From NY to SF on a ’23 Harley
DEAN BORDIGIONI rode coast-to-coast as part of “The Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run.”
Michael Lichter/Special to the Index-Tribune
For some people it might have been torture. For Dean Bordigioni – winemaker and motorhead – 17 days and 4,000 miles on a 1923 Harley Davidson was the closest thing to heaven.
The occasion was the 2012 version of a coast-to-coast ride for vintage motorcycles – called “The Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run.” The route ran from Newburgh, N.Y., to San Francisco across highways that Bordigioni called “beyond blue, it felt like we were traveling back in time.”
All the motorcycles were pre-1930 models, with Harleys predominant, but also including Indians, the rare, four-cylinder Hendersons, BMWs, Triumphs and more. They thundered and sputtered through small towns through big crowds, through downpours and autumn sunshine. The ride, said Bordigioni, was about endurance, not speed. “My sweet spot was 42 to 45 miles per hour. If I went much faster, the engine got much noisier, and I didn’t want it to break.”
The whole venture was a mechanical gamble, since Bordigioni, who owns Annadel Estates Winery and Vineyard and prepared for the race as he prepared for his 2012 crush, only had the bike some four months, finished a rebuild the day the bike left for the East Coast in the back of a van, and hadn’t had a chance for even one shake-down ride.
“Our transmission lasted all of a day, it leaked a steady stream of oil all over the one rear brake.”
Bordigioni and his master mechanic, Marty Schilber, limped along to Milwaukee and a joyous gathering at the Harley Davidson Museum, where he found the parts he needed to make the bike right. A former Marin County Harley dealer, Bordigioni was a man at home with his clan as the pack of 72 riders pushed west.
He describes the experience as “days full of joy, it was like a traveling circus. We’d pull into these little prairie towns, 50 or 60 old motorcycles, crowds would greets us.
“The sweetest stop of the whole thing was in a little town in Ohio a few miles from the end of the day. Just a little tiny town, they hung banners over the road, the PTA was out with cookies and coffee, the whole town was out. It was fantastic.”
He said the days were long – “We were with the bikes until midnight every night,” – and the mornings were early, but the end experience “was so much better than I could ever have imagined.”
The only cloud on the run for Bordigioni was a profound lack of brakes. “I lost 90 percent of my braking power. There were a couple of days in the rain when I had no brakes. I had to stop by downshifting and dragging my feet.”
The climax to the trip – crossing the Golden Gate Bridge en masse – was “terrifying. There were 200 to 300 motorcycles all around me, it was pandemonium. Riding across the Golden Gate Bridge was supposed to be the highlight. But I was going 45 miles per hour in a pack of 300 motorcycles without brakes. I was dragging my feet all across the bridge to regulate my speed.
Did the Cannonball Run satisfy Bordigioni’s thirst for two-wheel adventure. He’s already ridden on six continents and he’s now over 50, with a young daughter and another on the way.
“I’ve got one more Cannonball in me. I’m going to ride my ’23 again in 2014. I had the oldest bike in my class last time, and all I wanted to do was finish. I did that. This time I want I want to win.”