Indian Riders
Header image



Motocycle Club
Indian Motocycles - you can't wear them out                                  Indian Motocycles - built to last
The 2012 Motorcycle Cannonball.....a strange kind of madness!!


A 4,000 mile ride on the saddle of a 1928 motorcycle, in 16 days, including gridlock in Cleveland, Midwestern storms, frost and ice in Yellowstone National Park and a 9,000 foot climb over the Rockies. What I rediscovered was the spirit and the challenge of the open road, the camaraderie of those involved with old motorcycles, good old American hospitality, and the assurance that it’s still all out there to be enjoyed if you take the trouble to root out the right roads and a suitable destination.  What had I achieved? Not much really, except a lot of fun, a long time ambition fulfilled and a re-mortgaged house.
It had taken two hours to emerge from JFK’s immigration queue into the blue sky and 92 degree temperature of New York City. Directly across the taxi rank, sat Buzz Kanter in his smart new pick-up, with my Indian 101 sitting proudly behind the cab. I had been told by the shippers that I would need my passport, a copy of my shipping paperwork and my drivers licence to get anywhere near my bike at their depot. The bike had been shipped four weeks earlier from Tilbury. Buzz had offered to pick me up and transport me and the 101 from JFK to Fort Yarocki in upstate Connecticut. Buzz had arrived early decided to pick up the bike first. Buzz, who is the editor of Classic American Iron Magazine, knew the local shipping company MD and thus they just handed my pride and joy over to someone I had yet to meet.
But I have jumped ahead of myself. At the risk of exposing my age, this story began back in the early 1970’s, when like many, I read Robert Pirsig’s book, ‘Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’.  For those who have not had the pleasure, it relates an approach to life based around the author’s journey across the States with his son on a BMW motorcycle.  Back in the 70’s I resolved that one-day I would ride coast to coast. Having crossed the pond on many occasions over the years, and on some of those trips enjoyed the fun of a hired Harley, it was only when I heard of the 2012 Motorcycle Cannonball, that I knew this was not to be missed. The announcement of the 2012 Coast to Coast Cannonball run coincided with my purchase of a 1928 Indian 101 from a well known UK restorer. The bike was really just a collection of main components and needed completely rebuilding which I thought would be ideal for what was to be a four thousand mile time trial. Sort of ambitious for someone who had yet to experience a foot clutch!

I must have been born an optimist, or I just lack a sense of imagination.  It was Mark Twain who said ‘if you think you can, or if you think you cannot, then you are usually right’. Seems like a sensible approach to life for an Indian 101 owner.
The restoration of the 101 progressed slowly like all restorations and coincided with the same rate of development as planning the 2012 Cannonball. Not to bore you with detail, my bike was delivered to the shippers in the second week of July fitting snugly into a bespoke crate and shipped to a depot just outside the perimeter fence of JFK airport in New York with somewhat limited miles on the clock.

The 2012 Motorcycle Cannonball was the brainchild of Lonnie Islam. He had successfully organised a 2010 Cannonball that attracted 45 pre 1916 motorcycles for a coast to coast run from Kitty Hawk Virginia to LA. The four thousand mile time trial was won by Brad Wilmarth on a single speed 1913 Excelsior V-twin. The event attracted huge support and interest in the US, and following the success of this first event, Lonnie was lobbied to do it all again. Thus on the 6th September 2012, I found myself in Newburgh, New York with 71 other entrants, all somewhat apprehensive at the 3956 miles ahead of us. The event was limited to pre-1930 motorcycles, which had to be basically standard specification.

I won’t bore you with a day by day account of my travels. To be honest, after the third day on the road they all started to merge. Hotels had been arranged ahead for us all, which was wonderful except that you really did not have the time to enjoy them. I think I switched on the TV once to find the inevitable WW2 documentary. Strange how wherever you go in the world, or at whatever time of day, there is always a WW2 documentary on the box. Back in Newburgh we had two days in which to register, have the bike safety checked and receive a riders briefing. This really consisted of an explanation of the route maps they would be issuing to us for each day’s run, a safety briefing which concentrated on watching out for the deer, moose, antelope and bison on the highway and finally what to do if you broke down and could not fix the bike. Oh yes, and instructions for your support crew, whatever they are!

We set off on the morning of the 6th September for a short ride to the Motorcyclepedia museum in Newburgh, where following a hosted breakfast, a quick look around the world’s largest collection of Indian motorcycles and the support of a huge crowd, we headed out on our first 210 miles through to Wellsboro in Pennsylvania. Amongst the well-wishers at the start were Butch Baer and his son Tim. Butch’s father worked most of his life at the Indian factory and Butch still lives at Springfield.

Day two was typical; it began at 5.30am, checking out of the hotel, checking over the bike and riding down the Main Street to the start at another hotel. After finding my oil supplies and filling up, then checking the route holder, we set off at 7am with the forecast of heavy rain one hour ahead. The forecast was correct. As we started the ascent of the hills of Susquehannock State Forest, Pennsylvania, the rain began and just got worse. By mid-day we were in low cloud and driving rain.  At the third gas stop of the morning, I took the opportunity for a coffee and a slice of pizza, ringing out my gloves and then started off again through some very pretty rolling countryside of small farms and woodlands. The clouds rolled back and the sun started to dry the road. I was just thinking to myself, life does not get much better than this, when a horrible mechanical noise preceded a dead engine. The bike rolled slowly onto a gravel driveway to a local farmstead.  It did not take long to discover that all four mounting bolts had vibrated out of the magneto base. The mag had twisted sideways and skipped a couple of teeth. Retiming the mag would be easy enough, however my spare bolts were 140 miles to the west at Sandusky Ohio. We had been advised that if we broke down the sweep truck would pick us up as long as we remained with our bike and were easily visible by the roadside. The farmer came out to see if he could help.  I was invited in for a drink but explained that I needed to stay with the bike. After chatting about the bike and the event he retired back to the farmhouse, only to emerge a few minutes later with his wife and daughter. They came with a chair, a large slice of pizza and a coffee. I was seated by my bike with a clear view of the road and enjoyed a quite Pennsylvanian lunch.

The sweep truck arrived. They had already rescued two other riders and the day was still young. I had managed 140 miles before the bolts went down the highway.  We stopped twice again to help stranded riders before we hit the I-90 freeway around Cleveland. I had not been looking forward to what was the only section of freeway on the event: 50 miles of freeway with road works. This was made worse by a radio message that a section had just been closed due to a diesel spillage. By the time we approached the outskirts of Cleveland we had heard that that the freeway was open again, only to find it log-jammed. The freeway was closed again.  It turned out that a young lady had decided to commit suicide by driving the wrong way down the west-bound carriageway. As we inched our way from a six lane highway into a two lane access ramp, we spotted Doug Wothke on his 101 ahead. It had finally expired amongst the traffic. We pulled over and loaded him aboard. As we were doing this, Chris arrived on his new Suzuki. Chris lived in Cleveland and was following Doug on his web site. Doug had a tracker transmitter on his bike which gave his position in real time. Chris had seen that Doug had not moved for some time and must have broken down. He arrived to help, and having got the bike into the truck Chris guided us via back roads back onto the freeway and onward to Sandusky before pealing-off home. We eventually arrived at the day’s finish hotel at 10.45pm, only to find that my tools and spares were in a locked truck, the kind people who had offered to carry my gear having gone to bed. I managed to scour four bolts, but with no tools I could not take off the exhaust pipes etc to retime the engine.  Finally to bed around midnight, up again at 5.30, and tried to get sorted before the start at 7am. I did not make it, and had to hitch a lift to Milwaukee.  At Milwaukee, in the grounds of the Harley Davidson Museum, I fixed the mag and retimed the engine. It ran as sweet as a 101 should. Those four bolts were the only ones on the bike, which I had not wired or used Loctite. The following day we continued west, Josh, Steve and myself on our 101’s out across Wisconsin, before crossing the great Mississippi at Dubuque and into Iowa, finishing the day at Anamosa National Motorcycle museum in Iowa. A wonderful day and another easy 214 odd miles with a ‘hosted’ lunch stop at a local Harley Dealership with the usual crowd of well-wishers admiring the strange bikes and their even stranger riders.

The format of each day was the same, breakfast at 6am, a start time normally around 7.15am; a lunch stop, usually a Harley dealership where the bikes were on display; a start time about 1.30pm for the afternoon’s ride; finishing around 4 to 5pm depending on the day’s mileage. There was a half hour check in slot at the start and finish of each day, which if you missed, you were deemed not to have completed that day’s stage. The route was based upon an average of 50 mph with allowances for fuel stops and mountains to be crossed! At the end we all agreed that the event had to be the most challenging event for antique motorcycles in the world.  November edition of ‘Bike’ magazine called it ‘The Hardest Race in the World’.

The route continued westward with averages of around 300 or so miles per day, cros
sing Iowa and the great sun burnt corn belt of the US into South Dakota and on via the Badlands National Park, The Black Hills and into Sturgis for our one and only rest day. Then it was onwards via the Devil’s Tower into Wyoming and Yellowstone, with long days across Oregon and on through the Redwoods. The final section to the California coast was through an endless series of switchbacks across the coastal mountain range to Highway 1. Most of us started to relax and enjoy our riding with the end in sight, throttles were opened just a little more and speeds increased. Coming out of one of the switchbacks, I came across a 1929 BMW whose rigid footboard had grounded on the corner, lifting the rear wheel and throwing bike and rider over the abyss into the trees below. The rider survived with a few broken bones but the bike was wrecked.

Cannonball 2012 Cannonball 2012 Cannonball 2012

Cannonball 2012

Cannonball 2012
Cannonball 2012 Cannonball 2012 Cannonball 2012

Cannonball 2012

Cannonball 2012
Cannonball 2012 Cannonball 2012 Cannonball 2012



Three hundred miles a day doesn’t sound like much, but it is relentlessly day after day on a vintage machine, listening for some subtle change in exhaust note, burning your fingers at each stop checking the crankcase oil level, and at the same time with one eye trying to follow the route chart [no sat navs allowed] and hoping to make the next gas station, and when you make it to the day’s end you then spend the evening sorting your oil and tightening every bolt and gas and oil line before sorting the next day’s route chart and remembering to eat. Some of course had big support teams with professional mechanics, huge motor-homes and trailers with awnings and flood lights. I had half a dozen spanners and a spare ‘T’ shirt. Most of the time, I had no idea where they were. I bought four toothbrushes along the way as very often my bag was not where I was. Would I do it again? Now there’s a question.

Of the 72 bikes, 19 did every mile, the rest suffered in their own individual way. Josh had only bought his bike a month before and managed to get a late entry. Following a major rebuild at Newburgh and constant wrenching, he made it all 3956 miles, as did Jeff Alperin. Many of you may know of Jeff, he is the secretary of the 101 Association. Jeff had bought his bike, nicknamed ‘The Beast’ many years ago from George Yarocki and has completed thousands of miles since. George had rebuilt the bike for Jeff especially for the event and both George and Tim Randle were contracted to Jeff as his support team. Much to the benefit and huge relief of the other 101 riders, when they had sorted Jeff out, they turned their attention to helping everyone else.

Of the 72 starters there were eight Indians entered. The oldest was 1915 ridden by Shinya Kimura from California; Jim Petty on his beautifully prepared 1927 Chief; and then six Indian 101’s ridden by Josh Wilson from Virginia, Doug Wothke from Alabama, Steve Rinker from West Virginia, Jeff Alperin from Florida, Marcin  from Poland and myself. Of us all, Josh and Jeff were the only ones to make it with a clean score. The rest of us had problems, some worse than others, but we were all there at the end in California.

Doug Wothke had ridden his 1929 101 up from Alabama, stopping en route to fit new pistons and a cylinder. Josh Wilson had just bought his bike a month before and set off to ride it to the start at Newburgh. He made it but the bike needed the magic hands of Tim Randle and Steve Rinker and a major rebuild in the hotel car park to get him fit for the trip.  Josh nursed his bike all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge for a well-deserved 5th place. Steve and his dad, had brought his bike up from West Virginia and looked very organised, but was due to suffer from a blown head gasket and eventually valve trouble which side-lined him in sight of the Golden Gate. Marcin had shipped his bike from Poland and needed his wonderful sense of humour. Despite numerous problems, we both resolved that next time we would be better prepared! Of all the Indians, The Chief of Tim Petty, Josh and Jeff’s 101s made the whole journey. The rest of us just had fun. The real hero amongst us was probably Doug as in his own style, having ridden up on his 101, to New York from Alabama just turned around in San Francisco and headed home!

Friends inquired whether I was nervous about the trip. My answer was that making the start in New York, was the real challenge, anything after that was pure bonus. Of course, as the days rolled by, your expectations increase and having crossed the Rockies and ridden along dead-straight highways in Idaho with Oregon on the horizon, I began to think that I was going to make it. Bang! the rear rod seized on the crankpin and that was it. It took me two days of wrenching to be sure, as at first we all thought that the problem lay in the timing chest and/or a piston pin.  I had spent much of the winter preparing the bike, and had stripped and rebuilt both front and rear wheels, in the end fitting a new rear hub, sprockets, chain, new oil and fuel lines, and carefully wiring and Loctite all nuts. The two items I did not touch was the bottom end of the motor and the head bearings. Both let me down. On the first day out from New York, the bike started to feel strange. At first I thought it was me, but having stopped to check my new rear wheel and chain and front end, I eased off the head bearing adjuster and all was well again. I managed for the next couple of days, when on heading down from Milwaukee, the steering got worse. I managed to get to Anamosa our night stop before taking out the top bearings. I found that the bottom race had been assembled with 6mm balls and the top race with 20 ¼ inch balls and one 6mm ball. The ¼ ball opposite to the 6mm one had disintegrated and scoured the race. Luckily, George Yarocki managed to arrange to get me a new set of races and bearings couriered out to Sturgis and I was back on the road again for the run over the Rockies. The cause of the rear rod failure has yet to be identified. As I write, the bike is still with US customs but will hopefully reappear in time for an engine rebuild before the spring.

What were the highlights of the trip? Some amazing countryside, the best of which had to be the Grand Teton mountains as we descended from the freezing fog of Yellowstone; and perhaps riding through the ‘Avenue of Giants’ [giant Redwoods in California]; the great enthusiasm of Americans for motorcycles; the welcome we received wherever we stopped, and of course, the camaraderie of our fellow riders who gave a lone and unsupported Brit help whenever I was in trouble, to the extent that on the days when I could not ride my bike, I was offered and gratefully accepted the keys to a modern Indian drifter! Strangely, even riding the rain soaked plains of Iowa was exciting.

What of the other British contingent? Ken Ashton and Mike Wild entered their Rudges. Mike, despite having to undertake a major rebuild when his barrel started to part company from the crankcases, came third in Class 1 and was overjoyed. Mike’s Rudge had suffered terminal timing problems, which despite all efforts never really gave him much chance to complete many miles. Peter Reeves completed every mile with a clean score on his immaculate Model ‘J’ Harley.  Tom Hayes from Dublin on his early 1923 Harley F, on the other hand, must have been gutted breaking down after only one mile from the start at Newburgh. He finally got it going again towards the end of event.

Reflecting back at the event, the days merge together. What I do recall are the people, and in particular lovely episodes; like the rainstorm in Iowa, I was so wet I pulled over at a diner to ring out my gloves and get something hot to drink.  I met Brent on his Harley who had just pulled into a little country store up the road apiece, somewhere in deepest Iowa and bought new gloves and a pair of waterproof boots. The store owner didn’t sell socks, but took pity on Brent and left him in the store while he drove home and returned with a pair of his own thick woollen socks! He sat opposite me grinning with warm dry feet and hands. Then there was the Henderson rider whose magneto striker plate disintegrated, and the farmer who whittled a piece of oak to make a new striker cam which got him through the day; or perhaps the evening ‘hosted’ supper set up in the motel car park at Mountain Home Idaho, where I was puzzled by the strange horizontal striped uniforms of the chefs, before realising that it was the local ‘chain gang’,…. trustees from the local prison who served us our meal ….. reflections which grow into legends as the days pass.

Talking to the Brits back home, everyone enjoyed the event, some are already thinking about the next Cannonball. Lonnie is rumoured to be considering 2014, running from Florida to Seattle. Now that would be awesome……..

Ian Patton  Ian Patton

Back Button             


Indian Motocycles - you can't wear them out                                  Indian Motocycles - built to last  
Disclaimer:  Whilst every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of the information provided, neither the Indian Riders Motorcycle Club, it's officials or any individual shall in any way be liable for loss, injury or damage resulting directly or indirectly from reliance of such information.  The inclusion of adverts  does not mean  that the advertisers are in any way endorsed by Indian Riders Motorcycle Club or it's officials.  Any disputes or claims must be taken up with the advertiser.