Photo © Ian Schmeisser
In case you haven't heard about the Motorcycle Cannonball event, here is a brief description: In 2010, Lonnie Isam organized the first Motorcycle Cannonball, in honor of "Cannonball" Baker's historic 11 day cross country ride. In the 2010 run, 45 riders started on the pier at Kitty Hawk, NC and 37 finished at the Santa Monica, CA pier. All were riding motorcycles built before 1916, and 10 of them achieved perfect scores, covering every one of the 3294 miles under their own power.
In 2012, Isam is reprising the Cannonball. The route will run from Newburgh, NY (just outside New York City) to San Francisco, CA, from September 7th through the 23rd. This time the route will be longer (just under 4,000 miles) and more difficult (passing over the high Rockies), but he is allowing motorcycles built before 1930 to join the fun.
This is where I come in. The original run precluded participation by a rider mounted on a BMW, as the company did not exist until 1918 and didn't produce a motorcycle until 1923. For the 2012 run, I have entered my 1928 R52. My intention is to share this adventure with you, here, on the VBMWMO's website.
As I mentioned in the comments in my previous post, I love to get people interested in what it's like to ride the R52. Most are quite intimidated, because the controls are so foreign to what a modern rider is used to. Even the clutch and front brake levers, which are in their normal places, pivot the wrong way.
Here's a picture of the most important rider controls:
As mentioned, you have the clutch and front brake in the usual places, but the levers pivot from the outside. This means you have to get used to reaching for them with your index fingers, and I do mean reach.
There are three thumblevers on the handlebars: the spark timing on the left and the choke and throttle ganged together on the right. There's no twist grip, and I find that I must ride with the palms of my hands against the grips so I can manipulate these levers with my thumbs.
This is a hand shift bike with a three speed transmission, and the shift lever is on the right; the same side as the throttle lever. This can complicate downshifting somewhat.
Finally, we have the rear brake, which must be modulated with your right heel. Just to use it, you have to learn to lift your foot and put it down in the right spot to hit the lever with your heel.
Besides these, there's the swing-out kickstarter on the left side, the engine kill button on the left handlebar by the spark lever, and the combination horn button and mechanical high/low beam lever on the right handlebar. There is no key of any sort, the bike is always ready to ride. The headlight and taillight are operated by a big knob on the back of the headlight shell.
Here's a demonstration of how to start the bike:
Actually, that misses a couple things right at the start. First, the petcock must be opened, then the tickler on the carb must be held down until some gas overflows; this is usually about a 15 count. The spark must be fully retarded, the choke opened about 1/3 and the gas opened about 1/2. When the engine fires, the spark needs to be advanced some, the choke opened fully and the gas closed to the stop for idling. Of course, this only applies when the engine is cold.
To first get going, you have to pull the clutch lever and pull the shift lever up into first; if it won't go in, the bike needs to be rolled forward or backward slightly until it does go in. Then some gas is given with the throttle lever and the spark is advanced gradually as the clutch is released and the engine speeds up.
When it's time to shift into 2nd, it really gets busy. You have to understand that, while 1st and 3rd gears on the transmission output shaft are, like any modern motorcycle, always in mesh with their counterparts, the two gears that mesh for 2nd gear are not. This leaves the rider in the position of trying to get them spinning at the same speed so they won't grind badly when they are meshed. The gear on the output shaftwill be turning at a speed relative to the rear wheel, but its counterpart will be spinning at the engine speed, or not at all if the clutch is pulled. This is where double clutching comes in.
First, the clutch has to be pulled and the transmission shifted into neutral, and the throttle lever pushed closed to let the engine begin to fall to idle. At this moment, there are three independent moving parts that need to be synchronized: the engine and clutch, the input shaft, and the output shaft, final drive and rear tire. The way to do that is to let the clutch out, which connects the first two items together to match their speed and then finish the shift by clutching and shifting up (pushing down on the shift lever) into second. Now it is time to open the throttle a bit while releasing the clutch lever.
The upshift into 3rd isn't as bad, because 3rd (and 1st) are always in mesh. So clutch, close the throttle, push the shift lever all the way down, give it some gas and release the clutch.
Downshifting to 2nd is the most work. There's a false neutral position on the shift lever between 2nd and 3rd that needs to be found (no detent for it that you can feel). Once shifted into this neutral and releasing the clutch, the rider must move his right hand from the shifter up to the throttle, "blip" the throttle to bring up the engine and input shaft speed, before returning to the shifter, declutching and making the shift into 2nd. Watch as I do it here:
Sorry about the long delay in posting. I find it difficult to touch type from a reclining position, which has really been the only comfortable one I can stay in for a reasonable length of time right now. Getting around on crutches is difficult, especially as my house's bedroom and kitchen are on the second floor.
As to my foot, things are good and getting better. I scrunched the #2, 3 and 4 metatarsals, the bones behind the actual toe bones in the front of the foot. I pushed them over against #5, the pinkie. The emergency room doctor in Ukiah said I had to have emergency surgery, and he put them back in place and held them there with two temporary pins. (Temporary is about 4 weeks, but from here that seems like forever.)
On Thursday I went to a local orthopedist, and he agreed that the procedure was exactly the right thing I needed, and the job was well done. Underneath the cast there are about five stitches and two little pinholes, where the pins don't quite stick out anymore. I got a new cast and a return date in three weeks. The pins are slightly problematic; because they are under the skin, they could create an infection source, so I'm also on antibiotics for the next two weeks.
So long as I don't put weight on the foot or twist it, and I let the blood pressure gradually build up before I rise, my foot has no pain. Other than taking a couple Advil at the accident scene, I haven't needed any pain killers for it.
Because my garage is a bit of a hike, I haven't actually seen the bike yet. Everyone tells me that it's in better shape than could be expected, but I know that this can mean very little. The frame or forks could be significantly bent and it wouldn't be obvious from a casual glance, for example.
The van, which had yet more problems in the last couple days of the Cannonball, is at the local shop. They tell me that the Sprinter, which popped its "turbo resonator" (a plastic muffler on the turbo intake) on the way to NY, now has actually openned up the turbo itself. This got oil both into the exhaust header, coating the oxygen sensor, and into the intake tract, covering the temperature sensor. A replacement turbo will take several days to source, and in that time the shop will try to see if these sensors can be saved. I'm looking at about two grand in repairs...
I'm contemplating where to go with the cylinders and pistons on the R52. If you've managed to read through the blog, you might recall that I started with a second set of cylinders/pistons/rings/valves. I didn't realize that the valves in this second cylinder had a different stem diameter and valve keeper configuration than the cylinders I was running at the start.
When I broke the right piston, I wanted to just swap cylinder sets; that had been my plan all along. But I had expected to be able to move the valve spring seats, springs, keepers and collets over from one set to the other. When we discovered the difference with the valve stems, we spent a couple days during the Cannonball trying to figure out what change to make. We thought that a machine shop would be able to change the ends of the valves or the collets to adapt them to each other, but we couldn't find one that would do that. In the end, the original cylinders were bored to match the pistons from the new set, which had a larger diameter than the originals (which were themselves a 3rd overbore).
The new pistons turned out to be poorly made and are not a long term option. I will probably have 2 sets of pistons made for the cylinders at their current diameter. I will also be looking for the seats, springs, keeepers and collets to make the second set of cylinders useful on their own.
I also suspect that the continuing head gasket problems we had probably led to the one piston breaking. It was probably thermally shocked on more than one occasion, and this probably led to its demise. We believe that the head gasket problem itself may have been a result of not torquing down the head nuts several times, each after a thermal cycle. At least, that approach seemed to prevent a gasket failure for the last 2+ days of the Cannonball. As we had failures both with the heads I had on the bike and with the heads that Vech so very kindly overnighted to us from his own R52, I cannot attribute the problem to the heads being warped.
Speaking of Vech, I cannot overemphasize the help and encouragement that I received, and that Team Boxer Rebellion received. Vech was a standout among many people who made the whole thing possible. My teammates, Jeff Wu and Samantha Lucas, who did photography and videoing, were great. I absolutely couldn't have done this without the help of Steve Woodward and Don Cameron, who both spent long hours working on the bike, sourcing parts, fixing the van and dealing with the hotels along the way. They were probably more tired than I was at the end of each night.
I want to again thank my sponsors, who either through parts or cash, helped to defray some of the cost of this adventure.
I also want to heartily thank all of the supporters who bought Team Boxer Rebellion stuff from my website. (You can still buy stuff, btw, if you want to.) Because of a glitch in the webserver, Steve wasn't able to send out any orders after about Sturgis, and now that that is fixed, I find it difficult to put together the mailer boxes. Regardless, those who have orders pending, I will send them out somehow this week. Your generosity is wonderful, and you are all a part of Team Boxer Rebellion.
Last, but certainly not least, I must thank all of you who followed along here, at the Motorcycle Cannonball site, on Facebook, at the Antique Motorcycle Club site or, especially, were able to come out and cheer us on along the route. Believe me, it was great, and I hope we never seemed too busy to chat.
As I write this, I am lying comfortably in my hospital bed at Ukiah Valley Medical Center. I haven't yet seen the doctor this morning, but I assume that the surgery on my foot to insert a couple pins to stabilize the number 2, 3 and 4 metatarsals yesterday evening went well. I have not seen, but am told, that the R52 is in surprisingly good shape.
I am disappointed, not so much for myself, but for my teammates and everyone who has supported Team Boxer Rebellion and has been following our trials and tribulations. After finally working through a number of problems and getting help from other teams and even wonderful help from Brent Lamb (Lamb Cylinder) and Fred Wiley at Big Twin BMW in Boise, and from Vech (Bench Mark Works) and Brent (Brent's Motor Works), things were looking up.
I want to apologize deeply for letting everyone down. Steve and Don put in countless tireless hours and were helpful at every point. So to have ended our run by having an accident is a bitter pill for me. I am extremely sorry.
There's not much to relate: we were back in California and the route was going down CA-1 from Leggett to Westport, which I wrote about previously. This is a favorite road of mine. The bike was running well and, about 10 miles down, I was having a great time. But I went through a corner and tried to lean the bike beyond its cornering clearance, which is limited by the floorboards. I scraped the bottom of the left floorboard and levered the rear tire free, then the bike and I, probably travelling about 25mph, took a tangent out of the curve and over the edge. This area is very steep with loose dirt and lots of trees. I was extremely lucky that the bike was hooked by a young tree, which hung onto both the bike and me.
I managed to climb back up to the road. I could feel that my left foot was sore, and I got my boots off, with Jeff Wu's help. The top of my foot was swollen, but so long as I didn't try to put weight on the foot, not painful. Jeff had some Advil and I kept the foot elevated by lying on the ground and propping my left leg on Jeff's bike's footpegs. Lonny Isam, the organizer, was among the first people to come by, and he was very helpful. Eventually a tow truck arrived, and with the help of a number of riders, they retrieved the bike. Jeff had called Steve, who returned from Willits with our support van, and the bike was loaded into it.
Because I could move my toes and ankle, and had no pain other than when I tried to put weight on my foot, I elected to have Steve drive me to an urgent care facility. This was probably not the wisest course of action, but I think it turned out ok anyway. It happened that the nearest one was in a hospital facility in Ukiah. As soon as the nurse practitioner had a look at the swelling on my foot, she told me I had to go to the emergency room. A series of X-rays showed broken bones and an unstable injury, and I was scheduled for surgery to pin them. I slept well overnight, but don't know exactly what my prognosis is at this point.
I do know that I won't be riding to the finish today, but I do wish the best for the other riders. The event has had a lot of ups and downs, and I hope that there are no further downs for any of the other riders.
Today Team Boxer Rebellion was back on track. And the route, from Klamath Falls to Fortuna, made it especially sweet. We travelled through some beautiful country from Klamath Falls to Medford, zigged and zagged around I-5 and the Rogue River, and then took US-199, a particularly scenic and curvy road from Grants Pass, OR to Crescent City, CA. It travels through the Smith River wilderness and under a canopy of redwoods before breaking out to the Pacific.
The weather was cold in the morning and cool most of the day, only warming into the 70s when I got south of Crescent City. This was good for the R52's engine, which ran strong and only had a few seizure episodes, which I fortunately caught before they actually did seize. I never had to completely stop, being able to coast and downshift, and waiting as long as possible before popping the clutch to get the engine going again. The bore job now has about 500 miles on it, and it doesn't seem to use any more oil than it did beforehand. I've used up the 2 stroke oil I was putting into the tank as a top end lubricant, so tomorrow we'll see how it goes on just premium pump gas.
The bike was a real joy on the twisting roads. It tracks straight and, with its long handlebars giving a lot of leverage, is light to steer. Some of the downhill turns marked at 25 and 30 I was taking at 35 or 40, with no drama at all.
Tomorrow is an early and long day. We will leave Fortuna at 7am, ride through the Avenue of the Giants, then take Highway 1 down to the coast. This section of road, from Leggett to Westport, is IMHO far better than The Dragon, and not only because it isn't overrun with traffic. It's longer, more scenic and has more elevation changes, as well as being as curve dense as The Dragon. We will then ride the coast down past Fort Bragg and then take CA-128 across to Geyserville.