You may have heard of it. The Motorcycle Cannonball endurance race is one of those totally unique happenings occurring on a semi-regular basis that you absolutely have to see to believe. What makes it so special? In a word (or three), it’s the bikes.

See, the Cannonball isn’t just a time-based endurance ride on two wheels. Nope, for this particular 2018 event, your bike had to have been made before 1929, and you had to ride it across the country. And if you’ve never seen a 100-year-old bike chug across a finish line after 16 days, then put it on your bucket list.

The Cannonballers
The Cannonballers had to ride 15 stages across the country, checking in at each stage to accumulate points.Andrew Cherney

The Motorcycle Cannonball race is held every other year, and is always run from one coast to the other, but on a different route every time. This year’s event took a northerly route to go “3,400 miles from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon,” but in reality, the finish line for the 2018 race was in a little Washington town some 40 miles across the river. But whatever, right? The sight of a bunch of 90-plus-year-old machines wheezing along a gravel road to the Grand Finale at Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, Washington, on September 23 was flat-out awesome.

Dean Bordigioni
Dean Bordigioni of Team Vino was the overall winner on his 1914 Harley Single—a single-cylinder, single-speed motorcycle…Andrew Cherney

It was also a fitting tribute to Lonnie Isam Jr., the Cannonball’s founding father, who passed away in August 2017 while planning the 2018 run. The concept is pretty simple; take your unaltered, vintage machine from the East Coast to the west in the allotted time on the allotted route. This year’s race featured a variety of antique machinery, most of them American brands like Harley and Indian, though there were more than a few BMWs, Nortons, and Triumphs in the mix. During the run, two bikes caught fire, including a very rare ACE that had just completed an extensive (and expensive) restoration, but both bikes finished.

Chris Tribbey
…but the oldest bike entered in Class 1 was this 1911 Excelsior Model K Single ridden by Chris Tribbey.Andrew Cherney

The oldest entry for 2018 was a 1911 Excelsior K Single machine—117 years old!—and the newest were several 1928 vintage bikes. Several riders from around the world also competed in this year’s run, and of the four women who entered, three finished with perfect scores—a first for the run.

1923 Neracar piloted by Ben Pierce
Whoa. A very cool hub-center-steering 1923 Neracar piloted by Ben Pierce.Andrew Cherney

As the proud old iron rolled across the finish line in Stevenson on September 23, 2018, to delighted cheers, you could hear the sounds of popping champagne corks. And no wonder; these ancient rigs rode in from Portland, Maine, taking a breather in historic Sturgis, South Dakota, and then continuing on to Oregon. The riders averaged around 250 miles per day, adding up to approximately 3,750 miles, with less than 10 miles of those on interstate highways. A bucket list accomplishment, indeed.

Team Norton
Team Norton, led by Richard Asprey, showed up in force with three flat-tank Nortons. This one’s a 1925 Big Four.Andrew Cherney
cool vintage metal
You had just much cool vintage metal out in the parking lot as on the finish line, like this clean Indian Four.Andrew Cherney
1915 Harley-Davidson 11F model
Another 100-plus-year-old machine we spotted was this 1915 Harley-Davidson 11F modelAndrew Cherney
Route directions
No modern electrics here: Route directions get rigged onto the bikes any way they can.Andrew Cherney
Grand Finale at Skamania Lodge
The Grand Finale at Skamania Lodge outside of Portland, Oregon, turned into a full-on party as vintage iron rolled across the gravel lot.Andrew Cherney