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.