Antique motorcycle race cruises through Kalispell

September 21, 2018

The fifth Motorcycle Cannonball antique endurance run rolled into Kalispell Thursday afternoon with bike enthusiasts greeting the road-weary riders at the Red Lion Inn.

The 3,400-mile run, featuring motorcycles built before 1929, began Sept. 6 in Portland, Maine, and will end Sunday in Stevenson, Wash., at the Skamania Lodge.

Riders on Thursday completed a run from Great Falls to Kalispell, a distance of about 242 miles. Nearly 100 riders traveled across Glacier National Park where some endured hail and rain.

According to the event’s website, the Motorcycle Cannonball is the most difficult antique endurance run in the world.

It features vintage bikes by Harley-Davidson, Harlot, Excelsior, Henderson and BMW.

The 2018 Cannonball was the brainchild of Lonnie Isam, Jr., who the race is in honor of after he died of cancer a year ago.

When Isam first began daydreaming about cruising America’s back roads with his antique riding friends, there was no way he could have possibly imagined what his musings would eventually become.

Isam’s main objective was to motivate antique owners to break the stigma of sequestering collectible old relics to museums and to let the old machines spend their geriatric years living as they were intended - on the road.

For Erik Bahl, of Huntsville, Ala., who is riding a 1915 Harley-Davidon 11F, the ride is his third.

“I didn’t do the first two because they are kinda expensive,” Bahl said. “Between the entry fee, gas, food, hotel rooms, it costs about 15,000 to be in one of these.”

Bahl’s Harley has been cross-country three times and it needs to be rebuilt after about every 5,000 miles on the road.

“This is incredibly hard on these bikes. We’re talking tractor technology with them. The parts for these just aren’t sitting on a shelf in a store,” Bahl said. “The whole ride is unpredictable. You’re on rural roads, you don’t know directions until the morning of the next stage.

“There’s weather to deal with, crashes, you name it.”

Bahl said weather was a factor Thursday afternoon when he rode across Going-to-the-Sun Road.

“It rained and hailed on me and I was hoping it would slow down so I wouldn’t have to stop,” Bahl said.

Bahl collects and rebuilds antique motorcycles, which led him to Isam’s event.

“A lot of these bikes, they only exist in museums or in someone’s collection, but we like to ride ‘em. And it’s hard on them, they blow up, this run destroys ’em.”

It nearly destroys the riders, too.

Bahl said he has been riding with a cracked rib after the bike threw him on the second or third day, which was nearly two weeks ago.

“If you aren’t getting the bike out, what’s the point,” Bahl said. “You might as well as sit on the couch and watch Oprah.”

Bahl said while he was just out for the ride, he was glad people have the chance to see the bikes.

For Isam, he believed the ancient motorcycles deserved to be tended and ridden.

“Our forefathers took a great deal of time and ingenuity to build these great machines and they should be respected for their abilities,” Isam was previously quoted.

He wanted to pay homage to the long distance pioneer, Erwin “Cannonball” Baker, and other historical figures who paved the way across the country in the early 1900s. His logic was that if the motorcycle greats could make those miles on the early machines, many with no roads whatsoever, certainly modern riders could do the same.

The first ride occurred in September 2010. It began along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean with 45 like-minded riders from Kitty Hawk, N. C. for a transcontinental journey to the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Friday, the race will resume as competitors go from Kalispell to Spokane Valley, Wash.

For more information and to track the progress of the ride, go to motorcyclecannonball.com.

Reporter Scott Shindledecker can be reached at 406-758-4441 or sshindledecker@dailyinterlake.com.

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