We sit down with Paul Teutul, owner of Orange County Choppers and star of the hit TV series American Chopper, which aired on the Discovery Channel for over 10 years. Join us as we talk with Paul about bikes, cigars, and his new television show Orange County Choppers which is now in its first season on CMT!
Alex Svenson: Paul, it is such a pleasure getting to meet you. I am a huge fan of the show and the work you guys do. You are living the dream man, making a living by your hobby. How did it all start?
Paul Teutul: Well, I was in my mid-20s when I discovered motorcycles and riding just started out as something I liked to do to blow off steam. Eventually I got so into it that I started chopping up and changing things on my first Harley: a 1974 FX Superglide that I called Sunshine. I must have changed this bike a dozen times over the years, but to this day it’s still my favorite. I actually have a tattoo of the sun that is featured on the gas tank.
AS: Risking it all and venturing into the bike business full time had to have been a big commitment. At what point did you know this is what you were meant to do?
PT: I had started and successfully grown an iron works business and my ‘hobby’ of bike building was getting in the way. I actually had to pull myself away from building bikes in my basement to go to work! That’s when I kinda thought that maybe it was time for a career change.
AS: So how did reality TV come into the mix?
PT: The Discovery Channel was looking for an East Coast bike builder to match up with Monster Garage, a TV show that was a huge hit at the time. A producer from LA found out about us on the internet and after initial conversations, came out East to learn more about us and the business. After spending a couple of days at the shop, the producer stopped his search and we signed up for a 2 episode documentary/pilot based on our business. The 2 part episode was a test of sorts. The first episode aired to such great ratings that the network ordered a whole season right away.
AS: Two part question: What has been the most challenging project you have done? Of all the bikes you have built, which were you most passionate about building?
PT: I think the most challenging project is always the next one – every one of our builds is different from the next. And we’ve really taken on challenging project, such as electric drag bike, an electric chopper, and one that runs on diesel gasoline only. I’m passionate about every bike we build, it’s what I love to do, and if you don’t have passion for what you do, you shouldn’t be doing it.
AS: In our articles, we talk a great deal about the job of a master cigar blender and maker. Specifically, the creative process that they employ when creating a blend, selecting the tobaccos and designing the packaging. Can you walk our readers through your creative process when building a bike? How does it all start?
PT: It all starts with a concept – whether it’s from our creative team or from the client. Once we know what we’re building the bike for, we get together as a team and decide what would be cool and unique. Basically, our designer Jason Pohl draws up our ideas on paper and we get it out to the client for review and approval. From there, once approved, we start the fabrication on the bike – which is making all the parts, whether it be custom fenders, custom wheels or custom everything. The motorcycle is then mocked up and basically put together so we can be sure it looks good and everything fits. Then it’s broken down and various parts are sent out for powder coat (frames usually), chrome (wheels) and paint (gas tank and fenders). Our paint process is done in-house so that’s a big time saver. Once we have everything back, the assembly process begins from start to finish.
AS: Speaking of cigar making and bike building, we were excited to hear about the partnership between Orange County Choppers and Man O’ War Cigars. What can you tell us about the project?
PT: There is definitely some synergy between motorcycles and premium hand rolled cigars. I’m certain that many of our customers and possibly even some of our crew like to relax with the occasional cigar. Not to mention motorcycles and cigars are both hobbies people are very passionate about.
AS: What details can you share with us about the cigar? When can we expect to see it on shelves?
PT: When we first spoke, Man O’ War happened to be finalizing a new blend for a release they were hoping to launch in 2014. It was a limited edition project and the timing couldn’t have been better. They expedited some of the cigars to us and we liked them and that is when the concept of a special edition cigar line got going. The cigar is a strong, full-bodied blend with a beautiful oily maduro wrapper that is very limited. Man O’ War is only doing a one-time run of a few thousand boxes. In addition to a unique, rich blend, the OCC artwork is incorporated into the packaging. They should be available for sale in the second quarter of 2014, maybe even sooner.
AS: Sounds like a winner! Man O’ War is a fan favorite with our readers. When you aren’t building bikes or busy filming how do you like to spend your time? Any other hobbies?
PT: I have a cabin upstate that I like to head to for fishing and overall relaxing. I also collect cars and believe it or not, quite often you will find me working on motorcycles at my home shop.
AS: You give back to the community quite a bit. It looks like your charity work has been a big focus for you. What can you tell us about that side of Orange County Choppers?
PT: It’s important to give back – I believe that you can’t keep it if you don’t give it away. Being able to reach out to those less fortunate is really a gift. I don’t see it as an obligation, but as a chance to do something special for someone whose life is a lot tougher. Through various OCC projects, we had the chance to work with many charities – but two that we continue to support on a regular basis are the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Hudson Valley SPCA.
AS: Paul, thank you very much for taking the time to hang out and answers some questions for our readers. Is there anything you would like to add before we wrap up?
PT: Don’t miss our TV new show on CMT!