Racing a 114 year-old motorcycle across America

Todd Cameron won this year’s Motorcycle Cannonball, a coast-to-coast race on antique bikes. He rode his 1909 Indian motorcycle more than 3,800 miles in 16 days.

Indian started making motorcycles in 1901, two years before Harley-Davidson began. [Indian is the oldest American production motorcycle company still in existence today.] I worked on my 1909 Indian all through Covid. I raced it in the 2021 Cannonball and broke a crankshaft halfway. So I set my sights on 2023.

On Sept. 7, we started from the pier of Virginia Beach, Va. Over 16 days—with one day off—the competitors rode about 250 miles every day. Part of the competition is navigating from city to city, hotel to hotel. Each morning, the organizers handed out a rally scroll before the start, which told us where we had to go.

The course uses almost all two-lane roads. This is the best way to see America—at 40 mph on the seat of a vintage motorcycle. Many competitors had crews to help fix the bikes. The crews could not support the riders during the day, and they had to take a different route than the riders. I had a buddy in an RV carrying spare parts. That’s all the crew I had, and I slept in the RV.

It is not a race of speed exactly. The riders have to complete all the miles on time. That is a perfect score. You have to average about 40 mph. I rode with saddlebags full of tools, parts and MacGyver stuff—wire, duct tape, anything to keep the bike together. All day every day, my hands were covered in grease. It was man and machine against the miles.

What a gift to experience America in this way.

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