Surprisingly, one of the biggest and best annual motorcycle shows, Born Free, is only hitting its tenth anniversary this year. Taking place in the mountains of Orange County, CA, at a cross between a kids summer camp and a KOA, there is plenty of room for people and motorcycles, and few neighbors to upset with your loud pipes.
That is just one part of one of the bike parking lots and at the end of the day when many people had already left! Without a drone, it is impossible to get a real picture of just how many bikes were there. Smart riders pay extra for a “grass pass” which allows them to ride into the event grounds and show off just a few feet from the actual show bikes.
INSIDE THE SHOW
Inside the show, there are easily over 100 bikes on display, including actual flat track and road racers, choppers, bobbers, cafe racers, minibikes (new class this year), and others that defy easy classification. There were bikes from all eras, and all geographic regions, though of course, Harley-Davidson dominated. This crowd, however, prefers traditional styles and simpler bikes, with blinged out baggers conspicuous in their absence.
For two or three years now, Born Free has been kicking off with flat track races, in the dirt, on Thursday night before the show starts on Saturday. Some people bring dedicated race bikes to this event, but some throw caution to the wind and race their show bikes, which does curry a lot of favor with the judges and the people’s choice voters.
Over the course of two days, the organizers also raffled off three complete motorcycles. Harley-Davidson provided a 2018 Fat Bob to one lucky winner. Prism Supply built a custom Shovelhead powered chopper which went to another. And the grand prize was a 1945 Knucklehead barn find, which had been given a mechanical restoration but otherwise left as found, dirt and all.
This year, in an effort to increase the fun level and decrease the cost of getting involved, they started a minibike class that anyone could enter. True, in order to race your minibike in the flat track races you needed to get involved early and pre-enter, because space was limited. But if you wanted to build a mini show bike, all you had to do was roll it in via the regular admission gate.
Unfortunately, Clymer’s own Project Bike Project: Minibike is still not quite finished enough to display to the public. On Saturday when we visited, the number of mini’s there was limited, but the purple mini chopper was so over the top it made up for it. There was also a simple and sweet orange metal flake painted, Briggs & Stratton engined traditional mini that was exactly like the one every kid dreamed of finding under their Christmas tree back in the day.
Each year you can count on seeing amazing bikes you have never seen before thanks to the “Invited Builders“. Almost as soon as the last show ends, the organizers at Born Free invite a number of shops, painters, builders, and fabricators from around the world to debut a new bike at the next show. There were 26 never before seen customs on the grass this year brought from around the world competing for the prestigious trophies in a variety of categories.
The winner of best of show gets not just bragging rights and a trophy, but a free trip to the Mooneyes custom show in Japan, and entry for their bike. With all the spectacular bikes around, we did not get a picture of the eventual winner, from Old Crow Speed Shop and BTTW, but the prewar land speed racing inspired Harley UL (with overhead valve conversion) is all over their Instagram feeds at those links.
Here are some of the bikes from invited builders we did get pictures of.
MORE THAN JUST BIKES
There are so many bikes you can easily miss some of them, but that is not all there is to see and do at the Born Free Show. Vans brought out their two-story tall vert ramp and had skaters on the halfpipe both days. There were both pros and amateurs, and even former pros from the golden age, like skater/biker/artist Steve Caballero.
There was punk rock, and regular rock coming from various sound systems around the show, and a main stage featuring some great bands. In the past, the show has featured heavy metal and punk rock headliners, but this year they tried something different – the smooth rocking sounds of Yachty by Nature. This nautical themed, good time, party band played rocking covers of Christopher Cross, Toto, the Doobie Brothers, and more classically mellow and breezy hits that everyone can chill out to.
As can be expected at any festival, there was plenty of food and drink to be had, from 805 Beer and various food vendors. Aftermarket and custom parts were for sale from big name brands and tiny one-man shops as well. Artists were plying their trade, selling stickers, shirts, and more, or offering to paint custom stripes on your bike or helmet while you waited. And there may even have been haircuts and tattoos being done right then and there among the bikes.
START YOUR BUILD
Whether you want to build a minibike, vintage British bike, classic Harley-Davidson, or a more affordable Honda or Kawasaki from the 1970s, Clymer has the manual to help. We can’t teach you to weld (though Haynes does have a manual for that) or help you with the vision for the project, but we can help you put it together and make it run. And if you want to start with a late model bike, we have coverage for them too.