Many mainstream motorcycle shows in Canada are pretty much the same. You show up to a fluorescently lit convention centre and pay money to walk around elaborate displays and collect flyers and brochures for bikes, products and services you’ll likely never buy unless you win the lottery. Freedom Machine on the other hand, is something completely different.
Just as the name states, the third annual vintage, custom and antique motorcycle show highlighted the merits of authentic restoration and imaginative artistry of custom fabricators by showcasing classic bikes alongside bobbers, choppers and café racers from the 1950s to 1970s.
Hosted at a venue that provides a perfect backdrop for the event located just outside Markdale, Ontario, Frontier Ghost Town was originally a dude ranch, created for families to live the cowboy lifestyle. Now its home to music festivals and events like the Freedom Machine and the Jalopy Jam Up, a rockabilly hot rod show happening in mid-August.
On the weekend of the Freedom Machine show, the main strip features the amazing creations of Showcased Builders, fabricated by guys who do this sort of thing for a living. Just off the main street are the Homegrown Heroes – dudes who have a day job, but know their way around a work bench and welding torch. Then there’s the Rat Bastard Biker Build-off, which is described by event co-creator Jay Tyrrell as “creative chaos.” Given a tight timeline and a limited budget of only $1,200, the goal is to create a rideable, road worthy bike, which was one of the many attractions.
Co-creators, organizers and friends Jay Tyrrell, Neil Lounsbury, Ivo Zielinski and Rick Drummond have travelled to motorcycle rallies all over North America and saw an opportunity to showcase Canadian talent to the vibrant grassroots moto community here at home. “We’ve been involved in the motorcycle culture for over 25 years,” explains Tyrrell, “We have always been drawn to older, vintage bikes. Fads come and go but these vintage custom styled cafe racers, choppers, bobbers are iconic motorcycles and timeless and will never go out of style.” As technology and automation take over take over our lives, the idea of hand building a motorcycle really has become something of an art form.
Outside of the main street, both mass produced and obscure bikes of every conceivable era, genre and condition were represented by show attendees, many of which looked like they had been through hell and were back to tell the tale. Visually reminiscent of b-reel biker flicks from the 1960s with denim, leather and tattoos as far as the eye can see, the vibe of the event is laid back, relaxed and charitable. The bikes on display attract like minded individuals in search of freedom, adventure and camaraderie – human relationships forged over a common passion and lifestyle. Adding to the atmosphere is that many people stay over in tents or cabins on site, so are free to enjoy themselves well into the evening, listening to the live music or hanging out by the giant bonfire. Food trucks were on site to provide sustenance, but if you plan on spending the night, I recommend bringing your own snacks and libations should you choose to partake.
“The people who come to the show are the ones who make it, adds Tyrrell, “We don’t see ourselves as the owners of the show, we’re merely the caretakers. The result is a chill vibe as people make the event what they want it to be.” Adding to the relaxed ambiance is the soft approach by the sponsors on hand. The subtle corporate presence by the likes of Honda Canada, HogTown Cycles, Moto Revere, Town Moto, Dalton Timmins Insurance, Lucas Oil and Sturgess Cycle was friendly and sociable, unlike the often heavy handed hard sell approach experienced at some bike shows.
One of the undeniable highlights of the event was the raffle of the Freedom Machine Giveaway Bike, a gorgeous 1978 CB750 café racer built by Rob Cloutier of Bullit Custom Cycles. Won by ecstatic show attendee Amanda Rose, it was obvious that the motorcycle has found a worthy home.
Involving travel to a remote location off the beaten path to a place that many would consider to be ‘roughing it,’ Freedom Machine is decidedly not a show for everyone, nor is it trying to be. But for those who get what it’s all about, it’s truly something special.
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Photos by Dustin Woods and Carl Schenk