The remote Alaskan hamlet of Hyder and New Orleans, Louisiana are about as disparate as a pair of American cities can be, with little to connect them than the flag and geography — lots of it. Separating the two is a vast latitudinal section of North America: the Canadian Rockies and British Columbia, wide open ranges of Wyoming and Montana, the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains, and a significant stretch of Heartland before the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. It’s not a route many are likely to attempt, regardless of vehicle. But next June, a group of intrepid scooterists will be riding the route on scooters no larger than 250cc for the 10th anniversary of the biennial Scooter Cannonball Run.
Something about the whole plan is (at least) a little bit crazy. A transcontinental scooter ride isn’t an easy undertaking under any circumstances. The full route will likely cross more types of terrain and encounter more climates changes than any previous Cannonball. It’s an endurance event, successive days of 350 – 400 mile riding. Many participants spend their evenings maintaining and repairing their rides; this kind of riding puts a lot of strain on small engines, tires and transmissions. In the past, the Cannonball scooters have included vintage two-strokes, highly modified moderns and a variety of custom builds. Among the riders, some take the competition aspect very seriously, going to great lengths — such as minimizing bathroom stops — to reduce their times between checkpoints.
As challenging as the ride will be, just getting to the starting point is a significant hurdle. Hyder, AK is about as hard to get to as any populated chunk of land in the continental US. The only road into town enters through Canada. The Maritime Ferry no longer stops there. The only regular air service is the US Mail, which arrives by seaplane.
Yet from the moment rumors of an Alaska to Louisiana route started percolating last year, I’ve been thinking of signing on for this odyssey. When the route was officially announced, the deliberation became obsessive. I’d considered riding in the event before, but never felt as compelled to attempt it as I do now. The idea is too big to ignore.
I kept my burgeoning plans to myself for a couple weeks while researching and planning, then broke my silence with a single post on the Cannonball forum (about which scooter I plan to ride). This led to a message from a friend. Some veterans were putting a team together, with a trailer from SoCal to the starting point, a support truck, and the benefit of help and advice from experienced Cannonballers. If I wanted in, I had to commit. Um… yes? I mean: Hell, yeah!
As my infinitely patient wife can attest, I haven’t stopped thinking or talking about it since.
So I’m on a team, I now have a plane ticket to St. George, British Columbia and I have a mile-long shopping list. I’ve spent the past few weeks immersed in retail motorcycle gear sites and poring over threads on ADVrider and elsewhere, planning my gear for the ride. (I have a “must get” list and a “ultimate gear up” wish list.) However, my first and most important need is a Cannonball-worthy scooter.
My current rides, an ’06 Vespa LX and a ’12 Genuine Stella 4T 150, aren’t quite up to the task at hand. The LX is modified to the gills, kitted to a 190cc and quite zippy. It’s also got 35,000 miles on the odometer. Though reliable for many multi-day trips, I’m not confident that it wouldn’t have a major issue under the exertion of this ride. Also, as an older, carbureted version of the LX, it bogs down at high altitudes. The Stella is my daily commuter and though a great ride, a bit pokey, with even more trouble above 7,000 feet.
The ideal scooter for the trip — for me at least — would be fuel-injected or have a strong enough engine to handle both steep inclines and the elevations. It should handle well and be relatively comfortable. I don’t want to spend every available hour working on the scoot, so it should be durable and reliable. Because there’s a 250cc displacement cap on this Cannonball, most maxiscooters are out of the question. In addition, I wanted to keep the budget as low as possible. This is going to be a long trip and it concludes at Amerivespa, which is going to cost a fair amount to attend.
There’s only one scooter, in my mind, that meets these qualifications: the Honda Helix CN250. The Helix (known overseas as the Fusion) is the forerunner of all modern maxiscooters. When it was introduced in the US in 1986, it was the largest scooter on the market and the first in decades touted for its touring capabilities.
The Helix is also as close to “bulletproof” as a scooter gets. Compared to most models from the past 20 years, the Helix requires very little maintenance. A good set of tires can last over 10,000 miles, the belt seldom needs replacement, the engine is strong and sturdy. A Helix left sitting for years can often be resurrected with fresh gas and a new battery and require little more than a carburetor cleaning to become a reliable daily rider. Adding to my confidence, a riding pal has ridden three Cannonballs on Helixes and has had just one mechanical issue, which he says is due to his negligence. And he’s ridden the Helix cross country to the starting point or back from the destination each time. (I’m reassured that he’s planning on riding in 2014, again on a Helix.)
For now, the search is on to find one in suitable condition at a nice price. I hope to acquire one in time to get some mechanical experience with it, put a couple thousand miles on it and do a little customizing.
The countdown is on. Only 255 days to go.