AMA Hall Of Famer Don Emde to Re-Trace 1914 Cannonball Baker Route

At the beginning of last century, Erwin “Cannon Ball” Baker  did many cross-country motorcycle rides that earned him his nickname. One his most famous rides was his 1914 3,388 miles coast to coast ride from San Diego to New-York completed in 11 1/2 days, nine days faster than the previous record (it’s an average of 300 miles a day on an Indian producing less than 10 horsepower!).

Don Emde, AMA Hall Of Famer, 1972 Daytona 200 winner and Editor of Parts Magazine will trace Erwin Cannonball Baker route by riding as much of Baker’s actual route as possible. Some roads may have disappeared, so Don will take current roads 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. And consequently his ride will take more than 11 1/2 days, probably continuing into 2012.

Don Emde and partner will ride a KTM 990 Adventure bike, and to demonstrate Erwin “Cannonball” Baker outstanding accomplishment they also plan to recreate some of his riding situations using a period Indian motorcycle provided by the Fred Fox Collection. (top picture collection of Dom Emde)

Baker set 143 driving records from the 1910s through the 1930s. He normally rode for sponsor manufacturers, guaranteeing them “no record, no money” He died of a heart attack in Indianapolis, Indiana on May 10, 1960 at age 78.

12 Responses to “AMA Hall Of Famer Don Emde to Re-Trace 1914 Cannonball Baker Route”

  1. 1 live2rideaglide May 6th, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    The next time I whine about riding a modern bike of today a long distance , I will shut my mouth. These guys did it on suspension-less motorcycles. Don , we are not worthy. You are the man , a real man. I salute you.

  2. 2 nicker May 6th, 2011 at 9:09 pm

    “…to demonstrate Erwin “Cannonball” Baker outstanding accomplishment they also plan to recreate some of his riding situations using a period Indian …”

    Cyril, get us the unedited u-tube clips of that….. please.

    Will we see the boys cow-trailing a Power Plus up the foot-path to the top of Pikes Peak?
    (like the Van Buren sisters -


  3. 3 burnout May 7th, 2011 at 5:38 am

    And you know the ‘roads’ back then were simply awful. I also salute Don for walking the walk instead of talking the talk. peace

  4. 4 Donnie May 7th, 2011 at 9:08 am

    And all those 3,388 miles ridden at @ 20-30 mph on road conditions of the day …yes a lot different ride than the ones being duplicated today

  5. 5 Mike Tomas Kiwi Indian MC Co May 7th, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    Cannonball Baker was THE man. Pretty incredible accomplishment even by today’s standards riding on a likewise aged machine. The late Max Bubeck did a similar run some years ago and he still took longer than Cannonball’s time. Reading these early endurance racers writings of accomplishments which some had to have barges organized to cross rivers, tires that wouldn’t stay onto their rims, it was a different time. Hard core men made of steel. Congrats Don for revisiting history. Your dad Floyd was a class act. Long live that 1948 Daytona race where he won and kicked Harley’s butt big time.

  6. 6 Harley guy May 7th, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    Don, you should have ridden a 1914 Indian on the Motorcycle Cannonball Run with the other die hards. Or maybe you should do this ride from San Diego to New York on the 1914. No disrespect intended, you are one of the greatest. It’s just that any modern bike could probably make this trip without too much trouble. But a 1914 Indian… that’s another story.

  7. 7 Mike Tomas Kiwi Indian MC Co May 7th, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    Cannonball Baker was one of the greats and certainly set a high bar to beat. It’s especially interesting reading what these guys went through, in some cases meeting up with barges to cross rivers and repairing tires regularly because they wouldn’t stay on their rims. Some years ago the late Max Bubeck retraced those steps only to take longer on todays roads.
    Congratulations for shining light on one of America’s true motorcycling greats. Your dad Floyd was a class act too winning the historical 1948 Daytona race upon his legendary 48 Big Base Scout. He kicked Harley’s butt big time.

  8. 8 Jim Petty #55 May 8th, 2011 at 7:18 am

    Don, You will love it! We need to talk before you go. I should be able to give you a few pointers. I rode a ’15 Indian in the Cannonball. Finished mid pack ….

  9. 9 fluke May 8th, 2011 at 9:00 am

    Does anyone have confirmation of the 2012 rules? I had heard they were upping the age cutoff to 1926 or 29. I am looking to do it on an early 20’s FN 350. (at least I have a strong lead on a complete but in need of resto FN within my budget)

    The cannonball site doesn’t seem to mention the rules and routes for 2012.

  10. 10 Don Emde May 8th, 2011 at 10:06 am

    Thanks for your words of support of my project. Yes, we do have a concept of a group ride down the road at a later date, but first we need to do our “forensic” study of E.G. Baker’s actual route in May of 1914. The current KTMs are needed for that research. In fact, my writer and I each rode 475 miles on Friday just checking out what’s left of the historic routes in eastern San Diego county and into the desert. It was 100+ degrees out there – as it was for Baker in 1914 – and our respect for him went way up, just on the first day. You see there was no road then across the big dunes. He rode his 7 h.p. Indian Powerplus thru sandwashes, as times he described as “axle deep.” We will also have a running Indian of the day that we will do some reenactments to try to show just how hard that would be been to run in the sand, climb hills, cross rivers, etc. on his way to an amazing 11 1/2 day journey from San Diego to New York. Once we get to Colorado and into Kansas, I doubt much will remain of the original dirt roads and trails, but the western states is another story. We will try to keep you posted here as we go, and we will soon have a dedicated website and Facebook page about. Stay tuned!

  11. 11 rafe03 May 21st, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    Among his many exploits (like 2 ton truck record across the USA!) E.G. Cannonball Baker set several of his records on a bike with a Rotary Valve Engine that he made himself. Have a look at Wikipedia where are listed a few of his accomplishments Google him & spend a couple of hours with this famous character from a time when reliability was something that salesmen joked about. It took 40 years to beat his 1933 NY to LA record of 53.5 hours (back when when there were no freeways)

    This guy was a hero for years & years. His first transcontinental drive (14,000 miles!) was in 1912 & he was still setting records in 1941 (30 years later!). 143 trips between the Atlantic & the Pacific. 5,500,000 miles in some kind of competition. He was the first NASCAR Commissioner in 1947.

    Cannonball Baker has been inducted in the Automotive Hall of Fame, The Motorcycle Hall of Fame, The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame, and The NASCAR Hall of Fame. He took the hard road to earn the title of “King of the Road”

    An huge man to try to emulate but will worth bringing back into the spotlight.

    Good luck Don! Hope to hear from you soon.

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Cyril Huze