Cannonballing With a Neracar

by admin on April 17, 2013

By Bob Addis, 4/16/13

What events or thoughts set off crazy, even seemingly impossible ideas?  More specifically, why would I want to ride a 90 year old motorcycle/motor scooter with a top speed of 35 mph from coast to coast, covering approximately 3500-4,000 miles in September 2014?  I’ll list them!

  1. My first motor vehicle was a 1959 Vespa 125 cc motor scooter.  Initially purchased by Ernie Anderson and subsequently by Denny Yanson and then the Keese brothers, I was its fourth owner for one summer and 5,000 miles.  To say that I got hooked on two-wheeled transportation is an understatement.
  2. I have owned an estimated 80-90 motorcycles, scooters and mopeds but all these years I have always had a scooter in the garage parked next to the big touring Harley or equivalent.  And in all honesty, I have enjoyed riding the scooters and the big bikes.
  3. Is the Neracar a motorcycle or a scooter?  It has big wheels like a cycle but is a step-through like a scooter.  It has a tiny 2-stroke engine like a scooter but apparently for historic reasons it gets listed in the encyclopedias of motorcycles.  Either way, I like it.  It’s an odd ball!
  4. I have driven coast to coast about a dozen times and ridden a bike “across” three times.
  5. I became infatuated with Cannonball Baker (1882-1960) who held 143 transcontinental records during a time when there were basically no roads, “plowed fields” as he called them.  He would approach a manufacturer and say, “No record, no pay”, and he always got paid!  His skills, endurance and ability to get across the country on very little sleep made him legendary.  He kept detailed records and claimed 5,000,000 miles on these ventures, of which 5,000 miles constituted trips up and down Pikes Peak!

Baker made a living testing tires on the Indianapolis Raceway near where he lived and in the 1950’s was named the National Commissioner of a budding race group called NASCAR.

  1. Cannonball Baker’s lifetime of achievement earned him prominence in two halls of fame, the inspiration for the famous Cannonball Outlaw Races in the 1970’s, and a couple of spinoff comic movies.
  2. Baker had seen the brand new Neracar at a motorcycle show, was intrigued with its simplicity and durability, contacted the factory in Syracuse and in the late fall of 1922 started from NY City to Los Angeles on an economy run.  See his article, “How I Crossed America on Less Than $20”.  Twenty six days later with four days off due to heavy rains and mud in MO and KS, he rolled into Los Angles to a large awaiting crowd.  He claimed that he cleaned up, changed clothes and was off on the town that night!  What a man!
  3. I discovered the Motorcycle Cannonball (2010 and 2012) through a friend, mechanic and competitor, Mark Hill, formerly of SUNY-Canton, now owner of 4th Coast Racing in Waddington, NY.  After a rainy weekend of watching endless videos on the Cannonball, a plan started to hatch and when I read Cannonball Baker’s 1922 adventure with a Neracar, it slowly dawned on me that I should do this on a Neracar.  Baker had a new Neracar and no roads.  I have an old Neracar and good roads.  I’d say we are even!

There are several steps to becoming a Cannonballer and I have divided the project into three phases:

Phase 1 – Pull The Trigger.  Through some very friendly and cooperative Neracar owners I purchased this 1923 Neracar from Indiana.  It needs work and some critical parts.  The second part of this phase is underway- mobilize a team of support mechanics, parts chasers, and road crew – Team Arcane, I call us!

Phase 2 – Pimp My Ride.  It’s a long ways to the West Coast, believe me!  Durability of an antique motorcycle is the first importance followed by my desire for a little more top end than 35 mph on the level.  Originally this is 2.5 hp, 255 cc, 2-stroke engine with a 3.2:1 compression ratio, designed to burn gasoline of varying quality and octane (40-50 octane?) mixed with the ordinary motor oils of the day.  Today we can have 90-91 octane and state of the art synthetic 2-stroke oil, but can I up its performance without sacrificing dependability?  This is a weighty question within Team Arcane and not without conflicting opinions.  In a few weeks we go into the shop of a leading race mechanic for a tear down and consulting period.

Phase 3 – No Pain, No Gain.  Lose weight, strength training and yoga for flexibility.  Team member Aaron Jarvis, WV, carefully (?) pointed out to me that extra weight slows down little 2-stroke bikes, so in the moment I pledged to weigh less than the 192 lb. Neracar.  Yeah, a goal for September 2014.

So there it is – Team Arcane and an impossible(?) dream!

See more Ner-a-car pictures in the Gallery

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