May 5, 2011
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Erwin "Cannon Ball" Baker in action. Photo from Don Emde Collection.
SEARCH BEGINS TO FIND CANNON BALL'S TRAIL
Don Emde, winner of the 1972 Daytona 200 and Editor-in-Chief of Parts Magazine, has announced the beginning of a new multi-year project to retrace and document the route of an amazing 11 1/2 day coast-to-coast motorcycle ride in 1914 by America's first true Adventurebike rider, Erwin G. Baker, better known today as "Cannon Ball" Baker.
The concept of Emde's "Cannon Ball Project" is to locate and ride as much of Baker's actual route as possible. In some cases, it may no longer exist and the current roads and highways will be taken when necessary. The plan is for him and a staff writer to ride Baker's 1914 route in segments to allow time to research the current and previous routes and local information for each area. Thanks to support from KTM North America, who are providing 990 Adventure bikes, as well as Parts Unlimited and numerous aftermarket manufacturers, these research rides will continue into 2012 to document the entire 3,378-mile route from San Diego to New York.
As it is today, racing in the early 1900s was a sales tool used back by the manufacturers to gain respect and brand loyalty. But dusty dirt tracks and steep boardtracks resulted in constant injuries and deaths, and the image of the sport was becoming very negative.
As a result, motorcycle manufacturers looked to other ways to promote their products. One was by promoting the success riders were having attempting to ride across the United States on their motorcycles. At that time there was no established highway system, especially in the Western states, so riders needed to navigate their own routes as well as having to hope for a reliable machine to go the distance.
By 1910, some riders had accomplished motorcycle rides from coast to coast, taking 3 to 4 weeks to complete. Then, in 1914, Baker took off from San Diego, CA on a two-speed Indian V-twin headed for New York. He had pre-planned a route through Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas that would eventually get him to Kansas City where an established road system would take him to New York City. Baker astonished the motorcycle world when he completed the 3,378-mile route a full 9 days faster than any previous coast-to-coast motorcycle rides. And at the completion of his ride, a journalist obviously impressed by Baker's commitment to achieving his goal, dubbed him "Cannon Ball," a nickname that stuck with him for life.
With the publicity in the motorcycle press, Cannon Ball Baker became one of the leading celebrities of the sport. He continued to blaze new routes, including a Canada to Mexico ride where he again established a record for others to break, as well as improving his time of his existing records. When he was done, he had made over 100 runs across the country in motorcycles and cars.
The goal of the project is to demonstrate what an amazing accomplishment it was for Baker to make it all the way across the country on a motorcycle that produced less than 10 horsepower, which he did at an average of over 300 miles per day! An interesting feature of the project will be recreations of certain riding situations that Baker endured with actual demonstrations on a period Indian V-twin provided from the Fred Fox Collection.
The Adventure Begins"¦