In September, BMW enthusiast and Vice President of the Vintage BMW Motorcycle Owners club, Darryl Richman, will be putting his 1928 R52 to the ultimate test by competing in the Motorcycle Cannonball II – a unique competition open to motorcycles manufactured up to 1929 that sees riders and their vintage machines take on the North American continent on a coast-to-coast run against the clock.
The original Motorcycle Cannonball event was organized in 2010 by Lonnie Isam in honor of “Cannonball” Baker’s historic 11 day cross country ride. Forty-five collectors of motorcycles built before 1916 participated in a rally which started on a pier at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina and ended on a pier in Santa Monica, California. The event had 37 motorcycles finish and 10 receiving perfect scores for covering all 3294 miles under their own power.
For 2012, the route will be longer and more difficult, with motorcycles built up to 1930 allowed to join in the fun. Starting on September 7, 2012, Darryl will begin a 17-day journey across the United States on his 84-year-old BMW bike, riding from New York to San Francisco. His route will take in some of the best scenery and landmarks the USA has to offer, including national parks and forests, the great lakes, the Mississippi river, the plains, the Black Hills, Rushmore, Devils Tower, Yellowstone, the Rocky Mountains, the Avenue of the Giants, Pacific Coast Highway, and the Golden Gate Bridge.
Darryl will average around 300 miles (500 km) per day on his R52, making it a true endurance run for the long time sport and touring rider. He has been restoring and riding BMW bikes for more than three decades now and has experienced more than half a million miles (800,000 km) from the saddle of various BMW boxer twins.
Darryl bought his 1928 BMW R52 in Germany in 2004 and had the motor and magneto overhauled before bringing it to the USA in 2006. Having participated in a number of vintage events in Germany and in the US, Darryl has put around 2,000 ‘modern’ miles on the bike so far without any major problems, although this latest challenge will test it to the absolute limits.
“I’ve got one of the smallest bikes being entered, as almost half the bikes are big 1200cc Harley-Davidsons and big Henderson Fours,” said Darryl. “It’s going to be a tough rally for these old bikes, especially the sections across the Appalachian Mountains and though Wyoming where they will struggle with the high-altitude. I’ve ridden slide-carb bikes over some of the passes in the Sierra Nevada before, including my R9 S, where I wasn’t able to use fifth gear at all, struggled in fourth gear and actually had to opt for third gear most of the time. With the R52 though, I only have three gears, so that’s ok!”
Richman has been in Europe earlier this summer sourcing extra parts for the R52 which will need careful treatment to ensure it gets from the east to west coast safely. Up until last October, the furthest he had ridden it in one day was around 100 miles (160 km) but since then he has successfully completed a 220-mile return trip up the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco from his home in Santa Cruz, with no mishaps, low oil usage and good fuel consumption.
“This was important for me, as the organizers of the rally told us that we needed to be able to do at least 100 miles without having to stop for gas,” he said. “My R52 only has a 12-liter fuel tank, so it was reassuring to discover that it is remarkably fuel efficient. The riding experience is very different from a modern motorcycle though; there is no twist grip throttle, the transmission is very simple and of the three gears I have, only the first and third gears are constant mesh – you have to get the wheel speed and engine speed really close before you try to shift gear!”
This year’s event has attracted enthusiasts and collectors from Australia, South Africa, Ireland, Poland, Sweden, France, the UK and Italy, as well as the USA. Although most of the machines competing are American Harley-Davidsons, there are plenty of other brands represented including three BMWs (a 1928 R62 and a 1929 R11 as well as Darryl’s 1928 R52), Indian, Henderson, Triumph, Rudge, Excelsior, BSA, Sunbeam and JAP.
Keeping an antique motorcycle running for the duration of this rally will require mechanical skills and resourcefulness of the highest caliber, which is why Darryl is taking a team of his friends along for assistance and support, and also to film and photograph the ride.
“It’s not as if I can get the parts that I may need while on the road,” says Darryl. “They don’t exist in motorcycle dealers, so we have to be smart in the way we will try to keep the bike running. We’ll change the oil every night – not because the R52 needs it but because if there is anything not quite right, then maybe we would see it in the oil and can then make plans about how to repair a problem before it actually occurs.”
His Chief Mechanic Paul Glaves will be driving a van complete with workbenches, power and tools, while other team members will be riding their own bikes. With just weeks to go now before the start of the Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run, Darryl is hoping that his love affair with old BMWs will still be intact if he makes it all the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and returns across the Golden Gate Bridge to a heroes’ welcome into San Francisco.
“The most important thing for me is to complete the ride,” he says. “You get a point for every mile and then lose points for various penalties. However, I’m not concerned about winning – I just want to ride every mile. I’ve got eight BMW bikes now, one from every decade apart from the 1930s and the current one. I’d be happy if I could find an R66 from the 1930s, but I’m not sure which bike I’d like from 2010 onwards. Surprisingly, I haven’t got a GS in my collection, so maybe that’s the next BMW for me!”
You can follow along with Darryl’s adventure on his blog at http://www.vintagebmw.org/v7/cannonball_blog.