Daytona Beach, FL — Riding a motorcycle coast-to-coast is challenging enough: long hours on the road, weather, traffic, boredom. Now imagine doing it on a 95-year old motorcycle, at an average speed of 35 miles an hour!

Last September, 44 riders did just that, roaring out of Kitty Hawk, NC en route to Santa Monica, CA — 3300 miles over two weeks. All rode pre-1916 machines. Their route followed scenic and historic highways — route 66, for example — avoiding the interstates as much as possible. The race/endurance run was called the Motorcycle Cannonball, for Erwin “Cannonball” Baker, who, in 1914, rode coast-to-coast in 11 days on an Indian motorcycle, and set 143 driving records during his career.

Thirty-eight hardy riders completed the 2010 run, among them two women: Katrin Boehner of Germany, and Cris Sommer-Simmons of the US.

I met Cris at Harley-Davidson’s HOG tent on Beach Street during Daytona Bike Week, where she signed autographs and displayed “Effie,” the beautiful 1915 Harley on which she rode the Cannonball. The bike is named for Effie Hotchkiss, the first woman to ride a motorcycle across the US: in 1915, Hotchkiss rode a Harley of the same year and model from New York to San Francisco, accompanied by Avis, her mother, riding in the sidecar!

Cris is a longtime motorcyclist, freelance writer, and author, and has written “The American Motorcycle Girls: 1900 to 1950.” “When I wrote the book, I had no idea I’d be riding in the Cannonball,” she told me. “I’d been assembling historic photos for it for 3 years.” Doing the run “felt like I was living my book…in a black and white world. I love the era and I love the early motorcycles.”

Riding cross-country on the nation’s backroads was an experience like no other: “People were coming out in the small towns, thanking us. It was incredible. People usually see these [motorcycles] in museums. To see them actually running just blew their minds!”

You’ll be able to read Cris Sommer-Simmons’ account of the experience in her new book, set for publication this fall; tentatively titled “The American Motorcycle Girl’s Cannonball Diaries.”

Summing up the Cannonball, “It was amazing; hard; grueling; exhausting. I just wanted to finish and I came in 20th, which is more than I ever hoped for,” she said. “Finishing for me was winning.”

An amazing woman, and an amazing motorcycle. I know you’ll join me in wishing her the best!


About Glen Abbott
Glen Abbott is a Florida-based travel writer & photographer specializing in motorcycle touring and travel. He is regular contributor to Harley-Davidson's HOG Magazine, and his travel features appear regularly in motorcycle magazines and other publications.

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  1. Grace

    March 28, 2011

    Coast to coast in 11 days on a motorcycle! Wow- I tried riding for a couple of hours and was dead exhausted at the end of it. BTW, the book looks really interesting. Did not realize ladies were already riding since the 1900’s.
    Grace recently posted..Around the world in a day at the LA Times Travel &amp Adventure Show

    • Travelin' Gringo

      March 29, 2011

      You’ve got to really admire what these riders did — coast to coast, no windshield, no suspension, 35 mph! It’s exhausting on a modern touring bike, it’s hard to imagine what the Cannonball bikes are like!

  2. Lorna - the roamantics

    March 28, 2011

    sounds like an awesome woman and what a great bike šŸ™‚ wishing her the best on her book. my friend pete did the cannonball too!
    Lorna – the roamantics recently posted..Iā€™m Still Here- And Hopefully Not as Crazy as Joaquin Phoenix

  3. Ayngelina

    March 26, 2011

    I loved the movie Cannonball as a kid, very cool experience.
    Ayngelina recently posted..Embarrassed to be Canadian

  4. great post, love the pics of “effie”. the bike somehow inspires some sort of sense of adventure. as of course does cris, wow what an amazing book that will be!
    jamie – cloud people adventures recently posted..Geelong ā€“ Eastern Beach

  5. Great post! I added a video interview of Cris and her husband, Pat Simmons of the Doobie Brothers that was done by RallyTV, but this is much nicer.
    MJ – Motorcycle Event News recently posted..Exclusive- Rolling Through the Decades with Ron Finch

  6. inka

    March 25, 2011

    Now I have a new hero.Chris comes right after Amelia Earhardt and Freya Stark.

    • Travelin' Gringo

      March 25, 2011

      Inka, Cris is really inspiring. (I admit I had to Google Freya Stark, though!)

  7. Michael Figueiredo

    March 25, 2011

    This sounds like a lot of fun!
    Michael Figueiredo recently posted..Travel Photo Thursday- San Juan- Puerto Rico

  8. Cathy Sweeney

    March 25, 2011

    I certainly do join you in wishing Cris the best. Very interesting & inspiring person. What a great experience the Cannonball must have been.
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted..At the Rock

    • Travelin' Gringo

      March 25, 2011

      She’s a really nice person, and has done some really cool things!

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