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Born Free 10

John GalvinJun 27 2018

Our first trip to the Born Free Motorcycle Show was everything we thought it would be… and so much more.

Like most grassroots motorcycle shows, Born Free stems from humble beginnings. In 2009, co-founders Mike Davis and Grant Peterson held a one-day vintage chopper show in the parking lot of a local SoCal cycle shop. Respectably, it attracted a few hundred gear heads and moto junkies just like the rest of us. Word quickly spread throughout the worldwide biker web that something special was brewing, and each year the show grew exponentially. But no one could have predicted just how big it was going to get.

The trick to truly being able to admire and take in all the beauty of the Invited Builders' bikes was to get there early - easy to do when us vendors get access an hour before the mobs arrive!

This 1945 Knucklehead with only 50 miles on the odometer (you read that right) was one of three bikes Born Free organizers were raffling off. A $25 ticket got you entered to win this period-correct Knuck, a '68 Shovelhead or a 2018 H-D Softail Fat Bob.

Fast-forward to this year’s 10th annual, and Davis and Peterson have held true to their roots: curating an event where custom bikes and their creators are the main attractions, first and foremost. The only difference is that over a span of just 10 years they’ve also meticulously matured and crafted the show into a two-day monster that draws 30,000 attendees from around the world.

The ride-in "Grass Pass", available by presale only, allowed attendees to bring their home-built beasts into the lush grassy grounds of Oak Canyon Ranch... and inevitably turned the entire venue into a bike show.

Born Free has undoubtedly become the Super Bowl of bike shows on the West Coast (and well beyond). And while the industry’s biggest brands present their wares, local bands entertain the audiophiles, and beer vendors keep the party vibe flowing, Born Free is, and always has been, all about the bikes.

1958 Triumph 6T built by Ryan Mullion of the Tiger Shack in Orange, CA

Every cubic inch of blood sweat and tears poured into each machine represents lifetimes of dedication to the art of custom motorcycles. From the invited builders to the thousands of ride-in “Grass Pass” bikes that took over Oak Canyon Ranch, the passion for grease, gears and custom iron was rampant everywhere you looked.

1946 Knucklehead from Invited Builder Josh Allison was loaded with little details that together created a true one-of-a-kind work of art.

Not sure if there’s a more idyllic setting for Born Free, or any bike show for that matter, than Oak Canyon Ranch. The majestic and sprawling valley, located just off the famed SoCal bikers’ playground of Santiago Canyon Road, delivers breathtaking views in every direction. It’s also a complete cellphone and Wi-Fi dead zone, taking the “media” aspect away from being social like the good ol’ days. It was a refreshing break from the world of hashtags, Insta stories and snaps, which all took a backseat to some true iron art.

Invited builder Josh Sheehan and his '68 Shovelhead "The Mantis" modeling for the paparazzi.

Biker rags, bloggers, and the world’s top moto photographers from as far away as Japan scrambled to take advantage of the sublime scenery, setting up photo shoots with various bikes and their creators before, during and after hours. And each subject was visibly stoked on the opportunity to have their rides featured in ink and behind the lenses of renowned artists like Michael Lichter.

Skateboarding living legend Steve Caballero set to drop in on the Vans halfpipe.

Even though Born Free is a two-day event held on Saturday and Sunday, this year Davis and Peterson got the party started early. Thursday kicked the weekend off to a bar bangin’ start with the Fox Stampede at the Industry Hills Expo Center. Petrol and two-stroke smoke filled the air as hooligans, vintage flat trackers, choppers, and a comical lineup of characters on pull-start pit bikes entertained the masses (complete with Cheech Marin, Captain America, and Evel Knievel sightings).

On Friday the mob ascended upon the venerable biker hangout Cook’s Corner for Show Class Magazine’s People’s Champ Bike Show, which set the perfect vibe for Born Free weekend. The place was shoulder-to-shoulder packed as Josh Sheehan and his ’68 Shovel dubbed “The Mantis” took the popular vote.

"The Mantis" by Josh Sheehan.

So, how do you get around 30,000 people to give up social media cold turkey for the better part of two days? Create one of the best custom motorcycle shows in the world where the weather, bikes, and location make it all too easy to kick back and enjoy everything kustom moto kulture has to offer.

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