The end of the year was a time to look back at things that caught my attention and are on my bucket list for completing some time in the future. Route 66 is one and completing a Scooter Cannonball is another on a long list of scooter adventures waiting to be had.
I met Ken (aka LostBoater) and Vicki Wilson when we took part in the Cross Egypt Challenge.
He rides scooters everywhere you can imagine and has completed the Scooter Cannonball more than once, so his page was the first I went to for the 2016 Cannonball Challenge.
He documented his 2016 Cannonball in link below:
But Ken was not the only one – several of the participants in the 2016 took the time to post their trials and accomplishments during and post the event. Here are some links to their sites if you want to know more:
I do not know if there was ever a blog created for rider number 58 – “Absurd Ruse”. The rider of Absurd Ruse was Gonzalo Gonzalez (or “Gonz”), a member of the New Orleans Scooter Cooperative. Gonz was riding his 1958 Vespa, equipped with a stock p200 engine featuring a SIP road exhaust, lightened flywheel and stock carb running a 120main/BE3/160air. Gonz was a rider I was following and barracking for as his story unfolded on the New Orleans Scooter Cooperative Facebook page.
Gonzalo was not the only classic rider – but he and his supporters on the road and at home were certainly tested between start and completion of the event, with several “Lazarus” moments along the way.
So what is the Scooter Cannonball ?
The Scooter Cannonball Run is a coast to coast endurance event for scooters. It is a test of both rider and machine that covers 3500 miles and takes in some of the best motorcycle roads on the North American continent. It’s run as a time/distance/regularity rally where points are awarded based on miles completed and the ability to maintain the standard pace.
The best part is that the Cannonball Run route changes from year to year. In 2016, the route was East to West from Fernandina Beach, FL to Mukilteo, WA
Some ride for charity (ie: the “Highway to Heal” group on Yamaha Zumas), some to prove they can do it, some to “win” and others just to see the country. While the Scooter Cannonball Run is not a race, the pace tends to be spirited. There is not much time to stop for pie.
Gonz’s Cannonball Run: Day 1 – Off to a Good Start
Day one ended after an overheating piston , that added about 30 minutes to his overall time. Despite this, Gonz won the day!
Day 2: Catastrophes R Us
After travelling less than ten miles from checkpoint two, Gonz suffered an utter and complete engine seizure. Gonz said “At the moment my rear wheel locked up I knew immediately that in all of my celebrating of winning day one that I FORGOT TO PUT TWO STROKE OIL INTO THE TANK! ”
Surrounded by thunderstorms, he removed the top end on the side of the road. The support RV showed up two hours later and he was able to put on a new top end that he had already broken in earlier in the year. With the new top end, Gonz was able to continue on with the ride which unfortunately took him straight into the surrounding storm. Foolish mistake number two on Day two: Gonz had left his rain gear in the support RV trailer. However there was a temporary silver lining, the storm left all bikers waiting at the souvenir shop, so he had the entire Tail of the Dragon to himself! In addition to the 318 turns in 11 miles, a few more turns were added as the road had become an obstacle course of large branches and downed trees littering the road. It was a surreal waking dream that led Gonz to a road closure that would force him back into the storm’s path and away from the shortest and most direct route to checkpoint number three.
Thirty minutes into the deluge, the sun set as he rode into a deep puddle. The engine died as he coasted into a flat section of road under a bit of clearing in the storm. After 15 minutes of unsuccessful kick start attempts under the watchful eye of a park ranger, the only help Gonz asked for was for the ranger to drive slowly behind him while he ran alongside his scooter attempting to bump start in second gear. It started up!
The rain returned along with a cold front while Gonz rode in the most beautiful dusk downpour. But the day’s challenges were not yet over. The rain combined with a frayed wire had fried his scooter’s electronics, rendering the USB charger, fuel gauge, voltage meter, and accessory socket useless. Luckily his GPS was wired directly to the battery via a switch, so it was spared. Soaking wet and shivering so much his headlight vibrated left and right as he continued until, of course, he ran out of gas. In pitch black darkness. On a switchback road miles away from checkpoint three. Gonz’s gas can saved him as he filled his tank in total darkness. Gonz said afterward “I thought I heard some mouth breathing coming from the trees, but realized it was me hyperventilating. The final 50 miles were the hardest I’ve ever ridden.”
With hypothermia certainly waiting to pounce, he stopped at a few places trying to buy a wind breaker, sweater or even a crappy gas station sweatshirt. No luck. On more than one occasion he came so close to throwing in the towel and checking into any random hotel along the route. During these final miles, his scooter started backfiring. By the time he made it to the hotel around midnight, all of the BBQ that was grilled by local scooteristi was gone. Luckily there was enough light in the parking lot to spend some time to figure out the backfiring problem. The hard plastic NGK spark plug cap had snapped. Gonz replaced it and called it a night.
Day 3: Off to a Bad Start
Day 3 began with some unforeseen Drama: UPS reported that the hotel refused the overnight care package, but a stern talking too righted that wrong and the hotel picked up the package from UPS!
A quick diagnostic compression check revealed 95psi after three kicks, not great but ok. There was an additional wiring issue as well, one of the wires powering his headset instruments had rubbed on the neck where it passes into the headset and shorted out causing some smoke. This was sorted out he was able to get back in good running shape.
Day 3: More of the Same
He got a late start on Day three due to being dog-ass tired and then having to sort some issues. He made it past passed D3CP1 but then mechanical issues returned.
Low compression and an inability to downshift caused him to make the decision to hop on the trailer and four wheel it to the hotel.
Day 4: On the Road Again
Upon arrival at the hotel, he picked up the care package and got to work. He found a chip in the piston and the top ring was somehow gone! The oil level was low and the engine smelled burnt. He had some help in the parking lot but was ultimately was up till around 3am, then back at it at 7 in the morning.
The good news, was top end kicking at 120 psi now! He checked the clutch to make sure everything was good. He completed his check, re-tightened cables and looked under the headset top. The bad news, downshifting was still a problem requiring two hands.
Day 5: The Riding Dead
Day five was the day that truly tested all involved and by now a very tired rider. He lost power and it turned out to be (another) simple spark plug cap fix. Got going again and then within a few miles he lost power again. Pushing the kickstart lever down spun the flywheel intermittently, which indicated he may have sheared the clutch woodruff key, but upon inspection it was revealed to not be the case. Push start did not engage the gears so it appears he had suffered some kind of catastrophic mechanical failure. So, Gonz was stuck on the side of the road in Kansas waiting on a tow truck. It got worse, as the follow van couldn’t wait for his lengthy repair as they were supporting the other riders. Not a problem at that point since he thought he could fix it. He told them to go and figured he could get a tow with his AMA membership, but it turned out to be an overly optimistic conclusion. He called AMA for a tow, and was surprised to hear that it was going to cost $750 to get him to the hotel in Topeka, Kansas (he was only 35 miles into the day’s route and the destination hotel was 200 miles away). They found a U-Haul close by, and got the tow truck to tow the scooter to the U-Haul location.
He then loaded it into the U-Haul and drove to the hotel in Lincoln, Nebraska to meet up with the Cannonball.
Could it get worse? Yes! Apparently none of the scooter parts shops in the US had any stock P200 66.5mm pistons in stock. Scooter Mercado, Scooter West, and Scooterworks are all out of stock. They also tried a few other smaller shops and it was looking like the end of the road… But then it was Scooter Mercado to the rescue! Dave pulled a piston out of a scooter and sent it on it’s way to Nebraska. With some work, Gonz was back with a chance of completing the event.
Day 6: Rolling Road
Gonz completely opened up the motor and went through everything, One of his gear cables was totally frayed, explaining the two-handed approach to shifting (or did it?). It was changed along with fitting the piston shipped from Scooter Mercado as well as a box of other fresh bits. Since U-Haul only had a 20′ box truck to rent, he had a mobile garage to work in for the night. It was a crap shoot at that point but better than riding in the RV!
Prayers to the scooter gods must have worked as after working his ass off in a po-dunk hotel parking lot, he was able to rejoin the ride. He got on the road sometime around noon.
Once the mechanical demons were sorted, Gonzo went on to win three of the four legs. An amazing stretch given the fact that it appeared his race had been run. The scooter was beat up and he was beat up but they were not beaten and still in the ride!
Gonzo’s problem with the clutch was sorted with some help from the folks over at modern Vespa. Someone had pointed out that often times the sport clutches are a little too deep for a vintage clutch cover and sometimes require a spacer. He tried using the special bearing that came with the sport clutch, but he took the bearing out as it was assumed that it was pushing the clutch in just a little bit. He also has issues with the cork plates, so another care package with a spare clutch, and a new set of plates soaking in oil was dispatched to meet up with him.
But there is always the unknown – after getting the scooter running during a a slow turn on a test ride he ran over a little loose gravel that caused his rear tire to kick out and he went down. He was fine, but the fall broke the clutch lever. A replacement lever was located at a local powersports dealer and they fixed him up.
After all of that, it was a comparatively smooth ride to to the finish of the 2016 Cannonball Run. You can’t keep Gonzo down!
“Absurd Ruse” piloted by Gonzo, was a monster scooter that might have won if it had completed every day. He won every day he finished by a big number, but reliability issues in the middle days kept him off the road. He won at least five days for a 16th place overall finish. Big kart won the whole deal on a 1986 Honda Helix. He entered both a Reflex and the Helix but competed on a 30 year old scoot defeating modern technology handily.
I’m inspired by Gonz’ tenacity and drive, and when I someday attempt my Cannonball Run, I hope to not follow in some of his footsteps! He rode a dying scooter in the darkness of a cold rain, spent hours waiting on the side of the road, replaced top ends and spark plug caps with regularity, became a friend to the overnight shippers bottom line and U-Hauled his way back into the race. It sounds like fun, but is surely a testament to sticking to it all the way to ultimate success. Good on ya, Gonz!