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.