Born Free 3: metal is the message at California’s coolest bike show

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Hi, my name is Dave and I’m a concours-holic… Recovering, happy to say, but oh I had it bad, a certified carnauba-in-the-blood addict always with a Q-tip on hair-trigger, ready to banish that last offending fleck of dust. In the five years that I spent as a d’elegance devotee, I took home my share of hardware, including numerous bests-in-class and even a best-of-show. Then it all changed. I was seeing a lot of the same bikes, I realized, their only mileage whatever was accumulated by being pushed from the trailer to the showgrounds. I was hearing the same stories from the same people, and it was all getting a little stale. That’s why Cycle World started its Rolling Concours events — sadly now discontinued — where we all went on a three-hour ride, broken up by a nice BBQ lunch, before judging commenced. It’s also one of the reasons I love the Born-Free show.

It’s a little like Woodstock on wheels, the focus being on vintage customs, bobbers, choppers, cafe-racers, etc., basically anything old and unique. Big difference from the majority of car and bike shows: Most attendees are not yet on Social Security. As one guy in the video from last year’s event says, “Not a lot of chaps, not a lot of baggers, not a lot of doo-rags. It’s just a good scene, good people.” And how’s this for a kicker? It’s all free – free to attend, free to enter a bike in the show, even free beer! Vans, the shoe people, are a major sponsor, with additional support from custom aftermarket companies and publications/websites that cater to that crowd. There’s also a bike raffle and poster sales all going to the bottom line. The event has grown so large in its three years that 2011′s location was moved from the streets of Long Beach to a private park in the hills of Orange County. Hundreds of cool bikes showed up, thousands of people, and a good vibe was had by all.

Me, I cruised over on the Web Surfer Special, my Sportster street-tracker, went to general bike parking and was directed by one of the event organizers to continue on to the showbike area. “No thanks, not interested in a trophy,” I told him. “I just want to wander around, take a few pictures, visit with some friends and leave when I want.”

“Yeah, no problem, just let people see the bike; that’s why we’re all here,” he politely insisted and pointed me toward the other side of the lake.

Well, okay then, preferred parking. Not many trailer queens on the grass, mostly a bunch of working-class customs. What strikes me at any gathering of these bikes is that they are literally full-metal motorcycles, a trait underscored with brass, copper, aluminum and bare-steel components. Even the paintwork on these machines has flakes of metal – hell, I saw metalflake handgrips! If it’s not metal then it’s hand-tooled leather, sort of Industrial Age meets Jeremiah Johnson. Coolest gas tank at the show was unpainted steel, touches of rust showing, with tattoo-inspired artwork applied by magic marker.

And not a g’damn Q-tip in sight…

  • paul

    Nice read. I always think a bike looks better with signs of actual use : )

  • Eric

    That show looked awesome!
    A little far from Vancouver though

    Here’s hoping that “the one” motorcycle show in Portland will become the west-coast equivalent. It’s well on it’s way.

    • Sean Smith

      North Coast? They’re both West ;)

  • Pete

    Those gas caps are amazing!

  • jeremy

    I think a lot of people (myself included) attracted to HFL find it easy to shit on the flannel-vans set for a lot of reasons ( they’re hipsters, they and their bikes all sort of look the same, it’s an expansion of my-grupo-is-rarer-than-yours track bike elitism, harleys are slow and break a lot, etc) but this little write up makes a good point – it could be worse. Most of my friends are flannel vans dudes and at least they actually ride and actually work on their motorcycles themselves. They’re not land pirates or show queens. Maybe someday they’ll figure out that speed and reliability are cooler than slowly leaking oil all down the roas, but until then – it could be worse.

    • motoguru

      A lot of us flannel-vans people have at least one “speed and reliability” bike in the garage too…

  • Thom

    Here’s my take on the ” Flannel Vans ” set .

    If they built at least part of the M/C themselves / ride it regularly and / ride it well .. they’re cool .

    If not they’re just poseurs .

    But as far as being hipsters….. well guys …… you’re about three years out of the loop .

    The current ” Hipster ” wears cloths while riding that are worth more than his/her motorcycle , reads Mens File , has a closet full of Ralph Lauren , rides either a genuine or a wanna be classic ( with the occasional Chopper or Cafe Racer ) gets a bigger monthly income from his/her Trust fund in a month than you or I will make in a year , reads like it was the Bible , ( truth be known I do enjoy Pd’O's writing ) has a classic sports car or two in his/her garage , spends more on a single party than our entire entertainment budget for the next three years , has at least two classic bicycles ( at least one being a ” Fixie “) , is stuck in some weird fashion time warp continuum between 1935 -1940 & 1959- 1963 and comes from ( obviously ) a very Old Money family .

    That my friends is the NEW Hipster . ( yeech )

    The ” Flannel Vans ” crowd being rather …. how should we say this ……… Passe’ .

    Now Cole Foster ! He’s technically I guess a ” Flannel Vans” kind of a guy . Not a hipster though and cooler than all us combined . Bastard !

  • zato1414

    Just when you cookie-cutter sport dudes think you own the world, them Harley guys show up with awesome carnal rides! Oil slicks and Schwinn grips forever!

  • Brendan

    That Triumph tank is gorgeous.

  • Case

    I’m not much interested in the flannel/vans pigeonholing. We both ride motorcycles, and I tend to think their chopper bikes are lame as fuck, and they tend to feel the same about my crotch rockets. Who cares? I’m glad there are guys out there that into motorcycles the same way I am. And that’s cool.

    I’m a big fan of ride up shows, so props to all participants for riding in and riding out. That is awesome.

  • parkwood60

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the curse of Southern California is that unless you have a very narrow range of gearhead interests, there are always too many things going on, on any given weekend.

  • Mark D

    Good lord, have you ever tried to shift in vans? I did it once taking my bike to a nearby parking lot to break in my new brake pads, and I’ll NEVER do it again!

    Awesome bikes though.