TEXARKANA, Texas — Team Skeeters of the bi-annual Motorcycle Cannonball rode into Texarkana Thursday with a scheduled stop at Harley Davidson-Texarkana.
Eighty-eight vintage motorcycles ventured forth from the starting point in Michigan, near the Canadian border. From there, the convoy steered southeast, ending at their furthest eastern point, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. From there, they changed course and went southwest, the endpoint of the voyage set to be South Padre Island. Before that, however, they took a pause in Texarkana.
“This excursion will total 3,715 miles,” said John Bartman, rider with Team Skeeters. This Motorcycle Cannonball is Bartmans’ second. The first one took place in 2010.
“Think of the Motorcycle Cannonball as a rolling museum,” he said. “All the motorcycles involved are vintage bikes, manufactured 1929 or earlier.”
The total trip takes 16-17 days. The riders go all day, with one scheduled mid-day stop and then the riders stop for the night, engaging in a regimen to keep their ancient machines roadworthy.
“We start to work on them around 6 pm, checking things like grease, oil, tires, chains, spark plugs,” he said. “We usually rap up some time after 8 p.m. It takes lots of love keeping these bikes roadworthy.”
Of the 88 bikes that ventured forth from Michigan at the start of the voyage, around 70 remain in the march.
“These are old bikes and it takes a lot to keep them going,” said Bartman. “In fact, that’s a big part of this community. Getting the parts to get these bikes roadworthy and keep them that way takes some money and more time.”
The riders take easily portable parts with them, but part of this community’s purpose is a network keeping these bikes supplied with parts. Modern parts generally don’t work, the most recent stuff that might be compatible with some of the motorcycles was made in the 1960s, Bartman said.
But it is the love of these classic motorcycles and the desire to tinker is what draws hobbyists into the field.
“We’ve got all kinds in this group,” said Bartman. “Not just the older riders you might expect, but 20-somethings who have discovered these bikes coming into the community.”
Bartman, who has been riding over 40 years, obtained his vintage bike, whom he named “Miss Skeeter,” four years ago. He built her just for the Cannonball.
“Miss Skeeter is a 1929 Harley Davidson Model J,” he said. “She features a 61 cubic inch two-cylinder engine, a three-speed transmission, a foot clutch and a hand tank shift.”
For those interested in the hobby, Bartman says lots of videos on the Motorcycle Cannonball can be found on YouTube, along with videos dealing with restoring classic motorcycles.
(For those who want to find out more about the organization and the event, visit MotorcycleCannonball.com online.)