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Lonnie Isam Jr., founder of the Motorcycle Cannonball Run, dead at age 48

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Lonnie James Isam, Jr. Photo courtesy Felicia Morgan.

Lonnie James Isam, Jr., best known for being the motivating force behind, and the organizer of, the Motorcycle Cannonball semi-annual cross-country ride died on August 20 after a long battle with cancer.

Lonnie became infatuated with everything old, including motorcycles, during his teen years. He enjoyed buying old broken-down bikes and rebuilding them, selling them to afford more bikes in need of repair. He was also quite versed in motorcycling history and was responsible for locating the motorcycles used during the filming of the Oliver Stone movie, JFK, where he assisted his father during production.

He later started his own motorcycle repair shop in Sturgis, South Dakota, and came up with an idea for the ultimate motorcycle endurance ride, the Motorcycle Cannonball. His vision became reality with the first ride in 2010 and has continued every other year since, with the 2018 event already in the works. The Motorcycle Cannonball is an endurance ride of over 3,000 miles and bike entries for the 2010 event had to be built before 1916. Succeeding events set similar age restrictions, including the 2016 Cannonball that required bikes to be 100 years old; 2018’s event will allow pre-1929 bikes.

Lonnie was both a participant in the event, when time and health allowed, and a facilitator of the idea that vintage bikes need to be ridden. He will be missed by race participants and vintage motorcycle enthusiasts alike, but the Motorcycle Cannonball will continue on, honoring his legacy.

Per Lonnie’s request, there will be no funeral services. Prior to his death, he encouraged motorcyclists to take a ride soon and reflect on him and his many friends riding ancient two-wheelers across the highways and back roads of America.