But it was also much more than that. When putting this year’s event together, Lichter had his eyes on the future of Sturgis, choosing from the current generation of young, talented builders who ironically cling to the freedom and ideologies of the past. Come Together The Spirit of Born Free provided an avenue for these highly skilled smaller shops, who feel more comfortable with an arc welder or wrench in their hands than a microphone, to gain national exposure and to get the full Sturgis experience first-hand as, according to Lichter, many had never been to the rally before. They’re a breed apart and can smell bullshit from a mile away, yet for the most part are low-key, modest, and fly under the radar as they let their work speak for them. They don’t need the limelight, but Lichter thrust them into it during his latest Born Free exhibit by putting many of them on the spot in front of a crowd of media and industry peeps to talk about the bikes they brought to the show. Which raises the question he is concerned with – How do we attract the next generation to Sturgis at a place where the average demographic is generally twice the age of the guys in Born Free?
A few days after the big industry party for the exhibit, a chance meeting brought our path and Lichter’s together. Six of the guys in the show were getting together for a photo shoot of their bikes not in a studio, but in their natural habitat, the open road. While waiting for Lichter to gather his gear and cameras for the day’s shoot, it was entertaining to sit like a fly on the wall as the builders sat around chatting before the ride, each checking out and admiring the work of others. Most words were of appreciation, while others were tidbits of advice about a way a bike could have been plumbed differently or discussions on the angle of a fork that could have been kicked out just a tad more.
When it came time to roll out, I almost felt guilty when I thumbed the electric start of Lichter’s road warrior Road King while the rest of the guys were kickin.’ Twist throttles, kick pedals, open carbs and primary belts were de rigueur. Details like an external oil tank with glass walls mounted on the backbone in front of the gas tank show the creativity that was flowing when these bikes were built. Seeing bikes on the open road that not 12 hours before were sitting on a pedestal inside the Lichter exhibit verifies that though any of these guys have the skills to win a show, what they build is meant to ride. Watching SpeedMetal’s Dave Baker flanking you on a skinny Springer chopper, tightly spaced Ram’s horn bars gripped firmly in his hands, the top of his ultra-long tail pipes peeking out over his shoulder was like rolling back the clock 40 years.
Keep your eyes on these guys. Though they dodge the spotlight and couldn’t give a shit about the mainstream, they are the present and the key to the future. They embody a spirit that can’t die. Should never die. Thanks for the ride, guys.
The Born Free Six – Lock Baker – Eastern Fabrications, Aki Sakamoto – Hog Killers, Bill Dodge – Bling’s Cycles, ACME Choppers – Jason Alquist, SpeedMetal – Dave Barker, Mad Jap – Dale Yamada