Born Free Show 4th Edition. The Report.

It grows and grows so fast and gets better every year. During last June 30th weekend, the young generation of custom builders (pro and backyard builders) rode their daily ride custom creations to the excellent, and free for all, Born Free Show and exhibition in Oak Canyon Ranch, Silverado, California. The best of the new breed’s 2-wheel offerings (Choppers, bobbers, rat-bikes, vintage cafe racers and every kind of wild oddity in between) was on display, an amazing demonstration of creativity demonstrating that the future of the customized, internal combustion engine-powered two-wheeler is in good hands. I was not on location, but PJ Hyland sent me his report and pictures of the 4th edition of the Born Free Show. See you there next year?

“Four years ago Mike Davis, owner of Born Loser Cycle and Grant Peterson, owner of Freedom Machine and Accessories, two entrepreneurs involved in the custom motorcycle building industry, decided to throw a garage party for their business associates, friends and whomever at their facilities in Orange, CA. They came up with the name Born Free from the titles of their respective businesses. They committed to the idea that they would not charge admission plus they would include free entry into the bike show and supply free food and beer. It turns out that the current custom building movement was more than ready for its own rally. The little party grew so fast that by 2011, their third year, they were forced to move it to spacious Oak Canyon Ranch, in The O.C. near Irvine Lake in Silverado, CA. Attendance estimates put the crowd at between 8,000 and 10,000, builders, riders, vendors and just plain devotees. Hundreds of builders, most of which work out of their garages, rode their custom built Shovel’s, Pans’s, Knuck’s, Flat Heads, Indians, Triumph’s etc. from across the continent, some from as far away as the east coast. Many would enter their creations in the bike show. Plus, enthusiasts from all over North America and South America, all over Europe, including Russia, all over Asia, with a sizable contingent from Japan, as well as groups from Australia and New Zealand made the pilgrimage to join their custom building colleagues for the one-day-long rally, making Born Free a bona fide international event.

I’m convinced that the distinct ‘60’s vibe, evidenced by a clear majority of attendees, had a lot to do with the fact that when this generation of young custom builders re-introduced the design concepts as well as the machines, themselves, from that halcyon era, some of the social aspects of the hip generation got swept along in the mix.

World-renowned motorcycle photographer, Michael Lichter was so inspired by last year’s Born Free Show, that he decided to dedicate his annual presentation, staged at his exhibition Hall at the Buffalo Chip in Sturgis to honoring the crème de la crème of the two-wheeled industrial art produced by the current crop of young custom builders. The title for his 2012 exhibition was, “Come Together: The Spirit of Born Free.” Jeff Decker, internationally famous sculptor of vintage motorcycles and their riders, brought some of his best known works to display at this year’s Born Free Show. He told me how excited he was that such a large contingent of the new generation of custom builders had gone back to the roots of their craft. Willie G. Davidson’s presence lent significant gravitas to the event. I’ve never seen him more engaged and more at ease than when he was walking up and down isle after isle perusing the several hundred chopped and bobbed offerings displayed on the grassy infield at Oak Canyon Ranch.

So, how did Grant and Mike promote Born Free? I found no evidence that they relied upon anything more than blog entries, some virtual ink in a few on-line moto-fanzines and word-of-mouth. Do you think Maybe this thing catch on?

In case you were wondering, those who have some experience estimating crowd size, at Oak Canyon Ranch, concurred that some where between 12,000 and 15,000 people turned out for Born Free 4, over the course of the day on Saturday June 30th. When I got a chance to speak with Mr. Peterson and Mr. Davis, they told me they had heard some estimates as high as between 18,000 and 20,000. We may never know for sure. No one was selling tickets.

The prize for best-in-show could have been awarded to a dozen different bikes; maybe more. I’m not sure how the judging panel managed to pick the nits and split the hairs in the process of choosing a winner, but in the end Matt Olsen’s green and white ’41 Knuckle Head with a ’47 motor rolled off with the honor. The organizers of the prestigious Mooneyes Hot Rod and Custom Show in Yokohama Japan were on-site to inform Matt that they had arrange for an all-expenses-paid trip for him and his best-in-show winning Knuckle Head to participate in their annual extravaganza.” PJ Hyland.

Photography. From top to bottom and left to right. 1- Matt Olsen’s best-in-show. 2- Michael Licther photographing Michael X (Don’t have last name) with his “best chopper” award. 3- Best Triumph winner: owner, Paul Ponkow of Bones Legacy Cycles in Las Vegas. 4- Jeff Decker and with son Jeremy.  5- The people, the vibe. 6- Grant Peterson, Matt Olsen, Mike Davis, Brittney Olsen. 7- Panoramic shot of the infield at Oak Canyon Ranch.

Zipper's

30 Responses to “Born Free Show 4th Edition. The Report.”


  1. 1 smithncustom Jul 11th, 2012 at 8:37 am

    Finally, a true biker event. Sturgis has turned into a big poserfest. We need more events like Born Free.

  2. 2 Shifter Jul 11th, 2012 at 9:31 am

    This show is going to become huge.

  3. 3 Ray Jul 11th, 2012 at 9:32 am

    …….huge and going to lose its soul.

  4. 4 Kirk Perry Jul 11th, 2012 at 9:52 am

    All you need is security and a gob of Porta-Cans and the events just about run themselves.

    Lots of people walking around gooning on bikes.

    Let the good times roll!. We need one in San Diego. 🙂

  5. 5 Colin Jul 11th, 2012 at 9:59 am

    Then will be something new to go to.

  6. 6 John E Adams Jul 11th, 2012 at 10:31 am

    Congrats to Matt! That is one awesome bike!!!

  7. 7 Kirk Perry Jul 11th, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    “Attendance estimates put the crowd at between 8,000 and 10,000, builders, riders, vendors and just plain devotees. Hundreds of builders, most of which work out of their garages, rode their custom built Shovel’s, Pans’s, Knuck’s, Flat Heads, Indians, Triumph’s etc. from across the continent, some from as far away as the east coast.”
    ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••
    If the 8 – 10K devotees would pressure their Calif. representative for a change, we could be restoring our culture that was roughed-off, and more of us be builder’s instead of onlookers.

    Or not.

  8. 8 Grant Jul 11th, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    Thanks Cyril Huze and PJ Hyland for the wonderful write up. My partner and i were very surpised at the continued growth and level of enthusiasm we saw again this year! And more impresive was the level of the bikes that our friends and peers are building that are breathing new life and ideas into the custom motorcycle world.

    We are still stunned that guys and girls are riding from all over north America for our event on OLD BIKES! taking weeks out of their summer to make the pilgrimage to Born-Free. So the guy from San Diego, i think you can make the short ride up next year 😉

    Anyway, thanks again.
    grant

  9. 9 Kirk Perry Jul 11th, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    Thanks. 68.1 (freeway miles) is too much like work on a rigid frame.

    They’re only fun @ 55 mph (ya’ see yer DMV? We’d only be riding replicas on county roads!)

    I could pull it up there, ride it around the hills and pull it back home, stopping off at an Anaheim pot shop for some of their gnarly Sacramento hot day – cold night O.G. and accomplish twice as much. Cool! 🙂

    Won’t be the ’57 Panhead head, but the ’46 knuck with OE ’46 cases and registration restored from a missing title. It has KH diameter mufflers like Matt’s above, but in a different place.
    We TiGed an anchor post onto the headstock for a Glide fork, since I thought Bill Harley would have if he could have, if he lived long enough to ride an FX jockey shift. Yeah he would.

    But then again, why am I one of the few that can build one of these? Why not anyone that wants one build one?

  10. 10 Iron Horse Jul 11th, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    Love the Knuck and the crazy pipes on the Triumph. Wish I lived closer to Kali…sometimes.

  11. 11 Mike47 Jul 11th, 2012 at 10:25 pm

    Nice write up. Grant and mike worm their asses off to make this show go off. One day I’ll be able to make it out for one:-(

    Kirk, there’s a lot more to this event than some porta johns and security. It wasnt mentioned here but Look up the event on their site and you’ll quickly notice that they gave away not one motorcycle but rather 2 Harley davidsons, not special construction kit bikes but real bikes. One full custom chopper one rebuilt stocker. Both of those took a lot more effort than a phone call to the rental joint.

  12. 12 Sugar Bear Jul 11th, 2012 at 11:35 pm

    I’ve been to all four and have watched the growth …….. what a great time!!!!! Cya there next year!!!

  13. 13 badams Jul 12th, 2012 at 12:30 am

    Its what’s happening.

  14. 14 ray c wheeler Jul 12th, 2012 at 2:21 am

    Reminded me of the last days in the Sturgis City Park, late 80,s.

    Back to the future?

    Great event.

  15. 15 Johnny Wolf Jul 12th, 2012 at 9:30 am

    Yep….we don’t care that you don’t care how we do it here in So-Cal.

  16. 16 Mike Davis Jul 12th, 2012 at 9:32 am

    Yes thanks again for the write up and being part of the expirence. Born-Free has grown but has not changed. It’s about the love of old motorcycles and people who are willing to do something about it. Get one and ride it to BF5 then you will understand. Thanks to all who have supported Born-Free.

  17. 17 Kirk Perry Jul 12th, 2012 at 10:11 am

    “(2) Harley-Davidsons, not special construction “kit bikes” but real bikes.”
    •••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••
    Real bikes? Oh,…..that hoits man….. 🙁

    Hey!…… Harleys are kits too!…… just put together on an assembly line instead of a garage is all. 🙂

    Yea, I’ll be there next year…… dragging something on tow wheels behind my truck.

  18. 18 Kirk Perry Jul 12th, 2012 at 11:18 am

    I plan on splitting a James®, metal-laminate, Panhead valve cover gasket North and South with my trusty woodsman axe, then inserting the gasket halves under the rocker covers while the motor is still in the frame.
    The “kerfs” (an air gap of missing material) will be filled with Copper7™ or any RTV goop that can withstand the initial S&S oil pump pressure of 40+ p.s.i on a cold start.
    Beats jerking the motor out of the frame, probably.
    We’ll see. I have the gaskets and the leak in one room at present.

  19. 19 Caleb Owens Jul 12th, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    Old bikes and guys that love them never went away, the other “stuff” just got louder. Such a great thing for people to stick their necks out and make shit happen. Mike and Grant made it happen and people responded with love and support. So amazing to be part of it.

    There has been a bit of a renaissance of old bikes and people RIDING them since the first El Diablo Run in 06. It’s quietly been bubbling for many years, while all the other bloated events just got more bloated. Back to the basics, old bikes and riding! Born Free is the explosion and gathering of whats been going on since 06 or so.

    Fads come and go, old bikes never die.

    cro

  20. 20 Matt Olsen Jul 12th, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    Born free was an amazing event. There was so much to see and do in one day. I had an amazing time and will continue to attend the show as long as mike and grant put it on. The vibe was so nice and positive. Everyone was there because they loved the bikes. It was awesome

  21. 21 Paul Ponkow Bones Legacy Jul 13th, 2012 at 1:25 am

    I have attended bike events for many many years, however I was not able to attend last years Born Free.
    All my friends and colleagues have told me about this for the past year and I can honestly say it exceeded all my expectations and better than any other event i have been to. No attitudes, no fights, no shootings, no posers, just an honest fun day with your friends, family, meeting new people and everybody coming together for one cause and interest. This is how an event should be and im sure others will be taking note and they were. Not to sound cheesy but it seemed like going to chopper heaven. Long live the spirit.

  22. 22 Kirk Perry Jul 13th, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    Still though….. these bikes for the most part are all part of the “Cuba Syndrome”, which is a movie of the future you can watch today. If the Triumph owner throw’s half of his two-piece crank through the VIN number on his cases (or a Harley owner, without a lot of wrassle & hassle to repair the loss) his/her machine is done.

    As recent as yesterday, there are EPA foundation rumblings (and re-do voices), with words like “overzealous” and “California Industry Killing” starting to surface. And, with the state and federal “Homeowners Association” which is all federal and state governments are and dysfunctional in 2012 – we need to act now as tribal council community (and we ARE a tribe of de-votes) to protest the outlawing of our “grandfathered-in heritage” of a legitimate “Kick-Start” society, who’s well-being in life is basically augmented by the early two-wheeled pony in their garage (who can be seen once yearly or so, milling around quietly in groups conversing around inanimate machinery.

    Trust that any group of state & federal non-partisan congressional representative can act on a measure that provides the one-kit-bike-per-person guidelines (Section G.) and AMEND section G. to restrict the replica kit-builds to “Off FREEWAY USE” and mileage restrictions (which would be moot, because not many people are NOT going to roll 13K miles on county roads in one year – more like 7,000 miles a year tops. The bikes are for occasional riding pleasure and as community glue and a mechanical teaching connection for future generations.
    This is the way many of us think as The Kick-Start Motorcycle Nation, but to the sitting powers of rigid greed (feature the caricature of an indignant Nancy Pelosi being told she can no longer use insider-info to make money on stock deals) …”Motorcycles are a nuisance and their own parts manufacturers don’t even care enough to organize with the 8-10K devotees for “historic perpetuity of their early motorcycles” , so…… who cares?….. they have no support, let’s stall them for the next 20 years.”

    Now is the time to act, with our promise of very low state bureaucratic M/C maintenance (I haven’t cost the state anything for riding my Panhead 25 yrs., and pollution about nil).

    Vehicle emissions in Calif. can be exempted for year/model-of-replication like big block truck motors are. Just BELIEVE that the state WILL respond to a very SQUEAKY WHEEL.

    Do something. Say something. A lot can be accomplished within one calender year. 🙂

  23. 23 Kirk Perry Jul 13th, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    And as an indication of how little effort it takes to create a mandate in Calif. – back in early 2000+, Tom Armenento (s.i.c.), a Republican Assemblyman from the northern valley, who was also an antique car owner, created the “500 special construction permits per year law” and people camped-out in front of the doors of DMV offices around the state, the first workday in the month of January, for 15 years running, still perhaps.
    So only (1) one politician came up with that idea, packaged it (lumping M/C spec. const. w/ all other vehicles under one 500 max. umbrella) and implemented it. One politician. One guy on is own, and he made it fly with no opposition.

    Where’s your M/C heritage? Finite? In the wind until it dies in x amount of July’s ? 🙂

    We can do better than that, and without alot of interference if we have a politico support, here before November – and still keep your event a “CraigsList type of gathering”.
    It’s only for one day right?
    Only the true-enthu will actually make the effort to get there.
    Of course you had that 8-10K from this year… hmm.. that IS a lot of people. For one day? That’s almost a voting block.

  24. 24 Vince Jul 13th, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    The yellow Knuck that Michael is photographing belongs to the small shop I work at, Evil Spirit Engineering in Burbank California. The owner is sitting on the bike, Michael Barragan.

    It is in fact a numbers matching real deal 1947 Harley Davidson frame and engine.

    The show was a blast and there were so many cool bikes there. I just hope Mike and Grant can keep the ball rolling. I dont see it losing any steam in the future. I know it must take a lot of their time from family and jobs.

  25. 25 Jim Gianatsis / FastDates.com Jul 16th, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    I had only heard of the “Born Free” event for the first time, the month before, and attended it on a last moment whim. I was totally blown away how huge it was for a SoCal event! As a promoter myself of one of the last remaining bike shows on the west coast (LA Calendar Motorcycle Show), I know how to figure out attendance numbers. The confined venture does make the crowd inside appear to be larger than it might be, but counting cars and bikes in the parking lot I estimated the event pulled realisticly some 4-5,000 and many were there from as far away as New York and Canada, many riding in with bed rolls strapped to the backs of their bikes. So in this regard it was a huge success. Congratulations to Mike Davis, owner of Born Loser Cycle and Grant Peterson, owner of Freedom Machine who produced the event. There event was a welcome addition to the sport.

    It should be noted though, the parking and event admission was free. The few pro builders I talked to who had booths there, were comped their booths for no charge. And no one, including the T-shirts vendors seemed to be selling anything. Standing at the exit gates throughout the day, virtually no one walked out with a purchase. There were not any contemporary builds there, rather old rat bikes and metric customs pulled out from the back of garages with refinished stock parts. No money was being spent by this crowd in the current economy to support the return of the motorcycle aftermarket industry. And nearly everyone biker there was 40 years and older. Though there was a large contingent of the younger retro tattoo crowd 25-35 years also coming to hang out. And judging by the large staff of security, parking and required law enforcement for security and traffic control, and facility rental, the promoters had a considerable production cost. Hopefully the promoters turned some profit to warrant keeping it going.

    But until spectators are will to spend money for parts and custom bikes, and to pay an event admission fee, the sport may continue with free events like Ride Free for the die-hard, lower income bikers, but the motorcycle industry as a whole will still struggle to recover. Particularly as our demographics continue to see us grow older.

  26. 26 Vince Jul 16th, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    Jim, Unlike your show this is a gathering of people. Sure Mike and Grant might not get rich putting these on but they garner a lot more that what your show has turned into.

  27. 27 Kirk Perry Jul 16th, 2012 at 7:04 pm

    • “It should be noted though, the parking and event admission was free. The few pro builders I talked to who had booths there, were comped their booths for no charge.”

    • “There were not any contemporary builds there, rather old rat bikes and metric customs pulled out from the back of garages with refinished stock parts. No money was being spent by this crowd in the current economy to support the return of the motorcycle aftermarket industry.”

    • “And nearly everyone biker there was 40 years and older. Though there was a large contingent of the younger retro tattoo crowd 25-35 years also coming to hang out.”

    • “But until spectators are will to spend money for parts and custom bikes, and to pay an event admission fee, the sport may continue with free events like Ride Free for the die-hard, lower income bikers, but the motorcycle industry as a whole will still struggle to recover. Particularly as our demographics continue to see us grow older.”
    ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

    Wow! That was a cold bucket of water! 🙂 Ya’ nailed it. So did Vince. 🙂

    That’s exactly what’s happening with the old bike scene and it will die-out a graceful exit with the Born Free Show(s).
    Cool! What a way to go …. on someone else’s effort and nickle. All a guy has to do is show up and behave. No reason not to last until the host feel like there efforts are worth it, then one day it’s gone, but it’s never coming back like it was in 1993 before helmets and corking.
    Still a “great ride” out there, if you can find one to ride.

  28. 28 Eddy Jul 24th, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    Jim LA Calender Show
    your bike show was so bad, I dont know where to start. Plus Jim the promoter blasted other events and promoted his the premiere event and being completely out of touch.
    Burger girls ran out of burgers, with no attendance.
    Less than 20 bikes in the show.
    They had a cupcake truck, r u kidding? at a bike event.
    Nylon Pink band was really not fitting, more like for teeny bobbers.
    The other two groups belonged in a Seattle coffee house, umplugged acoustic and the other was singing in Russian, people were falling asleep literally. again at a bike event.
    They stopped the dynos, because they said the residents might complain.
    Had at a country club community.
    i only seen 2 calender girls and one was a cutter, and they didnt make their rounds.
    I spoke to vendors, competitors, some vendors were comped just to bring out.
    Nobody bought anything. and most of the vendors were as out of touch as the promoter.
    There was no press as promised, magazines as promised.
    No photo shoot with the calender girls as promised for the next day. winners and losers.
    You already knew who won the bike show because before the announcement they did a shoot with 2 girls and the AFT girls.
    1 vendor who was next to the main stage one best pro builder and best bar hopper, how does one bike win in two different catagories? also pro builder was final decision by promoter.
    The best of show got picked by the promoter. which was the same bike who got best of show pick by Aft customs. The bike won 2 best of shows?
    One judge for the whole show.
    a triumph won a award but they called it a sportster.
    Beer $5.00 for a 6oz cup, so many people complained they had to change cups, people were protesting outside because the admission price for a flop, stopping the dynos, and some non 1% bike clubs could not be admitted.
    In closing this show is so out of touch it really needs to hang it up. I feel sorry for all the people who traveled to this.
    people dont waste your money, your local bike night or local bike show would be better than this.

  29. 29 Dan Druff Jul 25th, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    Congratulations to Mike, Grant, Harpoon, and everyone else who had a hand in putting on this show. It was great to once again see people’s creativity and workmanship in a relaxed setting without a bunch of drama. I will continue to support this show as it is the best motorcycle show I have ever been to.

  30. 30 Grant Jul 25th, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    Well, thanks to all for the kind words once again. We know what happened, those that were there know what happened and i think everyone had a great time. Including many vendors that went out of their way to say they sold more at Born-Free than any show they could think of, again! With out getting nickle and dimed getting in, spectators from all over the world have money to spread around and they look forward to buying stuff from their favorite companies all in one place (we somewhat regulate what kind of stuff we want at the show). No goofy toys or stuffed animals, no one trying to sell you stuff for your house, just real motorcycle stuff, many hard working american small businesses, and even some big ones.

    Generally Born-Free is good for everyone, no matter what your business is there. By design.

    The industry has changed. Shows have changed. People have changed, luckily it looks like they like old motorcycles and the people that build and ride them.

    Thanks again for all the support. Stay tuned for Born-Free 5 news….

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