Darryl.Richman's picture

About the Motorcycle Cannonball and My Blog:

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.

My personal website is now set up to offer the following sponsorship opportunities so you can participate in Team Boxer Rebellion:

Cannonball Sam's picture

Team Boxer Rebellion trailer

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Cannonball Sam's picture


Let me first introduce myself. I am Samantha Lucas and have known Darryl since 1997. I am an avid motorcyclist and have ridden all over the world, America, Europe, and India. Unfortunately I don't own a vintage bike so I am blessed to live vicariously through Darryl, his vintage exploits and Team #52. I plan to follow the team in spirit this year as I couldn't go along physically, so I will help to update and maintain this blog for Darryl and the team. I will do my best to keep everyone up to date on what developments are happening as each leg is completed.

Here we go...

Welcome to the Motorcycle Cannonball 2014, Team boxer Rebellion returns! It has been a long and full 2 years preparing for this year's Cannonball. We within Team Boxer Rebellion are extremely excited to be participating again in this amazing event. We start the race in Datona Beach, FL this coming Friday, September 5th. Whew! It has been a whirlwind. We are now all in Daytona completing the final preparations for the race. The race ends in Tacoma, Washington on September 21st. A whopping 3928 miles across our great USA.

The race this year has 107 participants and 7 BMW's. here is the list of BMW bikes participating;

#8 ......Joe Gimpel from Daytona Beach riding a 1928 BMW R52 again this
#20 ....Denis Sharon on a 1936 R12.
#23 ...Team HMS (Historic Motorcycle Society) based in Jax, FL, again ridden
by Norm Nelson. Bike owned by collector Jack Wells.
#52 ...Darryl Richman from Santa Cruz returns on his 1928 R52.
#53 ...John Landstrom from Atlanta and owner of Blue Moon BMW will be riding
a 1928 R62 .
#62 ...Scott Blaylock will be riding another 1928 R62.
#63 ...Alabama's Eric Bahl will be riding a 1929 R63.
Exciting that the field has more then doubled for BMW's from 2012.

After healing up after the last race Darryl set to healing the 1928 BMW R52. It was completely apart, in pieces, on the garage floor a few short months ago. After a few trips to Germany over the last 2 years in search of parts and getting some of the damaged parts repaired, rebuilt or replaced Darryl has reassembled the whole bike with only a month to spare for the necessary break in rides. Whew, again! Task master Darryl is at work again for this year's race.

The team: Darryl Richman from Santa Cruz, CA, our fearless leader. Steve Woodward from Oregon returns for his 2nd Cannonball as crew for Team Boxer Rebellion. So does Don Cameron from New Mexico who serves as a much valued crew member. We also welcome our new team member Brent Hanson to the team this year who will travel and consult as the head mechanic.

Darryl and Brent set out from Santa Cruz last week with the bike, headed to New Mexico where they picked up Don and the trailer that Don has outfitted so nicely for the race. See some of the photos below. They then drove the on together to Daytona, FL for the last few days of prep and the start of the race on Friday. Steve arrives today in Florida to get to work.


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Darryl.Richman's picture

Riding the R52

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:


Complicated Controls

Jim Hansen's picture

Sheesh...I'll never complain about the confusing turn signal switches on my '78 R100RS again.

Well, that's a point where

Darryl.Richman's picture

Well, that's a point where the R52 is right up to date! It has automatic turn signal cancelation. I mean, you can't keep your left hand out there all day, you'll need it to clutch after you turn...

--Darryl Richman
"Bling is not made in Germany" --OTL, 12/05

Alternative Shift Technique

Drew Grant's picture

Another way to change down is to make use of the kill button.

Start with the gas set a little high, now hit the kill button, declutch and go into the false neutral.

Now release clutch and kill button, let your revs rise, declutch again and shift to second.

Doing it this way means you do not need to take your hand away from the shift lever, it is a little quicker and saves you from the grab for the throttle lever and back to the shift.

Takes a bit of practice and you can also use it to change up by not releasing the kill button till you have shifted into the higher gear.

I use this on my '29 Triumoh which has a similar crash second gear transmission and lever throttle set up, it's also useful on the R12 and sidecar (it's better than reaching across the tank and changing clutchless on the kill button which was the old hand-shift racing technique).


Interesting ideas, Drew! The

Darryl.Richman's picture

Interesting ideas, Drew! The engine fires again when the kill button is released because the heavy flywheel is still spinning the motor, I presume?

The downshift into 2nd is a very busy time. I should have included the maneuver at real time to show that in the little video.

The kill button can be used to slow before and during a turn instead of the long process of downshifting, when it is appropriate. You can scare following riders with the backfire when you release the kill button, too. Smile

--Darryl Richman
"Bling is not made in Germany" --OTL, 12/05

Whew! Not for me, I am afraid!

jeff dean's picture

I enjoyed reading about how you operate and ride an R52, but I could not grasp it all.

I am too old to learn all that.

Tickling the carbs and kicking my R60/2s, R69S, R51/3, R68, and R25/3 are enough for me, thank you Smile

I had a prewar bike once. That was enough. The BMWs from the 1950s and 1960s I ride almost daily are wonderful to ride and I can actually operate their controls!


miller6997's picture

When I was in college I had a job driving a manure truck for a gigantic chicken ranch. The truck was a mid-fifties cab-over GMC with a four-speed main transmission, a three-speed "Brownie" auxiliary gearbox, and a two-speed rear axle--twenty-four combinations. I thought that was complicated but your routine makes it look simple.

'67 R69S
'05 R1200RT

I did 2600 miles of it across

Darryl.Richman's picture

I did 2600 miles of it across most of the US. It's work in traffic, that's for sure, because you must anticipate what everyone around you is doing and take preventative actions as well as just driving the bike. And there are speeds the bike likes and those it can't do, based on where the torque is in each gear. You sometimes have to direct traffic to get people to stop following you and pass where it's safe, or just pull off the road to get the idea across.

--Darryl Richman
"Bling is not made in Germany" --OTL, 12/05

A cast back to a better time in motoring

Liam Borand's picture

Am I the only person who thinks that driving these days is just too easy?! All this new technology and new advances in automotive design and performance are just taking away the fun and enjoyment that driving is all about. To me, bikes like this represent a lost era in driving. They are a cast back to a better time, when driving took skill and knowledge. These days, virtually anyone can jump in a car or on a bike and they're away. They are even working on self drive cars for god sake! Come on guys, this just isn't what driving is about! Motoring is fun and should always remain fun! No one really wants to be driven about all over the place....do they?!

Controls - thanks

Al Kuenn's picture

Darryl, that is a great article and I am really enjoying the whole series. I forgot how involved the whole process is with these old bikes. Its easy to take for granted how much is 'done for us' on our newer bikes. Thanks again for all these articles.

Very Cool!

spo123's picture

Thanks for the instruction....Well "spoken"......COMPLICATED!
Heal up and get WELL!

Best wishes always,

Sneaking onto your list to say "Hello"

Jeff Alperin's picture

So -- hello. And, Happy New Year. How's your leg? Can you please give us the full description of how you clutch it?

Hi Jeff! Hope things are

Darryl.Richman's picture

Hi Jeff! Hope things are going well for you and "The Beast"! I have an appointment this morning with my orthopedist and I hope that this is the last one! I'm getting around fine, and although I'm not at 100% yet, I can see it from here.

--Darryl Richman
"Bling is not made in Germany" --OTL, 12/05

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Darryl.Richman's picture

"Hopalong" Back Home

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.



Bruce Williams's picture

When I restored my R-17, after trying several manufacturers, I was able to get pistons from Aries, they matched the gram weight, pin diameter, and valve clearance cutaways. You will have to find a source that has a blank to fit your requirements. For valve guides, I sourced a bar of Meenanite ( a type of self lubricating cast iron) suitable for our motors. Made the valves from SS truck valves and shortened them, cut keeper grooves and flame hardened the stem ends. I was able to use chevy springs and keepers. Sorry to hear of the broken foot, I talked with Jack Wells almost every day and tracked the progress, what a fine adventure to have.

Take care, Bruce

Daryl, Sorry to hear of your

Jay Whyte's picture

Sorry to hear of your mishap. You are a lucky man. Get well soon.
Regards, Jay Whyte
Santa Cruz


Peter Schildhause's picture

Offer a free ride on the back for everyone who donates $200 for the repair. Or perhaps for $500 one could be pilot in command for a 5 mile stretch of quiet road.

A ride on the back would be

Darryl.Richman's picture

A ride on the back would be very uncomfortable. The parcel rack is quite unforgiving and lacks ... support ... in ... important places.

Actually, I'm quite enthusiastic about getting people interested in these very old bikes. But the controls are quite intimidating; little other than the clutch and front brake levers -- which even then pivot from the outside -- are what we modern riders are used to. And now that Peter Nettesheim has taught me how to double clutch and preserve my 2nd gear, it's even more work to ride one of these beasts.

--Darryl Richman
"Bling is not made in Germany" --OTL, 12/05

Hope you and the R52 are both

mookie58's picture

Hope you and the R52 are both better quickly and back on the road soon.

Curious About Repairs

Jim Hansen's picture


Please keep us informed about the repairs. I'm especially curious about any repairs/mods re. the blown headgaskets and piston seizures, and maybe also about those crazy, solid, non-pivoting, too-low, death-trap floorboards.


P.S. I'll take a short ride on the back on that parcel rack if you pay me $200.

R 17's and riding on luggage racks

R66RODENT's picture

I had an R17 which I bought for $300 in 1966. The kid who sold it to me thought it was very advanced for 1936, because it had a "rigid frame, just like a flat-track racer".We used to ride it around Cambridge with my wife sitting on a sofa pillow on the rack. One afternoon we hit a particularly nasty pot-hole on Mass. Ave, and the second thing that came down after she returned to her perch on the rack, was her fist on the back of my helmet. "Sell this fucking pig", she yelled. Which I did several weeks later, encouraged somewhat by the recent demise of the crankpin. I sold it to Amol Precision for what I had in it. The bike was very original-at least to my untutored eyes. I had no idea when I bought it, that BMW only made 400 R17's. Anyway Darryl, whatever you decide to do about putative passengers on your luggage rack, I hope you heal up fast and well, and that you get the R52 sorted out soon.

So sorry to hear about the

macfly's picture

So sorry to hear about the mishap, I'd been away from the site for a while, and just came back to discover this. Hope that the healing is going well, and you'll be back in the saddle in no time.

All the best, Andrew


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