The Jack Pine Endurance Run

Perhaps the best known motorcycle endurance run of all time, the Jack Pine Endurance Run can trace it's roots all the way back to 1920 with the formation of the Lansing Motorcycle Club.  The Club was formed by local motorcycle enthusiasts from Lansing, MI, but due to an increase in motorcycling's popularity among American GI's, their numbers quickly swelled.  In 1923, they held the first official Jack Pine Endurance Run which was a three day, 800 mile off road race through Michigan's back country.  Riders faced numerous obstacles and varied terrain, guiding their motorcycles through rivers, miles of deep sand, up and down hills, through mud, tangled underbrush, etc. The race used a system of secret checkpoints and each rider had a "time card" to keep track of his/her progress.  Points were awarded or deducted based on arriving at the check point on time, late or early.  The winner traditionally received a cowbell but as years went by a standard trophy was added as well.

One of the aspects of the event that is truly amazing is that in those early years there was no such thing as an enduro or off road specific motorcycle.  These guys were out there riding through the woods on Harley-Davidson big twins.  I'm talking Flatheads, Knuckleheads and Panheads.  Then to make it even more difficult, some of the motorcycles also had sidecars.

Perhaps the most photographed section of the run is the crossing of the Rifle River.  Riders did their best to find suitable places to ford the river, but as expected, deep holes and slippery rocks ended the race for more than a few entries.

As the years went by, the Jack Pine increased in popularity until race officials had to start capping the number of entries, first at 400 and then later at 500.  The length of the run was eventually reduced to 500 miles and just two days, but the level of difficulty remained high.  Up until the 1960's, the winner of the Jack Pine was the nation's National Endurance Champion and the race was just as popular as those in Daytona and Laconia.

Oscar Lenz, who was a founding member of the Lansing Motorcycle Club and their first president, played a pivotal role in the success of the Jack Pine.  An off road rider himself, Lenz won seven out of the first fourteen events before turning his attention to trailblazing in 1937.  As a trailblazer, he would work from sun up to sun down for two weeks laying out the course each year.  He was also well known for hosting pre-race dinners in which he entertained his guests with stories of old races and the men and women who rode on them.  Lenz was eventually inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame in 1998.