The Born Free Show nestled within the beautiful canyons of Silverado, California now in its 12th year continues to remain a beacon of creative energy for the custom chopper scene worldwide. What once began as a small gathering of like minded West Coast builders and moto enthusiasts has since evolved into a motorcycle amusement park of epic proportions taking over every square inch of Southern California's Oak Canyon Ranch. Excited two wheeled marauders flock by the thousands each year to fill the ranch and the surrounding areas with motorcycles from every single genre but one thing becomes clear when making your way onto the grounds and that is custom choppers are definitely the heart of the show. With invited builders from all over the country hand crafting the most wild and amazing new builds each year this event always gives patrons something new and exciting to look forward to.
The first day of festivities begins with thousands of bikes, cars and vintage vans all roaring their way into Oak Canyon ranch. The gravel lots surrounding the property begin to fill up very quick for general parking but the most coveted spots are always the "grass pass" motorcycle parking which allows you access to roll straight onto the grounds where all of the fun is happening. While this amounts to hundreds possibly thousands of bikes these passes still sell out very quickly every year. Some of the coolest roll in custom bikes can always be found while walking through the seemingly endless rows of motorcycles in the grass pass area.
Once you make your way through the sea of bikes you find one of the 1st bike show areas of the grounds and a long running staple that has been a returning feature to the show for years. We of course are talking about the FXR show, always with a variety of stock pristine original bikes and highly modified custom FXR's. If you have come to Born Free to see performance motorcycles this area is where you will find some of the most highly tuned and modified performance bikes in the country.
Walking through the grounds it is often easy to find yourself in a bit of sensory overload when it comes to beautiful bikes from every era and beautiful people from every walk of life. Born Free has always had a bit of it all and a great example of how every class of motorcycle can unify in one big place. In some ways I've always felt the show is a grander and more refined version of what a classic California hippie motorcycle "happening" would have been like in the glory days of the chopper movement of the 60's and 70's. For some people this is their "Woodstock" and the invited builders are the main performers they have come to see and revel in the spawning light of their mystic chopper wisdom. Which is exactly what you'll get if you find yourself in the right corner at the right moment, insite from the actual builders themselves. Born Free gives you the opportunity to shake hands with the garage kept mad scientists that you've been inspired by through the Internet or other shows and it gives the opportunity to say "ok, how in the hell did you do that" and get a realistic answer from a very real person. Born Free is like a melding of the brightest minds from across the country put in one big arena.
Of the invited builders when it comes to bright minds it's hard not to want to get inside the brains of this year's split tie for best in show, both winning themselves a spot at the Moon eyes Yokohama show later next year. Of course we are talking about Hawke Lawshe of Vintage Technologies and Christian Newman of CT Newman engineering. They have been invited back multiple years as invited builders and for good reason because they have both taken the idea of what can be accomplished with a custom chopper and gone beyond extremes that even the most wild of builders from the 1970s could have ever imagined.
First, Christian put together an all stainless twin turbo, twin carburetor, 8 valve 1939 ULH Harley Davidson with completely custom fabricated parts that not only have never been made before but never even conceived imaginable. With incredible details like a brake pedal that also flips reverse into a kicker pedal, a never before designed custom foot clutch set up. He also made a custom stainless girder/springer hybrid front end and a fully stainless frame. This bike has enough polished parts to make you want to squint with delight in attempting to figure out how in the world he figured all this out. Christian is no stranger to making one off custom machines though, he was actually one of the early builders for our Old Bike Barn Greasy Dozen build collective many years ago with his now quite famous turbo Shovelhead build.
Next up Hawke Lawshe decided to go a different route this year from his normal up and out long fork choppers and built a very low sitting digger stance, centrifugal supercharged 1966 big bore 98 inch generator shovelhead in polished gold everything. He even went one more and did the bike as a swing arm chopper something not seen out of any of his previous builds. With details for days much like Christian's bike it was hard to walk Hawke's creation and not want a closer look.
The other invited builders took things to a whole other level this year as well with the usual flathead, knucklehead, panhead and shovelhead builds and even an Indian as well but there were some serious eyes on the 2 vintage Kawasaki trike builds that were making waves this year. Slim of Slim's fabrication took things up a notch with his all wheel drive Kawasaki 750 two stroke trike that had the crowds boiling over with excitement every time he fired it up. Don Miller also brought out his "Pie wagon" turbocharged Kawasaki trike that turned heads all weekend as well. Other favorites just to name a few, the Rawhide cycles crew Shovelhead , Ry Seidler's incredible iron head, Marcus Ellis and his one off Shovel, and Josh Sheehan's marvelous "medusa" chopper just to name a few. The talent was absolutely off the charts this year and each one of the builders really used some of their extra time well from the events later pandemic rescheduling to give these projects the extra details that they needed.
While the main spotlight is on the invited builders the other areas of the show are equally just as impressive with bikes from previous year builders or just collections of different builds that easily stand tall with the talent level shown by some of the custom chopper scenes skilled elite. Walking from the different bike corrals and on into the middle of the property the real carnival aspect unfolds with tents lining rows and rows of more custom bikes from builders and artisans from all over the country. Also if you want parts or motorcycle gear you will definitely find it here. What is often most entertaining are the fantastic builds and displays the vendors have set up to pull you into each one of their booths. Something the crew from Californias "Cycles zombies", Love cycles and 4Q69's Max Schaff all do so very well each year. Another fun part of the area of this show is often where you'll see some of choppers best conversing at each other's booths or shedding light on current projects with the myriad of talented minds posted up all in one spot. it's often hard not to stop and just appreciate that Born free always brings all these great minds together.
As we make our way further and further back through the vendors we stumble upon our friends at Choppers magazine with their impressive lineup of custom bikes outside their booth. This year they also brought an extra special guest to setup at the booth, the talented photographer and Easyriders editor Kim Peterson, who brought a collection of some of his original David Mann photographs from the 1970s and 80s. Kim was happy to speak with us and revisit several stories of the wild days of Easyriders magazine and the adventures he had that came with it. Some even a bit too wild to even repeat here.
Making our way through the rest of the hippie chopper carnival that is Born free we discover so much more than just bikes but so many wonderful colorful people that make coming back to the show year after year so great. It's obviously the motorcycles that bring everyone together but the shared love of that culture and the genuine comradery is something that makes you feel very much at home on Oak Canyon ranch.
While the weekend winds down its finally on to the most exciting finale to the show, the raffle giveaway bikes! The hard working show organizers Grant Peterson and Mike Davis as well as Chris Huber and a wonderful cast of other great contributors to the show take to the main stage to get everyone hyped and give away a ton of awards for the bike builders but most importantly the thing that everyone hopes they will win, one of the coveted raffle bikes! When the winners are announced there's nothing better than seeing the looks on their faces as they take the stage ready to take home a vintage stock Harley Davidson or custom stock brand new bike. Modern performance or vintage charm, it's always hard to pick which one you would want to win.
After the final drawings the two wheeled crowds begin to disperse making their way to the various bars and surrounding canyons but they leave with a sense of unity that was felt all throughout the day. The overwhelming spectacle of the moto whirlwind that is Born Free show settles once again into the dust to lay dormant for another year until it returns again to inspire the masses. We were as many were, so happy to see the show return full force after a hard year of pandemic shutdowns and restrictions to once again be one of the greatest shows in the world for custom motorcycles.
Photos and words by Mike Vandegriff