Thursday, 9 July 2015

The Road to Born-Free Part 1

So where to begin telling you guys about my trip….. I’ve been pretty absent from my blog due to time – Instagram is evil as it’s so easy and quick – but I bet if you totaled up the time spent scrolling through pictures it would probably be as much as keeping this up to date.
The tail end of the time before shipping the bike to the states was a bit of a blur to be honest, trying to juggle work, home life, spending time with Jack and finishing the bike was pretty grueling but somehow on the Sunday 10 days before Born free (well actually small hours of the Monday morning) my buddy Mike (The Engineer) helped me get the bike in the back of his transit connect van for it to be taken to Manchester on the Monday morning for shipping and crating.
I would love to say that it was great to have time spare between the bike going and us flying, but I was totally stressed the whole time. The bike went with unfinished (bare weld) exhausts, and a number of parts to finish that would have to go in my luggage. The next week was a mad frenzied attempt to plan the rest of the trip / catch up on work, and try and stay in the wife’s good books for once.
I had news on the weekend that the bike had shipped and landed in LA – it was just a case of getting myself there.
I was fortunate enough to have the company of Dave Bewick – another chopper nut living close to me. Although I knew Dave prior to the trip and us only living 10 miles of so apart, we didn’t really know each other well prior to the trip, so it would be good to get to know him better.
Morning of the flight wasn’t too bad – up at 2am, pick Dave up, then drive over to Manchester airport. Check in went fairly smoothly and before we knew it we were on our short flight down to Heathrow. I’ve never flown from Heathrow, so taking their dedicated underground rail network to the terminal was pretty cool. Nice to see all the architecture and functionality in the airport setting.
Being on the rather large size I was pleased to be able to have got us legroom on the way out at least, and to be honest, the flight went really well. I thought it felt more like 6 hours than the 12 or so it must have taken, but I suppose I grabbed maybe 2 hours sleep along the way. We arrived safe, I went through customs no bother – Dave had to declare if he was a hells angel or not as he said he was going to a bike show (I guess the prejudice that visible tattoos still present), this made me chuckle quite a lot!

We had a minor hiccup in the baggage area. My lovely wife had bought me a new bag for my birthday, which I was adamant was black. After a few trips around the carousel I realised that mine was the bag on its own trundling around!
Short bus drive to the Car hire place and this is where the fun began – I was now 5000 miles from home with a truck with the wheel on the wrong bloody side, and had to drive on the wrong side of the road! Stressful!
We got to the shipping place with no major problems, and put my name on the list to wait to be dealt with. To say things were pedestrian would be a massive understatement, but as we had been up for 24 hours already this was pretty surreal to say the least.
We were there coming up to an hour when I got called, and it was quickly established that I needed a piece of paper stamped from customs before I could collect the bike. We were directed to the customs office, and drove down there. We were met with a room with a ticket machine (think of the butchers at the supermarket) and were 20 down on the list.

After another painful wait I was called up – took my documents up and the questions began –
why was I flying my bike in? – for a show – my paperwork wasn’t correct for me to participate in a show.. so I quick footed to say that we were just attending the show and it wasn’t a corporate thing…
how long was I staying for? – a week..
and the bike? – a week…
hang on – your flying your bike in and shipping it out in a week?  - Yeh…
Why? – uh well I’ve been building it for a year – and…. Well its my birthday today….

Now this card must get pulled a lot….

Passport please…….

Checked the dates and all was fine! Phew! Another 5 minute wait and we got the stamp. Hot footed it back to the shipping place and we finally got the bike released.
The bike was in a crate, and I had to put loads of parts separate which were tied on. I had bought straps with me, but I realised they weren’t proper ratchet straps, so nervously we got the crate on the back of the pickup and lashed the bike to the back..
Stressful doesn’t even go halfway to how I was feeling, limited crap sleep sat up on a plane in the last 26 hours, with my pride and joy roughly strapped on the back of a vehicle with the steering wheel on the wrong side and cars on the wrong side of the road!
We had an hour’s drive down to Dave Polgreen and Jeff Leightons place, but somehow we managed to get there no issues.

It was such a relief to get there, and their warm smiles and welcoming attitudes were most welcome. They had cleared off a bench for me, so within no time the bike was out the box and ramped off and into the workshop.
We spent a bit of time taking some of the blue tape off, and it was my first real chance to see how it had all come together. I dropped Dave back at the hotel, and then headed back (complete with Chili dogs to keep me going) for a couple of hours fettling.

Their workshop was great – and has made me seriously look at mine. Clean, organised and loads of space – everything the barn hasn’t got. Also really well stocked with both parts and machinery. I couldn’t be happier with them for letting me use their spot.
Their workshop was a bit of a “hive” of activity (maybe where the wretched hive comes from?!?), but I got to see harpoon, watermelon Pete, and Ryan the Tigershack that night and many more people afterwards.
I got a few bits done that night, but the tiredness was becoming apparent, so I headed home about 11pm that night LA time. It was weird speaking to Sarah and Jack in the carpark using facetime and they had just woken up!
The next day was spent back at the workshop, when we arrived the place had filled up and Andy from Pangea speed had turned up with a whole host of mates and bikes, his modern digger inspired bike for the hot bike and custom competition being the crown jewel.
I rushed to get my pipes ground back, and Dave P took me to a little back street Mexican place where after some huffing and puffing and negotiation I got them to polish my pipes for me over night.
Dave B was great through the whole process, and in the workshop he was cleaning the bike, and sorting out the little jobs that needing sorting out. At some point through the day Frank Kaisler showed up on his bike. I didn’t know who he was (not being into engines and not well read) but Dave B informed me of his legacy. What a super nice guy. Really helpful and kind. Was great to spend time with Frank and listen to his tales. His job in special effects sounded super awesome too!
I found it weird working in a hot workshop like that – the California heat was a far cry from the cold damp barn that’s for sure, I was sweating myself to bits in there – I now know why everyone wears black tshirts not white!!
The Thursday night was the pre-Born Free Party, as much as the bike still needed work both myself and Dave B probably needed to break. Jeff and Dave P had already gone as Jeff’s lovely triumph was in the show.

We turned up to what a set of industrial units, but with the carpark between was sectioned off. The premise was that all the invited builders would have their bikes there and would be photographed prior to the show. It was interesting the different approach to the photos that Dave B and I took – Dave isn’t a builder, but gets a nice bike put together, and in his words he likes “the whole bike” and how that looks. I was down on the floor looking at all the little bits and bobs; mounts, brackets, footrests, linkages – I guess that’s what makes me tick and shows in my bikes…

We got there bang on time so it was fairly quiet, and we managed to get some great shots of the bikes that were there early. There was free beer from 808 and also free taco’s (never had tacos before – soooooo good!). With a beer in hand and the Cali sunshine on us it was a great afternoon and evening. I had one pint which instantly went to my head from the lack of sleep and beer the past 2-3 months, and then found myself knocking around the carpark with builders that I had been watching and admiring for years!
It was really surreal, watching from the other side of the planet these guys didn’t seem real to me – but there I was – in California, with Born free just round the corner and I was meeting and talking to all the invited builders! I started off a bit star struck, but with a few beers I mellowed a bit as I got used to seeing people that I knew off the internet.

I wouldn’t say I live a sheltered life, but having spend months pretty much in isolation covered in iron filings, grease and oil – to find myself at this point was pretty amazing.
I was so pleased to see certain bikes there, all were absolutely awesome and so nicely done, but seeing Daltons bike was awesome, then to see Arie Vee push what was a pile of parts just days before into the car park was definitely a brilliant experience. I never got to speak with Arie, but I was so pleased for him to get that bike looking so good. Picture nicked from Street Chopper magazine – you can see me and Dave B in the background!

After 2 ½ beers I could tell that I was on the point of wanting 10 more, so we headed home to the hotel. We could have stayed up late and got more done on the bike, but I was at the point of acceptance that she was where she was.

Friday morning, and the day of the competition at Cooks corner. Another early start to get cracking on the bike. Pineapple Jay, and Jake and Jesse from Union speed and style had showed up with the naked Knuckle… I’ve been in awe of Jays fabrication and finishing work for quite some time, but with time limited and loads still to do I had to head down and crack on with the bike.
We needed to be at Cooks by 1pm, at 11.30am I was ready to throw the bike of the lift. Somewhere along the line the rear mudguard mount had bent and the mussy was all over on one side. I had left a load of whitworth nuts on my bench in Leeds, the bike had no wiring and I had no pipes…
While the 3 J’s were finely tuning bits on their bike I was stood with a huge hammer, and a bit of wood – smacking the mudguard mount to get some clearance. At that moment I think I was at the greatest point of feeling like a fraud!
We got the bike out in the sun, and all of a sudden my spirits lifted. It totally changed in my eyes at that point. It still needed to have the exhausts put on, but it went from being some mad collection of parts to actually looking like a motorcycle!

We got her loaded on the back and headed to the polishers place. This was really cool as both he and his son were totally stoked on seeing the bike. I guess they get to polish endless numbers of parts, but rarely get to see the end product. We fitted the pipes there and then and headed to cook’s corner.
Cooks was a cool place! Its everything you want from a biker bar – a bit rustic with booby old barmaids, loads of bike parking, and it was on loads of levels up the hill.

We had met fellow competitor JJ Flairty and his lovely Missis the night before at the VIP party. He was kind enough to lend me a ramp and we got the bike off the truck and pushed up and around to the top of the venue In reality it was probably 40 feet from the truck to the place where the bikes were, but we had to go down to the bar over a bridge and then back up through the different bar levels.
Of course I was the last to arrive and all the bikes looked so good!

We spent a little while looking over everyone’s work, and then slowly met all the guys from the competition. JP came up to me with a massive smile laced with tiredness, such a rad bloke, and we had a good old chat about his bike and the competition etc. JJ’s parents had flown in without his knowledge, so it was so great to see how happy they were for him. I looked at his dad and how proud he was and got a bit choked up. Both from wishing my old man was there, but also hoping that Jack may take on some sort of a challenge one day that I would be proud of (sure he will in his own way!)
After about an hour things started to catch up with me – I was there, the bike was there,m and that’s it – nothing more I could do! I was so bloody tired at this point, but a few beers helped steady the ship. I had a good chat with Dave Herr – we had the same issues with time around kids, and ended up having a really “dad” conversation about kids for a while. Top bloke and got on with him really well.
Things started getting busy later on, Dave B has lived between England and New Zealand, so we ended up talking to a load of Kiwis for a while – Donald and Wez (and your pal – sorry so many names to remember) were a good laugh and had voted for the bike to get there.
As the night drew in there were more and more people coming in, everyone seemed to be liking the bikes, and the tickets were handed out so people could place their ticket in the box next to the bike they liked.

I’d love to say I wasn’t bothered about the votes, but I definitely was – I couldn’t help but notice votes going in my box from time to time. I definitely had a lot of the older guys voting for me!
I didn’t feel comfy siting near the bike – a bit self-conscious maybe, so generally stayed a t a distance and went to look at all the bikes roaring in and out of Cooks.

It was so good to have people that I recognised talk to me about the bike. Load of people came to talk to me and say they had watched the build and how much they likes the bike. I appreciate you all so much – sorry if I was spaced out or off hand – the beer and lack of sleep was a major factor from about 5pm. I spoke to one lad and his wife wearing one of my Tshirts – it was great chatting to you mate, I’ve forgotten your name too – but if your reading this send me an email or message please…
I was stoked to have a good chat with Big Scott (cycle Zombies) about the bike – he likes the 60’s show bikes like me and it was good to see him soaking in some of the parts that I had laboured over.
I was walking down to see Jeremiah's (Conflict Machine) bike when Max Schaff walked past. I’ve always been a big fan of him and his work / life muses, and totally choked from saying hi… This wasn’t the only time this happened that day!

Jeremiah – your bike is rad by the way – totally love how you did the tank. Well impressed!

Moving on through the night we were called for a pow wow prior to the announcement, we were told that we wouldn’t be told votes and how happy they were with all our bikes. We then had to stand on the wall behind our bikes and they would make the announcement. I didn’t like that too much, far too many eyes on us all!

The result wasn’t unexpected to me – JP’s bike is a real showcase of his talent and dedication over the last 6 months or show. It stood out as a wild chopper and show bike, and to be fair, he got my vote in the open voting rounds.
The other bikes were also all so good, and in my eyes with a different crowd or different location I think any of them in their own right could have won. I was able to hold my head high and know that I was taking home the bike out of the 6 that I would have had given the choice.
The dust settled but the party went on. Knackered beyond belief I tried to talk to sid, but ended up just sitting there not doing a lot (sorry mate). JJ then fired his pan up and got the bike down through the crowd. A good chance for me to wheel by bike way in his wake.
Just as I was leaving Max came over to congratulate me on the bike – handshake done and tank now dented from me letting the bars hit it (forgot to do fork stops!) I left cooks pretty happy and looking forward to Born Free! Vanned the bike back to Jeff and Dave P’s place and even had the pleasure of meeting Todd from Small City Cycles. I think he dug the bike being a triumph guy and it being something a bit different.

Saturday morning saw us turn up to the Born Free site early so we could get our bikes in. Once again JJ was there to help a hand with the ramp. Last night’s party had seen a lovely deposit of barbecue fat deposited over the bike, so we pinched a bit of his cleaning products and got the bike ready to put in show.

I’ll leave you with these pictures for now and then tell you about the show in another gripping installment! (I’ll be amazed if anyone is still reading my ramblings at this point!)


  1. Wow, sounds like one hell of a trip! Great words and cool pics Tom, looking forward to part 2!

  2. Gripping stuff and fantastic memories TC. Keep it coming. When's the bike due on show in Brum? I fancy combining a ride down & look-see with another MoCo mooch.