Open Menu
Open Menu

The race of the century – 3,306 miles on a 100-year old bike in the Motorcycle Cannonball

Published in

Frank Westfall riding his 1912 Henderson 4. Photos courtesy Motorcycle Cannonball.

On September 10, 90 vintage motorcycles, ranging in age from 100 to 106 years old left Atlantic City, New Jersey with an ambitious goal; to still be running at the end of a 3,306-mile cross-country trek to Carlsbad, California, in the 2016 Motorcycle Cannonball. By the finish line, only 74 of the bikes were still running, or repaired and returned to the race in time for the grand finale festivities. Only 21 of the entrants completed all 3,306 miles, with 14 receiving full points credit for finishing each stage within the allotted time. The overall winner was judged to be Syracuse native Frank Westfall, who rode his 1912 Henderson 4 to victory by completing every mile, while on the oldest bike to complete the course.

2016 Motorcycle Cannonball

Bill Rodencal enters Colorado on his 1915 Harley-Davidson.

Many of the bikes had names you are not all too familiar with. Thor, Reading Standard, Sunbeam, Douglass, Shaw, Rex and J.A.P. motorcycles, all built between 1904 and 1916, joined with more familiar marques, such as Harley-Davidson, Henderson, Indian, Triumph, Norton, Excelsior, Matchless, Sears and BSA to begin their 15-stage, 16-day coast to coast endurance rally for both man and machine. As we highlighted in an earlier post, the first few days took a heavy toll on the machines, with many breaking down or dropping out by the end of the third stage.

2016 Motorcycle Cannonball

Jeff Tiernan (L) and Dave Holzerland (R) pose at the Continental Divide.

Frank’s winning Henderson was entered in Class II, the multiple cylinder engine with single speed transmission, and he beat out several other Class II entrants who also finished every mile. The winner in Class I, Dean Bordigioni, was the overall leader for most of the first nine stages of the race; however, he was assessed a one-point penalty during stage 10 for assistance given to reach the finish line. Dean went on to complete every mile with only the single point blemish. The Class III winner (multiple cylinder/ multi-speed transmission) was Steve DeCosa aboard his 1915 Harley-Davidson. He also finished the entire course and placed ahead of three other 1915 Harleys because of his age. In all, nine Harley-Davidsons, five Hendersons, four Indians and a Sunbeam all completed the entire 3,306-mile route without incurring any penalty points.


Frank poses with the winner’s trophy.

Motorcycle Cannonball founder Lonnie Isam Jr. attended the start in Atlantic City and rode his 1915 Harley-Davidson for the first 70 miles of the event before returning to South Dakota to take care of health issues, but he kept up with the race daily and was at the awards ceremony in spirit. Operations Director Jason Sims and Master of Ceremonies Paul D’Orleans awarded the trophy, a hand-sculptured bronze created by Jeff Decker, to the winner. The “Cannonballs Award” to the grittiest rider went to Brent Hansen, who rode/pedaled his 1913 Shaw to a staggering distance of 970 miles. Shaw produced a four-cycle, single-cylinder bolt-on bicycle engine that produced a whopping 2-1/2 hp. Unfortunately, that isn’t enough power to climb a lot of the hills on course, which meant that Brent had to pedal (a lot) and wasn’t moving too fast even under gasoline power. Two other teams we wanted to mention were Doc Shaw and Dawn Hamilton, who competed on a 1915 Harley with a wicker basket sidecar, and Steve Norton, who entered and rode the oldest bike, a 1904 Rex, for a total of 452 miles.

The fact that 58 of these 100-year old bike completed at least 2,000 of the 3,300 miles is a testament to the rider’s intestinal fortitude, mechanical abilities and desire to accomplish one of the hardest distance events yet thought of by any motorcycle rider who craves the open road. Following the previous Motorcycle Cannonball life cycle, we can look forward to another grueling test of man and machine in late 2018.