The 2023 Motorcycle Cannonball is well underway as we write this on September 18, 2023. In fact, it’s just about in the middle of this year’s event, which started on September 7 and runs through September 24, 2023, as the participants make their way all 3,800 miles from Virginia Beach, Virginia to Oceanside, California.
For those unfamiliar, the Motorcycle Cannonball is a grueling endurance event that pits riders and their antique motorcycles against whatever route the organizers have planned to get across the US. It’s a biennial event, although the scheduling ended up moving to odd-numbered years during the course of the pandemic.
Dale’s Wheels Through Time Museum has been involved since the very first Cannonball back in 2010, as Matt Walksler relates in this video. His dad, Dale, ran in the very first Motorcycle Cannonball on a 1915 Harley.
While WTT isn’t officially running a bike in the 2023 Cannonball, they’ve got the next best thing: Matt’s friend, Gary. He’s riding a 1928 Harley-Davidson JD that Matt sold him in 2022, and that he bought just so that he could compete in the next Motorcycle Cannonball.
In this video, we get a little bit of everything: A capsule history of the event, a look into what it takes for riders to go the distance, and of course the anticipation and tension of wondering where the heck Gary is. If you’ve ever worked on an older motorcycle—never mind an antique, like these—then you can probably imagine the mechanical strain of doing 300 to 400 miles a day on backroad courses plotted by the organizers.
That is, of course, on top of that heady cocktail of exhilaration, concentration, and worry (there’s always at least a little) that the riders must feel as they complete each leg of the journey. It’s fun, and it’s cool—but these antique machines come with antique machine problems. (Where is Gary, anyway?)
Well after many other riders have pulled in, spent their required 30 minutes at the Wheels Through Time stop, and then started off on the next leg of the day’s route, Gary finally makes it to the Museum. It turns out that his clutch hasn’t been working correctly, pretty much since the start of the Cannonball. He managed to nurse it the 160 or so miles to the Museum, but Matt is somewhat surprised that he made it that far.
Taking the clutch cover off, it seems that the single nut that holds the clutch in place was completely missing. There was clearly no way that the bike was going to make it much further, so Matt got to work fixing what everyone hoped was the problem. After installing and properly tightening down a new nut, they started it up and Matt even hopped on a 1915 Harley to escort his buddy Gary back onto the next leg of the Cannonball.
For a daily update on how the 2023 Motorcycle Cannonball is going, the organizers are updating the official event Facebook page with videos, photos, and written posts from the road. We’ll include a link in our Sources so you can see the latest.
They’re also posting each day’s scores as PDF files so you can follow your favorite riders and machines as they go. As of Stage Nine, which went from Garden City, Kansas to Colorado Springs, Colorado on September 17, you may be happy to know that WTT’s friend Gary Brace on his 1928 Harley-Davidson JD is hanging tough in 25th place.
The majority of participants are riding a variety of antique Harley-Davidson and Indian bikes. As of the scoring for Stage Nine, only four bikes out of the top 25 aren’t either Harleys or Indians.
For the curious, those are a 1917 Henderson G ridden by Brian Pease in third place; a 1926 Rudge Special Four-Four ridden by Andy Babister in 10th place; a 1929 Scott Flying Squirrel ridden by TJ Jackson in 11th place; and a 1924 Henderson Deluxe ridden by Wade Mueller in 20th place.
The top two bikes right now are a 1909 Indian Single (which is also the oldest bike running in this year's competition) ridden by Todd Cameron in first place, and a 1911 Harley-Davidson Single ridden by Dave Currier in second place.
With seven stages left to run, it’s still anyone’s guess as to what will happen when some of these bikes get to the finish line in Oceanside, California on the 24th of September 2023. Stay tuned.