Born Free 12

Born Free 12: SoCal’s Open-Air Bike Show

Crowd at Born Free 12
There was something interesting to see everywhere you turned.

The Born Free show is one of our favorite events to attend and is the premier annual chopper show on the West Coast. The atmosphere is casual and inviting, with a huge variety of fabulous custom motorcycles spread out over a 17-acre plot, along with plenty of vendors, live music, and room to roam.

Set under sunny Southern California skies away from the morass of concrete and strip malls, the Oak Canyon Ranch at Irvine Lake in Silverado is amazingly bucolic compared to the nearby urban areas of L.A. and Orange counties. Thousands of riders streamed in for the event during the last weekend of August this year.

Shovel-powered chopper at Born Free 12
A quick glance at this Shovel-powered chopper doesn’t reveal its off-the-chart audaciousness, from the creativity of the exhaust routed through the frame tubes to the insanity of the single-handgrip handlebar. Builder Cliff Cavins was up for the Biltwell People’s Choice award, which requires eligible bikes to complete a ride over the twists of Ortega Highway. Not only did Cavins endure the 50-mile trip, he won the $10,000 prize, plus an extra $2k for running Metzeler tires! “It is sloppy, it is wobbly, the one handlebar is just as dumb as you’d expect,” Cavins plainly admitted in a Biltwell video, “but the motor runs good and everything else is pretty solid.”

The Born Free organizers describe their show as “a back-to-basics event built on the shared passion of people building and riding their motorcycles.” The laid-back show sprawls over an expansive outdoor area, so there was little concern about wearing masks.

Indian Daytona Scout at Born Free 12
Vintage cool, a jockey-shift Indian Daytona Scout.
Hawke Lawshe's Shovelhead at Born Free 12
Hawke Lawshe’s radical and finely detailed 96-inch turbo Shovelhead tied for Best in Show. See page 50 for a closer look.
1962 FL at Born Free 12
To the naysayers who claim H-D’s designers don’t “get it” anymore, we offer this scrumptious 1962 FL owned by H-D’s Vice President of Styling & Design, Brad Richards. Fabricator Ry Seidler took Richards’ sketches and direction to create this beautifully proportioned Panhead masterpiece, “Lucki-Pan,” featuring a springer front end and jockey shift. Richards is probably thankful he wasn’t mandated to cram a catalytic converter into the thing, as he must with new bikes!

Along with hundreds of bikes on display, the event also featured the entrancing Wall of Death (in which riders literally ride on vertical walls), live bands, swap meets, and bike giveaways. Atypical of chopper-flavored events, old-time graybeards seemed outnumbered by a younger demographic at Born Free – it’s a hipper, lifestyle-y show.

“The show really has evolved over the years,” explained Born Free’s co-founder Grant Peterson in a video. ”People who have been in the motorcycle industry for decades come here and they’re like, ‘Wow, this is different. The vibe is different.’”

1958 Panhead at Born Free 12
Exemplary finishes and detail on this 1958 Panhead from Powerplant Motorcycles dubbed the P-16 Bomber.
Saddlemen's King Of The Baggers Harley at Born Free 12
Saddlemen’s King Of The Baggers Harley is a serious piece of kit. Check out the carbon fiber seat post for an example of the team’s commitment to reducing weight!
Feuling motorcycle at Born Free 12
Glenn Curtiss built a W-3 engine from a V-Twin in 1906. Feuling is doing it today with this awesome but pricey 150-cubic-inch machine.
1952 Panhead at Born Free 12
Minimalistic 1952 Panhead from Marcus Ellis from Cleveland, Ohio.
Wall of Death at Born Free 12
The only lines at Born Free were for beer and the Ives Brothers’ Wall of Death show.
M-8 at Born Free 12
This super-clean M-8 was at the Kodlin booth, showcasing its lineup of Softail accessories.

And it’s a family-friendly show, with kids under 12 admitted for free, as were military personnel. Regular admission was $20 per day. Purchasing a Grass Pass allowed parking inside the show area rather than out in the dusty parking lot. Pets, coolers, and colors were forbidden.

Motorcycles of all makes and models are welcome, and among the sea of Panheads, Shovels and Knuckles were a smattering of Triumphs, a few Hondas, and even a couple of Ducatis. But the show’s primary focus is decidedly on American V-Twin customs. Fittingly, Harley-Davidson is the event’s headlining sponsor.

“It’s the celebration of the motorcycle, primarily the Harley-Davidson motorcycle, and the many ways in which these enthusiasts express themselves through it,” said Brad Richards, H-D’s Vice President of Styling and Design.

Performance baggers at Born Free 12
The popularity of performance baggers is seen in this lineup.
L.A. Witch at Born Free 12
L.A. Witch was one of several bands offering a soundtrack to the Born Free show.
Captioned shirt at Born Free 12
Self-captioned!
Motorcycles on grass parking at Born Free 12
These riders enjoyed the convenience of Grass Pass parking.
Panhead at Born Free 12
This guy doesn’t need an e-start magic button to fire up his Panhead.
Motorcycle at Born Free 12
Mixed messages…
Vintage custom at Born Free 12
Backlit patina on a vintage custom seemed appropriate on a hot day in SoCal.

“If you’re trying to understand what’s happening next organically, a show like this is really important,” Richards elaborated. “They inspire us, we inspire them, and we evolve the brand.”

Born Free continues to grow and evolve, but the event hangs onto its grassroots feel that makes it welcoming to anyone. And the high level of the builds on display, as well as the countless cool bikes that are ridden to the show, makes it a world-class motorcycle event.

Motorcycle by Irvine Lake at Born Free 12
Irvine Lake isn’t much of a lake, but it does offer a nice backdrop for classic motorcycles.

“It’s hard not to be inspired here with the level of creativity, not only from the bike builders, but from our sponsors and vendors and everything,” co-founder Mike Davis commented. “You get out here, and you just want to be a part of it.”

And we’ll be there for Born Free 13, scheduled for June 25-26, 2022.

1946 Indian Chief at Born Free 12
The Peyote Puffer rides again! This 1946 Indian Chief was purchased by Perry Sands of Performance Machine fame back in 1967, customized to show-winning form in ’68, and crashed in 1969, damaged seemingly beyond repair. Recently rediscovered after 50 years, the bike was rebuilt with son Roland Sands, preserving its original form and well-earned patina, along with a reproduction motor from the legendary Mike Tomas at Kiwi Indian.

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