BSA on the 2010 Motorcycle Cannonball
By Ashley Blair
On the 10th September this year a 1913 BSA Model A with a fixed gear will set out from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina heading for Santa Monica, California 3,325 miles and 17 days away. It will be one of 70 pre-1916 machines taking part in the Motorcycle Cannonball, named after Erwin “Cannonball” Baker who in 1914 set his first record by riding from coast to coast in 11 days on an Indian. The rider of the BSA will be a German, Dieter Eckel, who along with his wife Katrin Böhner owns 30 motorcycles, most of them British. Dieter said, “My parents had always been riding British motorcycles, so I got a very early influence and started my motorcycling life at 12. Being genetically conditioned (my father had Nortons), I always had English bikes, and my first moped was a NSU Quickly. At the age of 14 I got my first bike, a 250cc Maico, which I painted yellow and red. Two years later I bought and restored (in decent black and green) my first BSA, a 1932 Blue Star, which I still own and ride through the summer and winter.”
The 1913 BSA Model A is almost identical to the first wholly BSA motorcycle introduced in 1910. It is a 3½ hp 500cc single cylinder machine with belt drive that followed British motorcycle conventions of the day. It has a valve lifter on the left handle bar and a front brake, air and throttle controls on the right handle bar. The magneto is adjusted by a lever mounted midway on the left of the tank. There is a stirrup brake on the front wheel and a dummy belt rim brake on the rear wheel. The machine is fitted with a 1⅓ gallon tank and has a top speed of 45mph. Pedals were fitted both for starting and for the euphemistic LPA or ‘light pedal assistance’ that riders of the day were required to use on steeper hills.
The rules for the Motorcycle Cannonball are quite basic and state that, “the core of the motorcycle must be 95 years old or older” and that so long as the engine is original and pre-1916 then it is eligible. Any newly manufactured parts should be the same as the originals. Improved brakes are recommended, original carburettors must be used and it is recommended that magnetos are rewound before the event. Tyres can be wired on rather than the original clincher or beaded edge type. The organisers are developing an electric lighting system run by rechargeable batteries that will enable all entrants to have a rear stoplight. All machines must be registered and licensed. There are three classes in the event. Class 1 is for single-cylinder, single-speed machines, Class 2 is for single-speed twins and Class 3 is for multi-cylinder, multi-speed machines.
As expected, the majority of the entrants will be riding American motorcycles with 29 Harley-Davidsons and 11 Indians together with representatives of the lesser known marqués such as Pope, Sears, Flying Merkel, Excelsior, Henderson, Eagle, Thor, Yale, and Dixie Flyer. The British motorcycle industry will be represented by a Triumph, a Zenith, a JAP, a Premier, and a Bat as well as Dieter’s BSA. Dieter will be riding the BSA because it was “the only choice in our garage to enter class 1, and I like riding this bike.” Riders are from the continental United States and Hawaii as well as the United Kingdom, Canada, and Germany and include three women. One of the women is Katrin Böhner, Dieter’s wife, who will be riding their 1908 Triumph.
The Motorcycle Cannonball is the brainchild off Lonnie Isam Jr, the owner/operator of Jurassic Racing, a classic and vintage motorcycle restoration business in Sturgis, South Dakota. Isam will be riding a 1914 Harley-Davidson. The endurance ride begins at Kill Devil Hill where the Wright brothers made their historic first flight in 1903. Apart from a rest day in Hot Springs, Arkansas there will be no let up for machines, riders and support crew for the 17 days. The route has been planned in conjunction with riders and includes scenic and historic routes and avoids state highways and steep grades wherever possible. The shortest day will be 115 miles and the longest 293 miles. This endurance test for both man and machine will finish where Route 66 ends at Santa Monica, California. We wish Dieter and the BSA all the best!
Dieter Eckel on his 1913 BSA. Photo courtesy of Dieter Eckel and the Motorcycle Cannonball.