Cannonball 2012 and the Harley Museum


The Cannonball is a motorcycle ride from New York to San Diego. If that wasn’t cool enough, the ride is open only to bike manufactured in 1930 and earlier.

I first heard of the Cannonball in 2010. It took a southern route then, never getting within a state of Wisconsin. In 2011 I was busy in the fall and it didn’t even cross my mind, so I was glad when I heard this year they were still holding the event, and this year the route linked motorcycle museums across the United States.

Milwaukee happens to have such a museum, established by Harley Davidson from bikes they had been setting aside since the early 1900s. So when I learned the Cannonball was going to be at the Harley Museum I made sure to mark my calendar.

As the date drew near it became clear there would be, functionally, two events in Milwaukee. The bikes would be arriving on the Lake Express ferry, then heading for the Museum for a reception. The reception was open to the public, and the ferry parking lot wasn’t something that could be closed.

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The museum website listed the bikes as arriving in the 615 ferry, and then getting to the museum around 630. I’ve been on the ferry a few times, and thought it was unlikely the ship would arrive on time.

I was right about the arrival time, and the sun was giving all the bikes a golden glow as they came off the boat and rode out of the parking lot. Milwaukee had sent some motorcycle police to get the bikes from the ferry to the museum.

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According to the Cannonball website there were 70 bikes due in Milwaukee. I didn’t count, but felt my grin getting bigger and bigger as some bikes rolled past. Others were pushed, and one at least was stalled not far from the exit. One had hitched a ride on a special sidecar rig.

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Once most of the bikes had left, I got back on my bike and headed over to the museum. With my recent experience at the museum I was more than a little nervous as I got closer to the entrance, but while there were a lot of people there it wasn’t anything like the rally. It felt much more like an event about motorcycles rather than a party to drink too much. There were beer and food tents, but no one was going to them.

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There were crowds around the bikes, parked in the courtyard. There was food for the riders and their support people, and regular announcements to remind them to eat and stop talking. there was a lot of talking.

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The sun vanished with most of the light. Some of the bikes were still well lit, but most of the courtyard had fallen into darkness. This caused most of the crowd to leave, and a few of the cannonball riders rode off as well. They had to leave at 5 in the morning, heading for their next stop at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa.

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