Cannonball Characters: Ben Pierce #32

By Felicia Morgan

1923 Ner-A-Car

We suspect there may be a bit of head scratching when reading this column because rider Ben Pierce’s mode of travel during the 2018 Cannonball was a less-than-common yet eye-catching little bit of vintage vehicle. The Ner-A-Car is not a well-known marque and we’re certain there will be a bit of curiosity regarding the machine. Designed back in 1918 by Carl Neracher, the unusual steel-channel chassis and odd steering that employed a hub center at the front wheel coupled with the feet-forward riding position made it “nearly a car,” which made using the inventor’s name as a template for labeling the machine rather obvious.

Its low-slung frame, front suspension, long wheelbase and hub-centered steering contributed to the machine’s exceptional stability and was the most successful of the similarly-designed bi-cars of the era. About 10,000 of the motorcycles were produced in the U.S. while another 6,500 are thought to have been manufactured in England. Erwin “Cannonball” Baker contributed to the popularity of the marque after he took a trip from New York City to Los Angeles on a new 1922 Ner-A-Car and wrote an article on how he crossed the country with the odd little machine on less than $20.

 

So with all that history to fuel his journey, Ben set off on what he knew would be the slowest machine of the run, which was definitely its own challenge. Ben is a vintage racer on both motorcycles and sidecars so we were curious as to how he’d fare on a machine that struggles to maintain 35 mph on a flat, straight grade. Mix it up with a challenging terrain like a 7,000-foot grade and you can imagine how the world slows down. Though even at a crawl-like pace, stuff happens. It was quite a surprise when Ben ended up tossed in a ditch after the mighty machine got too close to the edge of the pavement and unceremoniously bucked its rider off. Owner of the motorcycle Bob Addis, who has ridden the machine himself in past Cannonballs, gave it a once-over and after a day to recuperate, they sent Ben back into the competition despite his bumps, bruises and scuff marks. By the time the traveling herd of manic motorcyclists crossed the checkered flag, the personable little bike had labored over 1,723 miles of American back roads and delivered its rider to the finish in 94th place in scoring. A commendable effort by both man and machine.

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