The defending champion – from the Richmond area – is considered the favorite. Brad Wilmarth is a professional antique motorcycle restorer and his machine - a rare, 1913 Excelsior Model 7 twin cylinder – made every mile last time across the land; 3,290 of them with only a few minor mechanical problems.
“This was made by the Schwinn bicycle company,” Willmarth said from his home near Lake Chesdin.
Back then, Excelsior, Indian and Harley-Davidson were the big manufacturers, but there were probably close to 50 other motorcycle makers as motoring took off over the dirt roads of the nation.
What did his bike cost new back then?
“About $235 dollars,” Wilmarth replied.
Now he wouldn’t take $50,000 for it, which is what one of these ancient machines in prime condition can bring.
Not only is it a splendid example of a rare machine, two years ago he beat out 43 other antique motorcycles as they rumbled and rattled across country from Kitty Hawk to Route 66’s end in Santa Monica. About 250 miles a day for 15 days.
It’s not really a race, but more of an endurance run. Entrants are judge by the number of miles completed, along with their age and the age of their motorcycles.
Wilmarth’s machine only has one gear, as opposed to bikes two years newer or more, which typically have three speeds.
“It’s screaming at 62 (mph, it’s tip-top speed). You wouldn’t want to keep it there for too long,” he said.
And its braking power isn’t much. He remembers last time coming down an Appalachian mountain to a railroad crossing, complete with speeding train.
“I was hanging onto the brakes all the way down the hill, crossing my fingers and looking for places to go off into the woods.” The Excelsior agreed to stop at the last moment.
His faithful steed only suffered a couple of minor mechanical problems. Which is as it should be. Brad is a professional restorer of antique motorcycles, a guy who really wanted to see what his machine could do.
The biggest problem was the pain that would begin in the middle of his back early afternoon and would build and build each day as the miles rolled past.
“But the adrenaline’s going, so it just kind of makes everything better.”
As the defending champ, he’s proud to be able to wear the Number 1 on his machine for the race. He has only one goal in mind when the race begins in just a few days.
“I’m going to try to ride every mile. That’s the goal.”
As I rider, I asked if I could take his sweet machine around the block.
Brad said sure, but not until after the race. He’s had his tune-up run to Petersburg and back. He and his almost 100-year-old machine are ready.
You can find out more about the upcoming race and the previous one at http://www.motorcyclecannonball.com