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Common Tread

10 questions with Mike Davis, co-founder of the Born-Free vintage chopper show

Jul 03, 2014

Half a dozen years ago, Mike Davis and Grant Peterson had an idea for a vintage motorcycle event called Born-Free that would combine customization with vintage bikes. Instead of just talking about their idea, they turned it into something that is the best of its kind. What started as an event with a couple of hundred people has grown to more than 20,000 people in just five years and shows no signs of slowing down.

Born-Free has grown into a major event. Photo by Garcia.

Born-Free calls itself a "vintage chopper and classic motorcycle show." Vintage shows usually feature bikes restored to look like they did the day they first left the factory, and custom shows usually feature bikes that were just built. Born-Free is where the two worlds meet, and with the sixth event about to take place June 28 and 29 at the Oak Canyon Ranch in Silverado, Calif., we got founder Mike Davis to sit still long enough to answer 10 questions about the show.

Photo by Garcia.

1. I have been to the show for the past four years, and each time I am surprised to see you guys still running around like crazy to make everything happen. Why aren't you standing in the shade pointing fingers and delegating the work load?

The answer is pretty simple. We truly care about the show and everything we do is for the people that attend. It's important for us to get to get to know our sponsors, vendors, builders and as many spectators as we can. We have tried to make people feel as welcome and wanted as we can and you can't do that if you are not engaged and doing the work. Having said that, we have grown to a point where we can't do it alone, so this year we have added a couple of people who believe in what we are trying to do and will help us keep the good vibe going.

Photo by Garcia.
2. Every year that I have gone I have seen noticeable changes. This is the first year the show is more than one day. What led to that change?

“Make Born-Free a two-day event" is probably the number-one thing we hear when we talk to people. So many people ride and come from great distances that a one-day Born-Free is not enough time to absorb all that’s there. So many people, so many bikes and a fantastic list of select vendors. We also have great live music that we never promote.

Photo by Garcia.

3. Working with someone is not always easy, especially when there is money involved and people get different ideas about things. How have you and Grant continued to get along and grow the show instead of blowing up?

The reason that has not happened is we have never made the show about making money. It's about putting on the best show in the world. We use every dime we get to make the experience better for those who attend. The money we spend doing the show would stagger most people. We have generous sponsors, awesome vendors, some really great promos and for the first time a $10 admission to help pay for this monster. The show cannot be done at this high level for two days without this format. We truly appreciate everyone who contributes, supports and attends.

We never really thought it was going to explode they way it did, and we definitely were not prepared for it, either. The show is the same as anything thing else you do in life, I guess. You just learn to do it. We are still learning!

Photo by Mike Clarke.

4. What are you most proud of? What makes it all worthwhile?

The fact that so many people benefit from the show. From the builders, painters and mechanics to the folks selling parts and their wares. We feel like we have helped our community and helped people earn a living through some tough times. It's like we have created our own little economy and that feels pretty good.

Photo by Garcia.

5. How do you balance bringing new builders into the mix every year with keeping the show pure and focused on the kind of bikes and crowd that you want?

That's something we work on every day. We go to as many other shows as we can, in this country and others. We attend swap meets, races and rides to meet people and get the word out.

Finding new builders who are committed and believe in the show is not as easy as it sounds. Everyone thinks they can do it, but it's so much stress, pressure and expense that it really takes a special person to pull it off. We really do try to find new people from different parts of the country and abroad, and not just focus on one area or group of guys.

Photo by Garcia.

6. Explain why Jesse James was an invited builder and now is no longer part of the event.

Jesse expressed a sincere interest in being part of the show, and although having big-name guys is not really what we are about, his interest was interesting. Again, we are also learning, trying new things and willing to listen to make the show better. Jesse's departure was due to some personal/business commitments that conflict with the BF6 show dates. We do wish him well and there are no hard feelings.

Photo by Mike Clarke.

7. Now that Harley-Davidson is a top sponsor, what effect will that corporate involvement have on the show?

We have a great relationship with Harley-Davidson. They have no interest in telling us what to do and we have no interest in being told what to do. The folks at Harley-Davidson have truly embraced the show. Willie G. and other members of the team have come out and experienced it first-hand and they love it. We appreciate their support and it's really been good for Born-Free.

8. In five years of doing the show, have you ever almost called it quits?

We do the show on a year-to-year basis. When it’s not fun anymore, it will be over.

Photo by Mike Clarke.

9. If you could jump into a time machine and travel to any year of Born Free and attend as a guest, which one would it be?

Photo by Garcia.
Probably BF2. I did not realize how many people came and enjoyed themselves at the time. Just like anything else, when something's new it seems better, but I really believe the show has gotten better each year.

10. I know you guys are really busy right now. Thanks for the time. Do you have any last words or stray cats to let out of the bag?

We have a couple of good bands playing this year that might make some folks pretty happy. Come out and see who!