Sept 4 - George, Ian and Jeff leave for Newburgh with the Indians and luggage. I follow when the rain stops on my BMW R80. It’s going to be ballast for the trailer, and hopefully light relief en route too. nice evening  ride thru the back roads , and find hotel after extended tour of downtown Newburgh , curiously reminiscent of Starsky and Hutch era New York . 

Wed 5 - more fettling, carburation not correct .tension rises as people fettle and urgently repair bike. Ian Patton hooks up with Gary and Linda from Colorado, and serenely surveys the surroundings while munching on Linda’s carrot cake and sipping herbal tea .Rinkers roll in with more spares and tools than us. Great, 101 team efforts has good support. Enough time and we can fix anything on a standard 101 .some teams have full sized semi-trailers with lathes on board.  Josh arrives tomorrow, Doug is having problems again, and no one knows where Marcin is. Had a Guided tour of Orange County Choppers. We have dinner with Brent from Ohio.

Thurs 6 - 1 day to go, Jeff nervous but bike fine. Ian drinks more tea, and networks. Josh has arrived, and asks if we can help time his bike. It’s a team effort from now on, all 101s together against the Harleys and Hendersons. Steve Rinker and I pull off Josh’s timing cover to time the mag. several bushings fall out. Twelve hours later, as the heat subsides, the bike is running, just. Steve provided a new substitute set of cam followers, and the bushings are back in with the help of bearing fit, beer cans, and Orange County choppers lathe.  Mag cleaned up and timed, carb dismantled, reassembled with homemade gaskets, testing commences. After 20 miles the mag fails. Go to bed exhausted. Sleep the sleep of the dead, which is good, as Jeff snores very loudly. Must buy earplugs. Marcin arrives with a hot race motor in his 101, Doug slips in nonchalantly. 

Friday 7 - the off. Six 101s head to the start line. We have breakfast and chat with friends. Josh has mag issues again, sounds like condenser. Dave Shaw from Morris magneto rigs an external condenser with 10 minutes to go, and josh runs that way into San Francisco. Bikes head out on scenic route, back up has to stick to main roads, to avoid congestion. We arrive in Wellsboro. Pa after the bikes, find no parking. Most guys made it, Marcin had an airlock in his recirculating oil system and seized the front cylinder badly. After basic maintenance on The Beast, we start the hunt for spares. It has sport scout cylinders, so the two spare pairs we have, and the set that the Rinkers have are no use. Bike has chief flywheels, we can rebuild a stock 101 as long as the crankcases are good, given time. Marcins hot motor we can do nothing for today. He does well not to get too upset. Josh still running, we are all amazed.

Sat 8 - Early start, quick check of the Beast, and we head out. Back up route takes us north to interstate to save time, but torrential rain and fallen tree delay us. Morning call from Jeff’s helmet Phone assures us that everyone on the bikes is ok. Road works in Cleveland and an overturned chemical truck means back up and bike routes coincide. We see bikes going in all directions, and we miraculously drive straight thru the very centre of town. Everyone else apparently gets lost. Find hotel, good parking spot, and wait for bikes to arrive. Friends from Ohio have driven up to see us, service Jeff’s bike, check out Joshes, grab a beer, bed. 

Sunday 9 - leave Sandusky for Milwaukee. I get to drive thru congested interstate near centre of Chicago. Thank god it’s Sunday. George is amused that I can get so excited again driving near a city centre. Tell him it’s just like a film. Look forward to Harley museum and party. Stop at Harley museum, but get into bikes instead of the museum. Ian has serious handling problems and his mag has come loose. We find oddly sized balls in head bearing. Jim Petty on a 27 Chief comes up with correct balls.  We provide him with correct twist grip parts, get to meet his mechanics, Tim and Frank good guys. Ian’s front end better but still sloppy. Badly matched repro parts at fault.  Miss museum and party, but just catch all the bikes rolling in under police escort, the only day they come in together. Camera out of battery.  Around 10pm drop George and Jeff back at hotel and drive back to get into Marcin’s bike, not before Jeff tries to start a row with Marvin Hagler look alike hotel parking guy. I obviously look worried, as Marvin shows me his gold teeth, and winks. Back at the now closed museum, dismantling Marcin’s bike is slow, as nothing is standard. Takes 30 minutes just to get the pipes off. Find out it’s a real mess, realise we can’t fix it as is, and start the hunt for pistons. Leave Marcin to reassemble and head for bed. Early start tomorrow, wants to check a few things on the Beast .Brent from Ohio has headed for home, doesn’t want to wreck his bike.  

Mon Sept 10 - should be due for a lie in, late start to avoid traffic. Unfortunately didn’t give Jeff’s bike a good going over last night, as busy with other stuff, so up early. Jeff must be shattered, he was still typing his blog gone midnight. Another hotel breakfast - good choice. Tomorrow I will fill up on fresh fruit and maybe hit a hotel gym before we start. Today it’s a big pile of eggs, bacon, sausages, biscuits and gravy. Not a bad days drive, not much interstate. Introduce George to hank Williams. Arrive at hotel before the bikes. Check in. Sleep. George goes to check out the national bike museum in Anamosa, Iowa, where reception and dinner are being held.

After an hours kip, I wake up and head for J & P Cycles to check them out in person, our hotel is in the same place. Interesting place, nice guys. Head to museum. Bikes arriving. Jeff has throttle issues, take the beast out for a test ride. Check everything over, reset carb and throttle adjustment, thrash bike back to museum. Jeff says what about the slight hesitation at 55 mph. still there, says I. Don’t go over fifty, got another three thousand miles to go. Ian looks shattered, says handling bad, can I test ride it. Yep, round town, horrible. How many people have these horrible steering head bearings? (Marcin also does, it later turns out), wobble back to car park. Order new steering head bearings from Randy Walker, overnight freight to Sturgis. Good man. Now go hunting pistons for Marcin. A Polish friend of his has arrived with some nos Bonneville Sport Scout pistons. No good, as bike is stroked. We find it’s a Honda piston here, but no one has one in stock. Even museum owner, and also one of the curators, Mark Mederski, gets involved in the hunt. Marcin is going to have a huge phone bill, as every avenue is explored. Grab some food, too late to see museum, want to get the bikes back to the hotel to service them. Jeff shattered, so I ride the beast. Setting sun, no lid, nice. 

Back at the hotel, the 101s circle the wagons. The Rinkers have a box trailer full of tools and spares. Jim Petty, 27 chief, pulls up alongside. Shared lights and tools, it’s an Indian village. Steve Rinker's dad, buck, and a friend, dick jones, are driving Steve’s support vehicle. These guys become strong allies and good friends in the days to come. Last thing up, I ride the beast back to town to check on Ian, who’s at another hotel. He must be pretty disappointed, but is holding up well, and sensibly keeping clear of the pressure cooker environment elsewhere. Back to hotel, serenade Jeff with bad country and western songs on the guitar his son Dave lent me, one beer and bed. Must talk to the Hedstrom team tomorrow. 

Roadies Cannonball Roadies Cannonball Roadies Cannonball

Roadies Cannonball

Roadies Cannonball Roadies Cannonball Roadies Cannonball

Roadies Cannonball

Roadies Cannonball


Tues 11 - good start in the morning, nice route thru day. In small convoy with Dick Jones and Buck Rinker.  Pass thru home town territory of metal band Slipknot, buy Waylon Jennings cd to add to George’s musical education. Afternoon visit at Spirit Lake, Polaris victory assembly plant and the new home of Indian motorcycles from next year. No pictures unfortunately. Very modern facility, producing many atvs, but with a super modern assembly line spitting out 75 victory bikes a day. Informed that the North Carolina plant will be closed next year, and all Indians will be built at Spirit Lake. Apparently they have an R&D team in Europe at the moment looking into current market trends for new models. This could be a good thing, and may mean a diversification from 2 ton 3 litre Harley/orange county chopper clones with stupid fenders. Good luck Polaris Indian. Score some cool t shirts. Arrive at evening hotel in stifling heat, only to find support vehicles have to park a couple of miles away. Nice dinner and a party going on, check out Jeff’s bike instead. Meet Fuzz, the wrench for 1915 Harley, nice guy, hope to pick his brains about it later in trip. Must take some pics. Head off to ride around the lake, carb out again. Sun settings, no lid, cool. Funny locals, all seem to have little deer statues in their gardens. Realise statues are live, and head back as the little sods keep sprinting across road. Would be embarrassing to ruin Jeff’s trip of a lifetime by wiping out his bike on an evening jolly.  Carb set good again, Jeff will adjust it five miles down the road tomorrow.  Band still playing, and looks like a party going on late.  Shattered, goes to bed, dream of statues coming to life and knocking me off bike.   

Wed 12 - outrageous, twelve bucks for breakfast. Not that hungry.  Grab coffee and head off to hitch up trailer. Lend BMW to Ian for day. Nearly 300 miles on i-90 today, start to get into real open plains, arrive at hotel in Murdo early. Fortunately bikes have to be on display at pioneer auto museum till gone seven, so catch up on some zzzs, and actually get to look around a museum. Got Elvis Panhead, and the last surviving general lee from dukes of hazard, and a superbly odd collection of Americana stored in thirty odd sheds, mostly re-sited pioneer building. Cool. Nobby would like this. Team Yarocki service the bike later while the rider circles the site taunting George with a video camera, darting in and counting coup. Someone expresses surprise that an 85 year old would head across country on a trip like this, let alone lie on the tarmac wrenching. They obviously don’t know George. I am dead on my feet, he’s like a dynamo, zipping around the site on his electric cart, making sure all the 101s are well catered for. Ian is going to ride shotgun with George tomorrow, I have a day off on the BMW. 

Thurs 13 - wehey, day off. Effing great. Get ahead of the tour bikes, get into Bad Lands national park early and have a bit of a hike. Pop off trail for a leak and nearly walk into two odd looking deer, who stand about ten feet away blinking at me. I blink affectionately back. Bimble on thru park and meet tour coming the other way. First time I have seen it on the road, looks really cool. Chat for several minutes to Patti, Sioux girl working on the road works. She gets her I player thingy and sticks earphones in my ears so I can hear new bob Dylan album. Tell her I am planning on heading thru the pine ridge reservation, and down to Wounded Knee.  She recommends not, but points me down a side road to see the buffalo herd. Cool beans. 27 miles of dirt, hundreds of prairie dogs, no cars, and thru the middle of a buffalo herd. Decide that’s enough of a good thing, or I might go AWOL, so open the throttle and head for Sturgis. Get there almost before anyone else, and case the joint. We have a day off here tomorrow, so need to know where local facilities are. Sturgis coffee roasters first up. They do a coffee called the hammer. Chat to owner who has an r80gs, become a regular over the next two days. No time for sleep anyway. Next stop competition distributors, run by Lonnie Isan Sr. (Jr organises the cannonball). Lonnie opens his machine shop up to all and sundry for two days, and helps at least half a dozen bikes carry out major repairs. Met his friend (bob), who is out for his first ride since losing a leg a few months earlier to a blood clot.  Hats off to the dude, really nice shovel outfit.  Find hotel and we plan out campaign. 2k miles in, and decokes all round. Good job T Tom Fickau turned up in Milwaukee with a handful of 101 head gaskets, as we all have a batch from elsewhere that are burning thru. Ian’s head bearings have arrived from Randy walker, Marcin's Honda pistons are here too, and Doug Wrothke has had a pair of cylinders freighted in by Kent Thompson. Get into it, sorting Jeff’s bike first so we can have a clear run at the others. Doug installs himself with bike at competition distributors. A seasoned long distance rider, he is pretty self-sufficient, and after a short discussion on what he needs to do, he steams into it. Good man. Marci needs a cylinder hone, but first we need to get the aluminium out of the bore. Muriatic acid does the job.  Impressed. Lonnie is up for a hand op next week, and can’t run the hone, but sees me struggling, and JP and fuzz jump in to help. This shop is one of the high points on the whole trip, hats off to Lonnie Sr and his crew, who threw themselves into the job with gusto, and wouldn’t take any money for it.  Starting to get fried, leave Marcin in good hands and jump on BMW to get back to the hotel to see what’s next on the list. Crack throttle open and head off on left side of road. Oncoming car breaks, and I just miss them. Woops. Hear about reception thrown by local AMCA group for us, get there just in time for a feed.  Big do, shame to have missed most of it. Chat to Joe Gimpel about sport scouts, as he builds very successful racers. Must find time to pick his brains later on the tour.  The hammer was good, so can’t sit still for long, and rush off back to the shop to check on progress, and offer ferrying services.  No one seems keen to get on BMW with me. Must be in the eyes.  Back at hotel, I bounce between five 101s, like a pinball in Tommy's machine.  It’s all go as Steve Rinker has mag issues and a burnt out valve.  Big day tomorrow.  A beer and bed around midnight.

Tim Raindle  Tim Raindle

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Indian Motocycles - you can't wear them out                                  Indian Motocycles - built to last  
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