Home Safe – Afterword

So the trucks, trailers and team are home…. another Cannonball is done and it’s time to do the laundry.

If you didn’t already know it – the Crew were phenomenal – they really, really worked so hard each and every day. Up at 530am, out to the pits about 630am, unload the bikes from the trailer, check them over and warm them up. Fit the GPS’s and help the riders with their maps – it’s a fiddly job installing them in the maps boxes. Then, even as the bikes leave the start line, the trucks and trailers are rolling several hours to the stage finish line, find a decent spot, set up the pits (two large canopies, one 10×10, tables, chairs, generator, bike lifts etc etc). Check in all the crew and riders at the hotel – get room keys. Then maybe a hurried lunch and an hour or so to get personal stuff done.

Then the bikes roll in, talk to each rider, get a report, drain and assess the oil. Each bike goes on a lift, gets a complete check of every nut and bolt and a deep clean – because that’s how you find the problems. Cables and chains are adjusted/replaced, suspension points oiled/greased, pressures checked, tank refuelled and refilled with oil. And that is just the basic service! Maybe there’s cracks to be welded, engines to be rebuilt, clutches to be replaced. Grab supper – usually in the pits – and carry on working. The party canopy is going strong – lots of people wandering in and out, asking questions. Don’t get me wrong – that wasn’t a problem – but it all adds to the background noise.

Then – time to wrap – bikes are rolled off the lifts, which are stowed in the trailer. Tools and consumables put away, collapse the canopies and put away, tables and chairs put away, bikes rolled into the trailer – now the pits are all buttoned up…. until tomorrow. Now it’s time to drag Richard to bed.

Now do that every day for 17 days – the only people who work like this are roadies and fair-hands. It’s fun but it’s hard……..

But wait, there’s more! Team Norton and Big D Cycle pride themselves on helping out other riders, other teams. It was a rare night that Ryan or someone wasn’t welding a bike frame or engine mount, or machining a part, or doing something to help out fellow-Cannonballers.

So – this is the time to say Thank You to the guys who really got it done:

Ryan Ambrose (Crew Chief), Scot ‘Grady’ Aday, Mark Zenor, Reyes ‘Rey’ Jimenez, Hunter Garrison, Larson Statham, Reid Schulz, Alton Gillespie.

As the chronicler of Team Norton’s journey – it’s my honour to thank and congratulate my fellow-riders: Stewart Garrison, Keith Martin and Richard Asprey. We all helped each other and I had a lot of laughs with these guys, no one I’d rather ride with.

Richard is the man who makes things jump – he did this in 2016 and being the gracious and kind person he is, he brought along his friends so that they could join in the fun in 2018 and 2021. None of this would have happened without him, and I owe him a huge debt of gratitude for offering me #115 to ride.

All the Cannonballers are awesome but I’d like to call out some especially: Victor Boocock who comes from a part of Lancashire near and dear to me, as my Mum was raised there, and whose stamina and puckish good humour are nothing short of amazing. He did all this at the age of 79! Scott Byrd – Mayor of Arkadelphia and who is now Lord Mayor – as Richard knighted him at the side of the road with a bag of beef jerky. Steve Rinker who is a fireball in human form – and along with his boys Jared & Justin – is always ready for riding and partying. Jon Neuman – from our part of the world here in North Texas. Jon and Jaci Dobbs from Wisconsin – great roadtrip comrades. Doug Feinsod who loaned me a can of WD40 – just in case – in the worst rainstorm imaginable.

Bartek Mizerski – who came all the way from Poland and was denied a perfect score only by a flat tyre. Ben Pierce who never lost his calm demeanour despite ferocious challenges including being his own mechanic as well as rider – piloting a 350cc Ner-A-Car which has astonishing performance and maintained a perfect score for over 3,000 miles only to be denied very close to the end – but he did make the finish! Finally – hats off to Dave Currier who won the Cannonball on his 1911 Harley 7A – single cylinder with leather belt drive. To pilot this across the country is a true feat of physical and mental endurance.

Then there are the Cannonball Organisers, Jason and LeeAnn Sims, and their dedicated team who worked so very hard to make this happen and to be a success. Thank you so very much. You can explore more about the team members at https://motorcyclecannonball.com/about/

Finally – the most important person to thank is my bride of 21 years – Monica. She has allowed me to go off and play in the traffic, with patience and good humour. She also rode on the back of #115 when we participated in the Arkansas Musketball in 2020 – 220 miles that included 70-odd miles of horrendous dirt roads – sat on the toolbox with nothing but a cushion bought from Walmart as a seat.

For me, the sun doesn’t set or rise, without her.

I may write another post just about #115: I’m in awe of a machine that is so reliable, so easy to ride and has run through every season of weather without demur – but for now – see you down the road.

Final Day – We made it.

Richard, Stewart and I made the final stage to South Padre Island. 99 miles accomplished – bringing us to 3,720 from Soo to Myrtle Beach to South Padre Island.

We never saw the mid-90’s temps that would have challenged these side-valve engines but it felt warm enough at the staging area – nine miles short of the finish. Richard set off with Class I and we followed 10-15 mins later.

Richard arriving
Victor arriving

It seemed like an eternity until we were over the causeway and turned north up the island. One last joke was played – a light turned red at the worst time. I chose to stop, Stewart decided to go through. Immediately the police escort lit up and turned on the sirens. Stewart – for a heart stopping moment – pulled over expecting a ticket but they were just clearing the intersection for our benefit. We rode side by side – laughing our heads off.

Finally, finally we rolled into the finish – family and friends waiting to greet us. We’d made it.

#115 achieved a perfect score – winning Class IV and the 90-100 division. Plus she has now successfully completed two back to back Cannonballs with a perfect score.

It’s a testament to the quality of Big D Cycle’s work and the unceasing and unstinting work done by the Crew.

Final Day – McAllen to South Padre Island

Last day to go through the maps ritual. Each class gets maps at a different time. The rider must show their badge and get a long paper map and if they completed the previous stage – an Ace sticker to go on the bike.

Quick scan of the map to note fuel stops, lunch stop if mandatory, and finish time. Then roll it up from the top and mount in the map box (a fiddly painstaking operation).

Jon Neuman and Richard

We left the start line and then had a comical series of red lights all the way out of McAllen. Hit almost every single one and most times there was no cross traffic! Plus we were shadowed by a cop cruiser so we had to behave ourselves. Obviously the Cannonball Gods are not finished with us.

Nevertheless we made it a Norton 1-2-3 to the lunch stop. First time on the ride and so we stacked them up together.

Victor Boocock and his 1914 Harley

Sadly, today Stewart and I can’t leave with Richard today. His bike is in the 100+ category (Class I) and ours are mere striplings at 97 and 98 (Class IV). Our class has been in sync with his so far but today they are staging us differently. Oh well.

Saturday – Victoria to McAllen – the penultimate stage

Big stage today – 274 miles but with a hosted stop meaning no leaving early. So we were out at 715am and riding in 62F/17C which is nigh perfect but wasn’t going to last long.

So we rode fast to get as much distance in the cool. Flat farmland was replaced with marshes – we saw heron, egret and duck. Then we came out on the coast, and we went over the LBJ Causeway.

Then they put us on a loop road of posh houses with boat docks. Each one surrounded with groves of gnarled small trees – probably oak being Texas – but something about their appearance reminded me of olive groves giving them a vaguely South of France vibe.

It wasn’t before long that we came into Corpus Christi over the Nueces Causeway and the Harbor Bridge.

Then a few miles of truly horrible I-37 construction with a bump that launched me into near-earth orbit before we found the Harley dealership for lunch. Pleased to say the first bikes in were – in order – Norton 16H, Norton 16H, Harley, Ner-a-Car (the British one), Norton TT. Schwing!

Ben’s Ner-a-Car

It’s very cool how excited people are to see us and it’s honestly a pleasure to answer their questions and explain the mysteries of total loss oiling. I bonded with a couple of guys including a disabled Vet called Andy and a guy in a Norton tee who said he represented the sole totality of the South Texas Norton Club 😀. But he has a nice collection! Embarrassed to say that the Cannonball short term memory syndrome is still working on me. (Mate – email me on chris@ntnoa.org and let us know when u are next in DFW).

On the dot of permitted time – Stewart and I got out, Richard following at a more leisurely pace. The roads were good and traffic pretty light. The winds were friendly and we made good time. I was riding very conservatively to protect my perfect score. The last thing I wanted was a DNF.

I met up with Stewart and then Richard at mile 195 for my second fuel stop. Stewart headed out but I waited another 20 minutes to let the engine totally cool, as did Richard. I’ve only seen more CB bikes at a gas station once – and that was Montana in 2018 because we were told it was the only gas for 100 miles.

With about 80 miles to go – it was all highway. I babied the bike at 39-41mph and gradually most if not all the bikes came past. What’s funny is when big vehicles go by – I’m drifting along at 40 and all of sudden I’m at 46. I’m being drafted!

I don’t know if this is just a regular thing down here, but we’ve had two days of the most amazing Simpson skies. Just ridiculously perfect, almost cookie cutter clouds – a parody of a parody. It was distinctly pleasant to ride into the shade of one and remove the sun’s glare. Riders will know that Texas sun will laser its way through even a smoked visor, in short order.

It was pretty straightforward – until I actually came into McAllen and the last 10-12 miles were horrible. Multi-lane highways, construction, no lane discipline, massive deltas in speed, and then snarls in the traffic. I was raging by the time I reached the finish but all that evaporated as Greg & Lou McBride and Monica were there to wave us in. Fantastic.

So one more stage – the final one – only 99 miles but there’s many a slip between leap and saddle.

Friday – Nacogdoches to Victoria

Update:

The first hour or so after the start was not particularly fun. We were on a farm to market road with a 70/75mph limit but a seemingly endless ribbon of double yellows. The Class I bike which cruise at 35-40 were ahead of us and there was a semi following them. Then behind us a long line of traffic.

No opportunities for passing and that meant we were held at a pace below our preferred cruise speed. Then workers closed the road to lay down cones and we were further held up – fortunately for them, the Class I’s escaped that so it was the semi, us and the traffic behind that got held up.

Once free of that, we got on a slightly easier road for passing, and so we tucked over and tried to let as much of the backlog past. Having a pick-up pass you at 40 over your speed, within a few feet, focusses the mind wonderfully.

After about 60miles, Richard and Keith stopped for gas while I continued. I planned my first fuel stop at 120 miles with a second at 220. I ended up on a much nicer and quiet road so just cruised.

After the first gas stop, my bike again had a slight loss of power – just not sure what it’s about – but I fed her a little more oil to show I cared, and continued.

At mile 220 – I pulled into a station and planned a long stop to allow the bike to really cool. Then I made an idiot mistake which ensured I had a job to do while I waited. The tank has two separate compartments – one for oil and one for fuel. Distracted by some eager questioning about the bike (which I do not mind – in fact it’s a pleasure) I opened the wrong cap and slopped a cupful of petrol into the oil tank before I realized. Idiot!!

So, first suction every single drop out using the plunger pump and pour in a small amount of oil to wash it out – suction that out, then pour on fresh oil from my stash. By the time I did that the engine was properly cool.

So pleased to have redeemed myself somewhat, I set off again. But within 15 miles I came to a spluttering halt accompanied by a barrage of backfires through the carburettor. Not anything to do with my rookie mistake but something else potentially more serious.

I removed the magneto dustcap, cleaned the points with a dollar bill, checked the lead and plug. It then started and all seemed good and I (slightly nervously) resumed. The bike then ran perfectly under a Simpsons sky all the way into Victoria.

Victoria put on a big show for us – live band, car show and a lot of people. Our hosts were Steve and Joan Klein and they organized a great time and good food.

We had yet more friends visit, several members of the Vincent Owners Club including Mark Scott and Peter Allen. The seven-odd Vincents and a bevel drive Ducati attracted as much attention as the CB bikes.

Given that the Friday stage was nearly as long as today’s, and would take in warmer temps, I decided discretion was the better part of valour and retired early.

First Post

282 miles today – moments of nervousness, mild panic, high humour, and yet more pals who came to wish us well. I’d blog more but it will have to wait as our hotel logistics to just get the bikes to the start line tomorrow are complicated. So it’s a 5am start. More to follow but here are some pics.

Thursday – Arkadelphia to Nacogdoches

Sunset in Arkadelphia

So thanks to Mayor Scott Byrd – we had a police escort from our hotel starting point to the open roads in the country. So it was a lovely spin starting in cold temps (46F/8C) and it never got that warm – which was great.

My kickstart return spring broke first thing but that wasn’t a problem that couldn’t be solved with a bungee cord. I didn’t stop for fuel until just before the mandatory lunch stop at Texarkana. Since we have to stay there until a set time – much better to fuel before than after.

Clinton at the lunch stop

Amazingly, Stewart and I were the first two to the lunch stop. It was so cool to see a lot of great friends there, waiting for us. Clinton was there, Bill and Amy Felton, Mark Dunn, Roger and Al, Dan Piassek and probably some I’ve forgotten!

Bill and Amy
Dan

We left on the dot of permitted time and headed out for the afternoon run to Nacogdoches. My bike ran great 95% of the time, but had this mystifying loss of power twice. I stopped both time to allow it to cool a bit. But I made it and pulled into the crowded square where all the crew were there to greet us. Some of the lunchtime crowd preceded us and more arrived including Randy and Gary, Hank and Arlene and Paul Dowling, Richard Bowman and Mike Med. You might remember that Richard and Louise saw us off in Soo and so he very nearly bookended the trip.

Hank and Arlene
Randy, Gary and Dan
Al and Roger
Mark, Hank, Paul and Richard B
Mike

Wednesday – Tunica to Arkadelphia

The weather gods made amends after the bloody awful rain that started Saturday and only finished yesterday. The temperature at 7am was a blissful 59F/15C with blue skies and that dawn clarity you see when every single particle of dust and pollen has been washed from the air. Mississippi wasn’t completely finished with us – we had to cope with bad roads all the way to the River. I took some vid as we crossed – nearly dropped the damn phone. We’ve crossed some mighty big rivers on this ride but the Miss is the big one.

Again – I elected for a long fuel strategy – not refueling until mile 93 which may not sound much but when you are averaging 30-35mph depending on the complexities of route, you can get a pretty numb bum in that distance. Unfortunately Stewart hadn’t gotten the memo and followed – his auxiliary expired at mile 80-ish and the spare bottle of fuel only just got him to the station. They were few and far between in these parts. We saw a lot of rice being grown in these parts, by the way. Dale Bumpers got a lot of credit I noticed….. with nature reserves and Rice Research Centres being named for him. Ex-Gov of Arkansas.

Between that first stop and the next at mile 193 – I didn’t see one other CB-er! I got that inevitable spooky feeling that maybe I’d gone wrong – and of course that nagging feeling I’d missed a checkpoint. It’s a terrible thing to be in my head. But the piney woods and gentle swoops and curves were very nice to putter through. The thud-thud of the single was reassuringly monotonous, it’s a lovely sound. When you get near another single, as when we ride together, the harmonics are very interesting.

Incidentally, the sound of the exhaust is distinctly different when you retard the ignition versus advanced. When the revs are low – the sound is pretty fat but retard the ignition and it sounds really fat. If you are following someone – you can tell where they have set the ignition lever.

I might be harping on the condition of the roads a bit, but some of the roads were not to the usual standard I expect of Arkansas! Usually buttery smooth perfection, these had some jarring potholes and bumps. But we saw a lot of logging trucks and as is typical, they are heavily loaded and driving fast.

Riding into Arkadelphia, the surface smoothed out and it was a real pleasure. When we rolled in, it was awesome! They cordoned off a street and we were announced one by one as we checked in – had to laugh though, Richard was announced as Reecard Hairspray.

The bikes were lined up and we walked into the fire station to eat a lovely meal. Coincidentally, one of the Riders and big personalities of the CB is Scott Byrd who just happens to be…… Mayor of Arkadelphia. Usually, we are only too glad to get released from Parc fermé to take the bikes to get serviced and to grab a beer or three, but this was a genuine fun event.

Our hotels were 10 minutes away, and we had a police escort which was very cool.

Tuesday – Trussville Alabama to Tunica Mississippi

What started innocently enough in mild but humid conditions turned into a mad ride that I won’t forget in a hurry. I would have published this last night but I drank about a pint of champagne to celebrate getting over the finish line.

And we’re off

It was a slow start fighting our way out of the Birmingham ‘burbs. One turn came up in a hurry and Stewart sheared a pin stomping on the rear brake which meant he had no effective brakes for the rest of the 282 mile route. Oh well, if you can’t take a joke, you shouldn’t have joined up, as the saying goes.

At about mile 50 and under team orders, I decided to strike out on my own and run a two stop fuel strategy. #115 has an excellent range – at least 75 miles on the main tank plus another 40 at least on the auxiliary tank. I was also carrying two supplementary bottles of fuel. I gave one to Stewart who was running close with me as his main tank is smaller.

One of the first things I saw as we crossed into Mississippi was a prison gang picking up litter so it definitely had a Cool Hand Luke vibe. I made good time and re-filled at mile 172. I’d been a bit worried that I might have sleepwalked past a check point and so asked the leader who happened to be filling up at the same station – had he seen a checkpoint? He looked at me with absolute horror and asked – had he missed one? It took me a while to talk him off the ledge. Such is the pressure of the CB.

Stewart turned up as I was about to leave so we rode together until we reached Oxford, the route was pretty but the road felt like it hadn’t been repaired since Cool Hand Lukes’s last attempt. I stopped to don rain gear as it started to come down like stair rods, waving Stewart on.

The rain paused for a while while we crossed the Sardis Dam and yes there was a checkpoint there. Shortly after the heavens opened yet again and this time in earnest. I didn’t know there was that much water in the world – the only place it wasn’t raining was in my helmet. Gradually it filled every nook and cranny – I was wetter than an otter’s pocket.

Then at about mile 250 they set up an emergency checkpoint to give us a new route due to flooding. This actually lengthened the route and put us on the most dreadful, misbegotten excuse for a road. I still can’t believe that a highway like that can exist in the US. The rain was indescribable as was the language in my helmet as I couldn’t see enough to avoid the worst of the bumps and potholes. I was seriously worried about the bike being shaken apart.

At long last, as I rode into Tunica, the rain slackened and then abated – I’ve never been so glad to see the finish line. To make it even better, Ed and Colleen Sass were there to greet us!

I’m not hunched – my camelback is under my rain slicker

My leather gloves are not colour-fast

Oil be back

So – ever since I started riding #115 prior to the 2018 CB, I’ve been paranoid about whether I’m oiling the engine correctly. Under oil, seize the engine, over oil and possibly overheat and stress the engine – neither are attractive propositions. But I had an epiphany and it’s all thanks to a gentleman called D.R. O’Donovan – long dead so I raise a glass to his memory every time I think about oiling a 16H (which is a lot based on current circumstances).

Some context: all our bikes have a total loss oiling system meaning there is no oil pump in the modern sense, so there’s no scavenging and recirculating of oil… it goes into the bottom of the engine, gets splashed around the internals by the crank and flywheel so lubricating the various bearings and the piston, and then exits the engine. That could be past the piston or via an orifice which allows oil vapour to blow over the timing chain driving the magneto – so lubricating the chain. In a modern engine, oil blowing past the piston is a bad thing, it’s polluting and is a sign of poor compression and performance. In these venerable side valve engines, it’s a good thing – because that oil vapour is the only way to lubricate the valves. So blue smoke exiting the magneto cover and the exhaust is a good thing – within reason.

By the way, early WW1 fighter planes had total loss oiling systems and also used castor oil – which had distressing side effects for the pilots who were pretty much inhaling the oil vapours every time they flew. So I’ve read.

So you have to have a delivery system and part of the fuel tank is compartmented to hold oil (SAE50 made from petroleum and not castor oil thank God) and there is a syringe like mechanism mounted in the tank with a plunger on top. That plunger is spring loaded, press down on it and it will suction up a given amount of oil as it rises – basically the capacity of the syringe – and then deliver it down a pipe to the engine. There is a sight glass and a rotary adjuster by which you can meter the flow. I was told to ensure that there was a steady drip through the sight glass, perhaps one drip per second.

That sounds good but there are challenges and those challenges have caused me no end of angst and worry that I’m mistreating a 98 year old motorcycle that is not mine. First, the delivery is not linear, once you press down that plunger, it will drip rapidly and then gradually slow as it exhausts the oil in the syringe. Second, the oil viscosity varies according to temperature, so the oil is more like treacle in the cold morning and then becomes more liquid as the ambient temperature increases and the engine itself warms the tank. Third, the sight glass has to be angled just right to be able to view it and fourth, and perhaps most crucially, the oil in the glass froths more as the engine revs higher. This is because the crankcase pressure oscillates between negative and positive with every stroke of the piston. So – when cruising at 40-45mph – you don’t see drops, you really see splats and froth. No wonder I was paranoid and continually squinting at the sight glass! In fact I came close to damaging the engine when running hard to catch up the others on Stage 3, and I had neglected to increase the oiling accordingly. The engine actually started to soft seize and only by opening the adjuster to full flow, did I get enough oil into the engine to save it.

Shaken, I went to Ryan – our crew chief – that evening and he has heard me worry about this many times. I must have been particularly angsty because he just handed me a sheaf of worn oily photocopies and told me to read. Amongst the workshop manuals and guides there was the authoritative voice of Mr D. R. O’Donovan.

Mr O’D said that, when averaging 25mph, you should deliver one pump of oil every ten miles. Pump in this case meaning press the plunger down fully from the top of its travel to the bottom. If you were averaging 35mph, then one pump every seven to eight miles. When racing, perhaps one pump every three miles – and if you were at Brooklands which was an oval banked circuit not that far from where my UK family live, you’d pump every lap!

Hallelujah! All this time I’d been thinking of drips and what I really needed to think of was pumps! We run at 40-45mph – sometimes even higher – so one pump every five miles seems to be a reasonable rate – based on Mr O’D’s dicta. Provided that I turn the adjuster enough to deliver a full pump of oil within five miles, I’m sorted. I use the GPS that provides speed and distance to tell me when that is.

What if I forget? Well…. don’t! But if I’m late, I simply ensure that I deliver a full pump before the next five mile marker by cranking up the flow.

So far this has worked very well for me and made for a much more relaxing ride. Here’s to you Mr O’Donovan.

PS – this is a perfect proof of the RTFM law

Sunday – a Day Off and Monday – Bad News perhaps?

Well it just rained and rained all through late Sat evening, through Sunday and only abated briefly late Sunday evening. What should have been a relaxing day off – especially for the crew – turned into a soggy workfest. Trucks had to be taken to be serviced, bikes modified with guards to protect the magnetos from water ingress – only my bike had survived the previous day completely unaffected. Probably because the mudguard is noticeably deeper and wider than the others.

I tried to make myself useful as a gofer, plus I also tidied the supplies trailer as I’m acting as an unofficial quartermaster. One of the more mundane but necessary jobs was to lift the canopies where water was pooling and bellying the fabric to tearing point.

We did make time to celebrate Nanci’s birthday and we still had a lot of fun – but I could see the crew were pretty tired by day’s end.

So, it was with mixed feelings that we heard that Monday’s stage to Alabama was cancelled. The CB organisers took advice from the authorities and found too much of the route was under jeopardy of flooding, or was already flooded.

So we zipped up the bikes in the trailers and hit the road by truck to Trussville. I was amused but pleased to see that we are billeted in the same hotel we used for the Smokies Epic Ride. Plus we had a lovely rowdy lunch – riders and crew – in Trussville and put all the soaked gear out to dry. So it’s not all bad.

Tomorrow is the longest stage yet – 282 miles to Tunica Mississippi.

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