Freedom Machine is an event like no other. You may have attended Mama Tried, Loserpalooza, or Oil & Ale, maybe even Sturgis or Daytona Bike Week, but FM is in a league of its own.
Hosted last weekend at the dilapidated Frontier Ghost Town just outside Markdale, Ontario, just south of Owen Sound, the site was originally a dude ranch created for families to live the cowboy lifestyle. The long-neglected venue has become increasingly derelict, making it the perfect backdrop for the event. Now it’s home to music festivals and events like the Freedom Machine, whose organizers also manage a rockabilly custom hot rod show called Jalopy Jam Up that was relocated to the Rockton Fairgrounds last year after outgrowing the venue.
Co-creators, organizers and friends Jay Tyrrell, Neil Lounsbury, Ivo Zielinski and Rick Drummond have travelled to motorcycle rallies all over North America, and they 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, and bobbers are iconic motorcycles and timeless and will never go out of style.” As technology and automation take over our lives, the idea of hand-building a motorcycle really has become something of an art form.
What is it?
Just as the name states, the annual vintage, custom and antique motorcycle show highlights the merits of authentic restoration and the imaginative artistry of custom fabricators. Showcasing classic bikes alongside bobbers, choppers and café racers from the 1950s to 1970s, builds range from immaculate, professionally fabricated show bikes to complete basket cases that looked like they were involved in a dumpster fire.
The bikes, as one would imagine, attract a diverse, motley cast of characters who are at least as fascinating as the motorcycles on display. 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. There is precious little corporate presence, but what’s there is subtle and soft-handed, unlike the shows where everyone is there to sell you their product or service. The independent vendors on hand are enthusiasts themselves who are there to hang out, drink beers and talk bikes.
Many people stay over, so they’re free to enjoy themselves well into the evening listening to the live music or hanging out by the giant bonfire. Most attendees camp, while some bring trailers or make use of the sketchy cabins, and others seemingly had no plan in place other than to sleep wherever they end up, dust themselves off and ride home the next day.
Once the sun went down, the chilled-out day buzz vibe turned into a full-on party. With the recent legalization of cannabis, the sweet scent of the Devil’s Lettuce wafting through the air was not an uncommon occurrence, nor were the sight and sounds of revelers revving and riding their bikes well into the night. Hosted on private property, attendees party at their own risk.
A particular highlight was a bright orange Ural sidecar motorcycle touring the grounds as a makeshift dance club, or the vintage milk truck transformed into a strip club, complete with red velvet tufted seating and a brass dancing pole.
“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.”
One of the undeniable highlights of the event is the annual raffle of the Freedom Machine Giveaway Bike. This year’s bike was a 1979 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead FXE resto-mod won by an ecstatic and shocked but appreciative Corey Hamilton. The Port Colborne, Ontario native was still trying to grasp the realization of what had transpired as I chatted with him. He’s the owner of an XJ550 and a Virago 750 and is new to the Harley scene, but was excited by the prospect.
“Me and my buddies all ride Japanese bikes, so I literally grew up hating Harleys – thinking they were heavy, slow and didn’t turn good,” said a beaming Hamilton. “But this thing is awesome, and I can’t wait to see how far I can push it.”
One challenge of an outdoor event is the unpredictability of the weather. Despite some brief but heavy showers mid-afternoon, that didn’t seem to dampen anyone’s spirits. This year’s show involved a larger selection of bikes, more attendees and campers.
Freedom Machine is decidedly not a show for everyone, nor is it trying to be. For a start, you’ve got to travel to a remote location off the beaten path to a place that many would consider to be ‘roughing it.’ But for those who get what it’s all about, it’s the must-attend event of the season.