1915 Harley-Davidson

Vintage Harley restored for the Motorcycle Cannonball
You can do motorcycle touring the easy way, or the hard way. The easy way is to ride a modern, cushy dual-sport machine, where the toughest decision is what to pack. The hard way is the Motorcycle Cannonball, an endurance run for pre-1916 motorcycles that starts next month. The vintage Harley shown here is one of the machines that will be doing the trip—and I don’t know about you, but that seat makes me wince. The Motorcycle Cannonball is not a leisurely loop over a long weekend; according to the website, “Riders will virtually dip their tread in the salty waters of the East Coast’s Atlantic Ocean as the officials wave the green flag, then come to rest some 3,320 miles later, at the shoreline of the Pacific Ocean’s West Coast.”

The owner of this Harley is Buzz Kanter, editor of American Iron magazine and the website caimag.com. Buzz bought the bike as a rough runner in January, with a plan to rebuild it for the Cannonball. Our pictures show what the bike looked like the day Buzz and Dave Fusiak finally got it running, after a total mechanical rebuild of the engine and chassis. “The 1915 Harley was the first model with a three-speed transmission and the bicycle-style pedal start,” says Buzz. “Mine is a magneto model, meaning no lights. (In 1915 they were an option, with electric or acetylene gas.) No front brakes or oil pump, either: It uses a constant oil dripper to keep the sump well lubricated. At sustained speeds above 45 mph or when there’s greater strain on the engine, I need to hand-pump extra oil.”

Buzz has had his Harley up to 60 mph since the rebuild, but says, “It can easily go faster once we break in the engine properly. For the actual ride I plan on adding a small front drum brake, modern wheel rims and tires, and some lights. Also a set of old saddlebags for my tools, oil and supplies.” In this era of electronically adjustable suspension, multiple engine maps and heated grips, it’s good to see some guys doing it the old-fashioned way. I’m just glad I’m not one of them.

Vintage Harley restored for the Motorcycle Cannonball

  • Leston C

    60<mph on bicycle tires? scary but very enticing. looks like fun

  • Kim Scholer

    Hope he goes with the acetylene gas headlight. It’s not as convenient as electric light, but properly set up it will burn holes in the back door of a semi.

  • Thanks for the mention of my old Harley and crazy event on your site.

    I will be running modern LED bicycle lights in an old motorcycle headlight and a flashing light out back to lessen the chances of being run over.

    I am told this bike will run over 70 mph but not sure I want to find out.

    This is the oldest bike I have even ridden and it’s been a while since I did a coast to coast ride and that was on a MUCH newer machine.

  • I totally agree with Schim Cooler, the acetylene is actually very good when it´s working properly, besides who really need proper lights and brakes?

    Keep it original, if it was good enough in 1915 it´s good enough today. 3320 miles is not that much.

    Good luck in the race!

  • Derek Larsen

    This sounds like a hell of a lot of fun. Last summer I did a solo self-supported bicycle ride across the US on a homemade lugged steel frame with a brooks saddle not unlike what’s on the Harley. Oh, and 32mm wide tires. The first leg from Baltimore to Pittsburgh was on a rough, often muddy canal trail. After that, I stuck to whatever the Google maps “avoid highways” option told me. Mainly US 14, “The Yellowstone Trail.”

    I certainly didn’t average 35 miles an hour, but I was fine for most of it. I think the challenge here is the reliability of 100 year old technology.

  • Lorenz

    Is this the same race that Shinya Kimura is preparing his 1915 Indian for?
    Would be a blast.

  • Yes, Lorenz, the same event, but it is NOT a race. http://www.MotorcycleCannonball.com is the official web site, and we will be following it on the blog at http://www.caimag.com

  • The Bob

    They’ve got a LOT further to ride than one side of the Lower 48 to the other if the organizers want them to come to rest “… at the shoreline of the Pacific Ocean’s West Coast,” because that would be in China.

  • Motorvillegarage

    u guys are gonna have a tough trip compared to late models but ill bet ya have just as much fun , er more11
    (Drink up fore we must ride)