Lynn Cowles said she heard the 100-year-old bike before she saw it. After calling in sick to her bartending job in Medora, Indiana, she and her husband Brad rode up to Bloomington on their 1999 Harley Davidson Dyna Low Rider.
Four hours of sitting in the sun later, she spotted the first motorcyclist rounding the corner on Old State Road 46.
“Sounds like a tractor engine,” Brad said.
Mark Zuber of Seymour, Indiana, leaned over to look through the trees in the Harley-Davidson parking lot.
“Or like a sewing machine,” he said.
The first few pre-1916 motorcycles trickled into the Bloomington dealership Tuesday afternoon as part of the Transcontinental Motorcycle Cannonball Century Race.
The 17-day ride started Saturday in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and will continue to Carlsbad, California, and register approximately 3,304 miles.
The service team and all 95 riders will stay overnight in Bloomington, the only Indiana stop on the route, before eventually heading to Dodge City, Kansas, for a day of rest and festivities in the Western-era cattle town this Sunday.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing to see this many 100-year-old bikes in one spot and to see them actually working,” Lynn said.
The crowd made a pathway for the bikers and cheered as they came in groups of twos and threes.
“I’ve never seen anything like this outside of a museum or TV,” Brad said.
The antique bikes with their leather seats and exposed engines don’t look much different than the motorcycle Bill Brogon of Daytona, Florida, made when he was a teenager back in New Jersey.
When he was 17, Brogon attached a lawn mower engine on his bicycle and got his drivers license. He hasn’t stopped riding since.
Brogon has followed the Cannonball race with three friends for the past four years. They set off before 5 a.m. Saturday to beat the motorcyclists to their first stop in Pennsylvania.
By the end of it Brogon said he and his friends put on more miles than the actual racers, but they try to stay out of the way and keep their distance. Brogon has never entered the race, but he’s keeping his options open, he said.
The Daytona riders know some of the racers and mechanics on the service team. The four of them carry spare tires and extra fuel to help out. On the trip up from Ohio, Brogon helped one of the Cannonball riders with an electrical connector but other than that he stayed a good 100 feet behind them.
Brogon rides in Florida every day, which is one of the reasons he moved there. He has an old truck, but he uses it so sparingly he has to charge the battery before he goes, he said.
The four friends take turns leading the route every day. Brogon’s favorite spot is in northwest Florida in a suburb of Jacksonville called Saint John. Just 10 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, he takes leisurely rides on his 2014 Harley-Davidson Road King around winding, tree covered roads.
On average, they do about 300 miles a day, Brogon said. Tuesday was a short trip — only 270 miles, he said.
With that much time on the road, Brogon said he’s often left alone with his thoughts. He thinks about everything, he said, but mostly his two sons, who also own and ride antique bikes.
The crowd at the Harley-Davidson pitstop is a predictable depiction of motorcycle enthusiasts: long beards, leather pants and skull bandanas. But the bikers are excited and friendly. They compare each other’s bikes and ask questions about the antique ones.
Bloomington is the best turnout Bruce Grove, one of Brogon’s Daytona friends, has seen on the road so far, he said.
Grove has been riding motorcycles for 40 years and is also an avid builder of motorcycles.
He gets his parts from motorcycle swap-and-shop events. He just sold his last Harley-Davidson this year and has fully converted to Indian Motorcycles.
The bike culture is part of the reason he’s still riding, he said.
“Everybody is so frickin’ nice,” Grove said.
Even though the race is across the nation, Lonnie Isam, Jr., the founder of the Motorcycle Cannonball Run, said in a press release that he considers it a worldwide event.
Last year’s winner, Hans Cortese, is from South Africa and joined the riders again this year.
The riders come from 25 states, nine countries and four continents. The 15-state trek will come to a close Sept. 25, after passing through the Grand Canyon, Four Corners and Joshua Tree National Park.