Texas Man Destroys the Cannonball Motorcycle Record on a $4,000 Yamaha FJR

The Cannonball Run challenge is a modern-day unsanctioned speed record. Competitors race from coast to coast, along the route of Brock Yates’ 1970s Cannonball Rallies. They post their times and attempt to break one another’s records in categories such as electric vehicles, diesel vehicles, and motorcycles. Last week, a Texas man named Alex Jones set a new Cannonball motorcycle record.

What is the Cannonball motorcycle record?

This is a photo of a deserted, early-morning Times Square. Cannonball motorcycle record attempts begin in NYC, often before dawn | JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images
Cannonball record attempts begin in NYC, often before dawn | JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images

In 1974, the federal government enacted the National Maximum Speed Limit. The law reduced speed limits to 55 MPH nationwide. Automotive journalist Brock Yates searched for a way to protest the legislation. He settled on a high-speed cross-country rally.

First, he completed a one-team run. Then he hosted three larger rallies throughout the 1970s. He called them the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash after famed long-distance driver Erwin “Cannonball” Baker. But each race was faster than the last. So finally, Yates withdrew his support of the event.

But record chasers are tracing the Cannonball Rally route to this day. And every year, they get faster. Teams pursuing the vehicle records often include two drivers and a spotter. Some even leverage radar jammers, infrared cameras, and a network of scout cars. Breaking the Cannonball motorcycle record requires a determined, focused rider.

Alex Jones’s Cannonball run began with the right motorcycle

This is a promo photo of a a  2014 Yamaha FJR, like the one used to break the Cannonball motorcycle record | Yamaha Motor Company
Jones used a 2014 Yamaha FJR in his record attempt | Yamaha Motor Company

Alex Jones has been hearing about Cannonball records for years. But he could not justify the high cost of modern high-tech attempts. Then he read that Calvin Cote held the Cannonball motorcycle record: 35 hours, 6 minutes. Jones decided to break the record.  

Jones said, “I found the right motorcycle with 80,000 miles already on it, and bought it for $4000.”

According to Jones, the right motorcycle for a Cannonball run is a 2014 Yamaha FJR1300. In the FJR, Yamaha’s 1.3-liter inline-four engine makes 144 horsepower. The full-dresser Yamaha cruiser is excellent for highway riding. 

Jones spent slightly more outfitting his motorcycle. First, he mounted a custom 7-gallon fuel cell on the rear fender to increase the range. Then, he installed auxiliary lighting. Finally, he added a radar detector, a radar jammer, and two phone mounts.

Jones’ other preparations were less high-tech. He packed his pockets with protein bars and caffeine pills. He filled a Camelbak to stay hydrated. But all that water had to go somewhere, so he wore a catheter designed to dump out on the road, held in place with a condom.

Every Cannonball motorcycle record attempt is a gamble

Every Cannonball Run is a gamble. Record seekers abandon runs more often than they complete them. Too many traffic stops, a bad traffic jam, or a rainstorm can all derail the best-planned run.

Jones’ 2,800-mile route passed through the American heartland. He had done his best to avoid known construction and predictable traffic. But still, things went wrong on his attempt at the Cannonball motorcycle record.

He set out from the Red Ball Garage in Manhattan at 6:24 AM on October 17th. First, the Yamaha’s cruise control system broke. Without a way to rest his throttle hand, Jones gritted his teeth and pressed on.

Second, as the first night fell, Jones’ auxiliary lights failed. He raced through the dark. The weather stayed clear but was very windy. The result was that he could continue, but his rear tire wore more rapidly than he had expected. It was “nearly bald” by California.

Jones is the fastest long-distance rider in America

This is a photo of highway 15, outside of Las Vegas. Texas Man Alex Jones Destroyed the Cannonball Motorcycle Record on a $4,000 Yamaha FJR | Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
After a day and night of riding, Jones arrived in California | Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

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Despite the setbacks, Jones said he maintained an 87 MPH average. His top speed was 120 MPH. He rolled up to the finish line at the Portofino Hotel and Marina in Redondo Beach at 12:16 PM, local time. Jones had been riding for 32 hours and 52 minutes. He broke the Cannonball motorcycle record by two hours. By Cannonball standards, that is a significant improvement over the previous record.

How did Jones celebrate becoming the fastest long-distance motorcycle rider in America? He turned his biker south and rode back to his home in Dallas.

You could not describe Jones as hooked on Cannonballing. He said, “This was kind of a pet project. Right now, I’m going to sell the bike and go into some other hobbies.”