Isam says he wanted to pay homage to the forefather of competitive motorcycle distance riding, Erwin “Cannonball” Baker and other figures from history who shared Baker’s obsession. Those early riders stormed across the country in the early 1900s, and his dream was to have modern riders on those classic machines do the same.
The Motorcycle Cannonball riders will begin their approximately two-week journey across the United States on motorcycles built before 1930, and many of them were exactly the sort of rides you might expect. Harley-Davidsons, Indians, BSAs and BMWs.
The competition involves accurately navigating the route using a set of Course Instructions laid out for each day. The bikes are separated out in classes and the winner for each class is the motorcycle and rider who covers the most on-route mileage over the 16-day run. Part of the challenge is that each day includes a specified time schedule and requires compliance with the Event Regulations.
In 2010 Isam assembled a group of riders willing to share miles with him along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, and 45 intrepid riders took off from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina for a transcontinental journey which would ultimately end at the shores of the Pacific Ocean.
The 2012 iteration of the race included 77 riders who lined up on the grid in Newburg, New York and then headed out on the nearly 4,000-mile ride to San Francisco. I happened to be on the scene with my camera when those riders boarded the Lake Express Ferry for the short trip across Lake Michigan to continue the ride on the other side.
Isam says that event played out exactly as did the first run. And in his view, the riders “became a family as they struggled to get their ancient iron across the span of the nation.”
The 2014 ride included 101 riders lined up on the beach at Daytona, Florida. On that ride, the Cannonballers – many from locations around the globe – pointed their machines toward Tacoma, Washington. And the race itself is an event for the many stops along the way as businesses and local motorcycle fans organized events for the modern riders just as Americans did for Cannonball Baker.
The 2016 Race of the Century route from Atlantic City, New Jersey to Carlsbad, California came as Isam was fighting for his life against cancer, and just as the details for the 2018 run ironed out, the Motorcycle Cannonball’s founder handed the race organization over to his business partner and friend, Jason Sims. Isam then passed away in August of 2017.
The 2018 run saw riders traverse the nation across a northern course that ran from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon. That run proved brutal and beloved by the riders as they faced torrential rain, scalding temperatures and even icy temperatures and snow in the mountains of Montana. Give all that, you might think the riders found it a bit much. But you would be wrong. That route was recently voted as the favorite of the riders.
2020 saw the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and as a result, Sims found himself with no choice but to postpone the event.
But now the Cannonball Run is back as the country is opening back up, and the run from Sault Ste Marie, Michigan to South Padre Island, Texas is already underway.
Stage One of the Motorcycle Cannonball 2021 began Friday in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan and the Grand Finale happens Sunday, September 26, 2021, at South Padre Island Convention Centre.