Talking Freedom Machine with Mondo Lulu

Mondo Lulu's photos from the Freedom Machine show introduced CMG to the quirky Ontario-based custom bike rally.

Editor’s note: For the past couple years, we’ve been hearing about the wild fun of the Freedom Machine custom motorcycle show, held just outside Durham, Ontario, but we’ve never been able to go.

Thankfully, photographer Mondo Lulu went again this year (it ran July 22 weekend), and was willing to talk to us about it. If you think that name sounds familiar, it’s probably because Mondo is a fixture at MotoSocial events in Toronto as well as other hip motorcycle happenings (he’s a longtime Mad Bastard Scooter Rally participant). We’re delighted to run his photos here, as well as share his thoughts on the event. Check out his Instagram feed here. and his website (“much-neglected,” he says) here.

Find more details on the show at Photos in this story are courtesy of Mondo Lulu.

Canada Moto Guide: Freedom Machine is held at Frontier Ghost Town. I’ve never been there, but it looks like it has a cross between a hippie vibe (just like those old bikesploitation flicks), and spaghetti westerns (which typically ran around the same showtimes as bikesploitation flicks!). How does the venue affect the show?
Mondo Lulu: That’s exactly what it is. Ghost Town hosts a lot of millennial hippie events and some folks who discover the town through these parties stay and become part of the fabric of the place.

The peace-and-love vibe is replaced by oil-and-gasoline when the bikes roll in. Still, there’s a warm camaraderie between all the attendees that can’t be matched by many of the big ride-in meets. It becomes as much about the people as the metal.

There’s a corner of the property – a grouping of motorhomes named after a dude called Chewy.

After the show proper, people who have chosen to camp overnight are treated to a huge bonfire, bands in the saloon and whatever debauchery Chewyville has to offer. The adage of “what happens in, stays” is definitely in effect there, including the traditional bikesploitation flick boob flashes from both genders.

Everything from hipster-friendly T-shirts to old-school barber shop experiences are available in the vendor area.

CMG: What would I find in the vendor section? Is it all stuff like jerky and fake hillbilly teeth and Confederate flag belts, or are there cool custom parts, or tattoo booths, or ….?
ML: Vendors tend to be pretty cool and hip here. Lots of well-designed swag from Treadwell, Le Cafe Racer, Town Moto, Rolling Chaos, Moto Revere and Hustle Machine to outfit the skinny jeans set, who can chuck an axe for free in the BATL area. Trims and haircuts as well, by cool Lady Barber Tori, though I’m facial-hair-challenged and could only FOMO at the beard shaping. You could even moisturize your windburned skin with a jar of Hotty Balm, hand-crafted by OG Backwoods Hippie Rider Michelle, who developed the stuff living off-grid.

Even the holdover “musical-boobs-mounted-a-plaque” kitsch at the old-school Resurrecxion Cycles’ booth went largely ignored amid fast retro helmet, and Mexican blanket sales.

This year, industry sponsors Honda Canada and Dalton-Timmis joined Lucas Oil, with Honda bringing in their non-sportbike offerings, focusing on their new Rebel (though the CB1100 and the Africa Twin also were there to be straddled). Even with the new corporate influx, the vibe remained casual, with the big guys meshing in with the grassroots vibe of the indie vendors.

One of the prettiest bikes Mondo spotted this year. Unless you wanted a cushy rear suspension, of course. This was Chris Newman’s bike, and it won the “people’s choice” award as the best bike of the show.

CMG: You’ve been there three years in a row. What is it, from your perspective, that makes it a must-see every year?
ML: To me, it’s all about the people, who are from all over the place. It’s nice getting to know builders that are outside the GTA and appreciating their talent. This year, the boys from Clockwork Motorcycles rode all the way in from Montreal to show off their Sportster build and felt right at home with everyone else. And seeing Lawrence Hacking having his personal overland adventure slowly bouncing around Ghost Town on the back of a Honda Cub was well-worth the price of admission.

The ride up isn’t bad either, if you meander your way through twisty back roads. River Road to Creemore was a highlight.

Oh, and the Argentinian barbecue I always mooch from the Resurrecxion Cycles keeps me coming back, especially with the addition of Filipino sausage this year.

Mondo’s also a big fan of Jason Parker’s old-school builds.

CMG: What were some of your favourite builds you saw this year?
ML: To be honest, I was focusing more on the love-in that was happening than on the bikes. I didn’t take too many pics of the builds, so I’ll just have to put it in words. Jason Parker’s choppers are always par-for-the-course-amazing, Chuck Thompson brought in a crazy Triumph Chopper with the sickest seat, Strictly V-Twin had this monster FXR Shovelhead with a fat cafe ass-end, and Rob from Origin8or brought his fleet of super-clean Triumph Bobbers (real bobbers, folks!) and slick CB750 cafe builds. Every year is almost an overload, but the belle of the ball in my opinion was Chris Newman’s oh-so-chromey knucklehead that won “people’s champ” at the Born Free show. So many beautifully machined parts and crazy innovations with the rear sprockets and brakes (I actually got pics of this one!)

All bike styles, from baggers to brats, from cafes to choppers, are welcome at Freedom Machine.

CMG: Is there any particular style of custom (brat, chopper, bobber, cafe, scrambler …) that seems to be the most popular among the builders?
ML: At Freedom Machine, it’s all pretty much Even-Steven. Anything goes and all the bikes are displayed side-by-side, regardless of style.

Stock machines are welcome, but you’ll be left thinking about ways to modify your bike after you leave the show, so attendance could be dangerous …

CMG: If you don’t have a custom bike, is Freedom Machine still a good time? How many people show up on stock-ish machines?
ML: I’d say that a good 50 per cent ride in with stock bikes, with half of those being modern motos. Everyone hangs, gawks at the builds and has a great time. It’s a rare opportunity to rub elbows with peeps who ride something different from you. Even my big, unfashionably modern Yoshi-piped T-Max scooter got lots of love from scruffy builder-types who quizzed me on how it performed after they saw me flying past them as they were gassing-up on Hwy 10. Guess there’s a first for everything!

There’s lots of partying, but aside from that, the scene is very different from Port Dover’s Friday the 13th events.

CMG: From your perspective as a photographer, what sets Freedom Machine apart from other events like, say, Port Dover?
ML: It’s like night-and day. Being a smaller, private bike show, as opposed to free-for-all ride-in, the bikes aren’t shoehorned against each other and there’s lots of opportunity to be able to shoot them without things getting in the way. It’s also a slower, more meandering experience, and people are more willing to pose for portraits. And the fact that you’re in a Faux-Western setting makes for a cool visual backdrop.

There’s an art tent that provides artists and fellow scene photographers a chance to showcase and sell our labours-of-love. Showing this year were Bike’Togs Dan Lim, Jennifer Eccles, Kevin Bryan, Ben Quinn, painter Christopher Butters and Illustrator Caroline Perron. I had a bunch of photos to show but decided to go with just one – a tribute to rider Karl Martin, who lost his battle with cancer earlier this year. Got a shot of the @louderthanbombs crew around the photo – Karl and his twin Supertrapps are still with us in spirit, that’s for sure.

Having the opportunity to camp out the night before the show gives you the opportunity to get up at sunrise and get the reeeeally good light. This year, dawn was cloudy, but I got amazing shots the inaugural year of the sun glinting off morning dew on the builder bikes, with not a soul around. Can’t get any better than that!

CMG: What would you guess attendance was this year? Is growth slow, or is it exponential?
ML: According to the organizers, 1,800 people showed up – not bad for a rainy weekend where riders had to ride an average of two hours through morning monsoons. Attendance was roughly the same as last year, though I’m sure it would have been way bigger if the weather had co-operated. The show grows quickly with word-of-mouth every year, with the small army of photographers and their Instagram accounts also helping spread the word …

Every year, there’s a bike giveaway at Freedom Machine. This year, the prize was this Honda CB750.

CMG: What was this year’s custom bike giveaway? Who built it, who won it?
ML: This year’s giveaway bike was built by Rob “Temporary Prince of Chewyville” Cloutier’s Bulitt Custom Cycles – a CB750 Cafe so clean you can eat off it – with a sublime green paint job by Amanda from Black Widow Custom Paint. In the true Freedom Machine Built-Not-Bought spirit, it was a collaborative process, with Honda Canada, Sturgess Cycle, Vintage CB750 and Lucas Oil pitching in. Brad Prong at Prong Built also helped in the rebuild of the vintage engine. Favourite touch was the Acewell Speedo integrated into the headlight. You get a draw ticket with the $25 price of admission, so everyone had a chance to win, and added to the general excitement.

It was great to see Amanda Rose win the bike to everyone’s cheers – shows that motorcycling really isn’t sausagefest anymore. The look in her eyes as she fired it up was priceless! Looking forward to my next Oil and Ale ride so I can see it in action, since it’ definitely won’t be a trailer queen.

Chewyville craziness starts at dusk.

CMG: Has Freedom Machine started giving you your own ideas for a build?
ML: I’ve always had this idea of dusting of my old Suzuki GS500, turning it into a street tracker and fabricating a rack on the side to carry my Thunderbird Bass in its rectangular case, in the same vein as those Deus surfboard carrier bikes in Bali. Now I’m the least handy person in the world, but there’s so much talent out there, I’m sure I can make it a reality with a builder bud’s help.


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