After a last minute 24-hour, 400-mile, back-seat chopper trip to Tijuana, my friends and I were on a roll. Born Free 9 was in the near future and in more ways than one, we were not slowing down any time soon. The next three days were totally booked up with parties, bikes, and riding. Although our party had already started, the official Born Free preparty was just about to begin.
The preparty was the same setup as the previous years. It’s at Cooks Corner, an old-school biker bar that turns into a full-blown chopper show on its own that night. Every year, there’s a bike show and contest happening there. It’s called “People’s Champ”; builders are invited to build bikes to be voted into the show through social media. The six bikes that are lined up at the show have been voted on and won to be there. Then they are voted on right at the show by the people at the party. It’s quite a thing to see, and the winner is really, truly the “people’s champ.”
One of the bikes voted into the show this year was a good friend of mine, Cody Kemmet who you’ve seen in some of my other RMM stories. The guy is a legend. He’s a 23-year-old builder from North Dakota who’s primary source of income is building crazy bikes and selling them. Before this weekend, he was pretty low-key when it came to popularity in the community, but not anymore. He built the most ridiculous 1950 Harley Davidson Panhead chopper and brought it all the way from North Dakota in a trailer along with five of his buddies… and all their bikes. I sat on the bike at the show and could barely reach the handle bars. The pipes are higher than my head, and the bike doesn’t even have pegs. He painted the frame splatter purple and chromed out the rest. The thing even has a little metal ball sack hanging from the bottom of the frame, for good luck I guess.
The second the winner was announced and the bike show portion of the party was over, Cody poured beer all over the tank of the bike, kicked over the engine in the middle of the party, rode it through the crowd and sand, and proceeded to do wheelie after wheelie on the street in front of Cooks Corner. Safe to say, Born Free was off to a good start.
After a long night of partying with that crew, I got away with hopping on the back of my friends old Shovelhead chopper, and we rode towards Born Free. The roads in the area are insane on these BF weekends: choppers flying by on either side of you, bikes pulled over on the side of the road, gas stations lined up with motorcycles trying to fill up, cars getting bullied out of the way. Being on a bike is the only way to go. If you get a “grass-pass” ticket to Born Free, the ride into the show is fun as hell. All the cars are lined up to get in and we just cruise in between them all the way into the show where thousands of (mostly amazing) bikes are lined up row after row. There are photographers everywhere shooting photos of people riding in and the vibes are busy. The music is loud, the bikes are loud and the people are even louder. It’s overwhelming in the best sense possible.
I always say I’m going to hold off on checking out the main invited show bikes at Born Free until the crowds die down but I got too excited. As soon as I rode through the gates, I went straight to the bikes. The builds I had been following for the past couple of months and were the most excited to see were Ryan Grossmans Knucklehead “Blood Diamond” and Arie Vee’s Panhead “The Outsider.” It’s surreal to see bikes in real life that you’ve watched come together from images on social media. So there’s a lot to look at.
All of the bikes were mind-blowing but another show-stopper was JP Rodman’s trike. This guy is the trike master. This year he built a heavenly one out of a Panhead motor. He had his buddies track down a dude walking around the event with a massive snake and wrapped it around “the hottest girl they could find at Born Free.” They had her sit in the trunk of the trike with the thing around her neck for a photoshoot. It was a mind-blowing spectacle. There isn’t a detail missed when it comes to Born Free. At this point, it’s one of the largest chopper shows in the world and these guys take that seriously.
The event was hotter than you could have ever imagined, in more ways than one. It was over 100 degrees so it was a relief most of the booths had kiddie pools and squirt guns. Cody had his show bike parked in the middle of a vendor booths blow-up pool. Instead of standing around telling people about how much time and detail he put into his bike this year, he decided instead to bare-foot kick start his bike in the pool and proceeded to do a burnout which resulted in the pool exploding, water spraying everyone within 20 feet and flooding several booths located downhill from the kiddie pool. Safe to say, it was the most awesome thing I witnessed the entire trip.
There was too many things that happened throughout the course of the weekend to even begin describing. Here were some highlights:
- Throwing balls at a dunk tank to drop topless babes into some smelly water
- Seeing Max Shaaf kick over the silver-leaf Knucklehead he had just finished building the night before
- Watching old school professional skateboarders take over the enormous half pipe in the middle of the event
- Josh Kurpius showing up and handing out beers
- Joining ladies perched up on their guys shoulders rocking out to the bands in the sun
- Seeing Doug Digglers Panhead that has caught on fire a year earlier on the highway in the middle of the desert
- Linking up with Canadian biker friends who rode from Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg and even further.
Props to all you guys who came from so damn far away!
We found a shady spot to watch the awards and raffle happen. The cheers were huge when Ryan Grossman’s “Blood Diamond” Knucklehead won People’s Choice. The “Best Bobber” went to Lee Bullock whose art was all over the Born Free posters and tickets. Martin Carlgren and his “1947 Husqvarna” won best in show. The engine in this bike is a 1/1, completely drawn up and fabricated by the builder.
The raffle was the most suspenseful occurrence of the week. When the announcer pulled the name out of the tub, he looked right at my group of friends and said: “This is crazy, we can’t make this stuff up. I am looking at the winner right now.”
MAX SHAAF. Max Shaaf won the Knucklehead. We couldn’t believe it. He has been an Invited Born Free builder multiple years in a row and even built one of the Born Free giveaway bikes in the past. He’s a good friend of most of the builders and lots of people involved in the show. So it was pretty crazy. Every time I watch the Born Free bike giveaway I am in shock. The first year, I saw it, it was a woman who was so over-the-top excited, the second year was a friend of mine who was standing right near me and this year, one of the most legendary people in the motorcycle and skateboard scene (he’s also a professional skater). Next year: ME. Just kidding – but maybe! That’d be a pretty damn good article.
When events like Born Free get so massive, there is always some big changes. You always hear lots of opinions on this at the show but I believe that the progression of this event is important to the motorcycle community. It promotes hard work and good style. It forces builders to push the limits which generate creativity for everyone who sees these builds. It brings the scene together, influences younger and younger people to get into the art, and it’s an all-around fun weekend. There isn’t even cell service at the event so it gets people off their phone and enjoying the bikes and each other. I am where I am because of events like Born Free. I’ve met the people who have totally shaped me in the scene as well as some of my best friends at this event. Although I have yet to win a Knucklehead, Born Free is still one of my favourite events year after year, and I will be back for my fourth time next year for Born Free’s 10th anniversary. Hope to see you there!