The "people's champ" build off has been the ultimate way to kick off the fun vibe of Born free show weekend every year and it was amazing when our good friends at Biltwell took it over several years ago. The Biltwell crew has really kept the spirit of the event alive in a whole new way with builders from not only the United States but all over the globe. This year had builders making it to the final 6 even from as far as Korea and the United Kingdom as well as all over the United States. The premise is simple, you must build a bike show quality chopper that can also be ridden into the show. No trailer queens allowed in the peoples champ if you want to be crowned the winner. The bikes need to make it at least 50+ miles through the Southern California Canyon roads all the way to Cook's corner bar for the final event. The builders also need to be someone who has not been an invited builder at Born free show. Which gives a lot of very talented up-and-coming builders a unique chance to shine and and show people what they've got. After the top bikes are then voted for online to see who makes it to the top 13, that 13 then gets eliminated again down to a final 6. It's then up to the final 6 to make it to Cook's corner under their own power the Friday of Born free. We sponsored this event once again this year and wanted to see these impressive machines up close and personal for ourselves so we joined in on the fun for the 2021 Biltwell peoples champ.
We found out upon entering the event it was unfortunate to find some of the builders had faced setbacks due to the International travel restrictions put in place from covid and could not be present for the show therefore disqualifying them from the final 6. Robbie Palmer built a very impressive preunit triumph over in the United Kingdom and Cho Ji Yong of Shake piston MC in Korea also was unable to attend which left the 4 remaining finalists to battle it out at Cook's. Making up for the absence a bit alongside the remaining finalists, 6 of the fantastic runner up bikes in the final 13 shared the arena showing some very impressive skill and quality in each of their builds.
The 1st of the final 4 is Kyle Sonneborn with his 1953 panhead built in a 1960s chopper movie inspired style. Kyle was quoted as saying he wanted to build a bike that could have been pulled right out of any of the classic sixties biker films and we think he nailed this esthetic perfectly.
Next the impressive framework and molding of AJ Anderson's 1965 Pan shovel had many people turning heads with its sleek lines and very clean details. The custom floorboards front and rear were also a very nice touch and one of AJ's favorite details as well as ours.
Third, the bike that made the Internet go wild, a build that many said couldn't be done, Cliff Cavins 1979 cone shovel chopper. The wild death defying details is where this bike really shined with never before attempted single grip handlebars and an exhaust set up that literally uses the frame tubes as the exhaust ports are just two things to mention out of many on this. Another neat detail, the front end also very covertly appears rigid but has springs inside the tubes that are connected to chain guided rockers on the bottom. Many people thought this bike to be too extreme or dangerous to ever be ridden but Cliff proved them all wrong and completed the appropriate miles to Cook's corner bar without a hitch.
Last up, Jacob Conrad on only his 2nd build put together a 103" twin cam chopper very reminiscent of high performance FXR's but with many modern and clean details that made the bike really stand out on its own in the competition.
After checking out all of the invited builder bikes the party extends out into the massive lots stretching in every direction surrounding Cook's corner bar. The bikes that all came to party for Born Free the next day begin to make their way one by one filling up every inch of pavement surrounding Cooks. In this lot, it's almost like a seperate unofficial bike show of it's own where will see a little mix of just about everything but, choppers and fast bikes are definitely the preferred ride in to Cooks.
As the night rolls on with a very wild crowd continuing to funnel in to Cook's corner filling up the venue or cruising the lots you can see many people working on their bikes or just grabbing a beer, while some hit the dance floor listening to many of the bands that play inside the bar. The party vibe is going strong at this point and people begin voting on who will be crowned the People's champ.
After much anticipation the sun went down and the People's champ was finally crowned making Cliff Cavins the winner. He took home a whopping $10,000 check for his shovelhead that defied all the odds. He even got an additional $2000 from Metzler tire for running his wild dirt tire set up on the build. We can't wait to see what's in store for the 2022 builders this year. So stay tuned to @biltwell_peoples_champ Instagram and www.peopleschampshow.com for more info.
Photos and words by Mike Vandegriff