The Pauls, Junior and Senior, and Mikey are the most recognizable faces in today’s motorcycle industry. The success of the Teutel clan can be measured in the phenomenon that is American Chopper—the most popular bike show in history. Now, the TV gang is embarking on a new venture: the manufacture of production units bearing the OCC Motorcycles logo.
“Do you work here?” asked a man who had stepped out of the crowd gathered near the Orange County Choppers building. “I’ll pay anything for a picture of my son with one of the Teutels.”
There was no sign of a son anywhere in the vicinity, but obviously this guy was a fan. Also obvious, judging by the size of the crowd standing vigil over OCC headquarters, was that this was not going to be a run of the mill motorcycle press launch. Certainly there was the inevitable “get you in, get you on the bikes, get you out” aspect of the event in August, but it was also spiked with Celebrity Factor, best illustrated by the faithful who made the pilgrimage to this quiet county, some 80 miles northwest of New York City. But it’s Orange County and home to the biggest celebrities in the world of motorcycling: Paul Sr., Paul Jr. and Mikey. Every day fans of the television program American Chopper linger across the street from the company’s headquarters hoping to catch a glimpse of their heroes. Usually it doesn’t happen. The Teutels are A-list celebrities with a near global appeal. Send them to Australia, thousand of fans will show up, send them to England and thousands of fans will show up, Japan, the same thing. Brazil and Africa are in the works. Catching them at home is rare. Today the pilgrims were going to get lucky.
So enthusiastic are the fans that, in an effort to detour some of the traffic from the ”factory,” a strip mall a few minutes away houses the OCC store with an ocean of paraphernalia and 20 or so of the famous theme bikes. They represent only a portion of the bikes built for American Chopper, yet the collection illustrates the depth and variety of both the company’s abilities and its range of celebrity and business clients. It was the television program that set this locomotive of marketing, merchandise and motorcycles in motion.
Having caught the show a few times over the years I know the basics—it’s the most popular motorcycle content program in the history of television. But for anyone who’s watched American Chopper with any regularity, walking into the setting where it’s filmed would be as surreal as strolling into Seinfeld’s living room or ambling into Arnold’s Diner and finding Fonzie, Potsie and Ralph leaning on the jukebox.
It was all there: the well-used shop, the corporate logos, the doors that slam as a “character” exits the set. I was surprised that the building itself was so nondescript and unassuming. Based on what has become a media Goliath, I expected the home of OCC Motorcycles to be as impressive as the brand itself. The “factory” where the bikes are built is a rabbit warren that had seen better days but has been expanded as the need for more space arose. As you walk in, there’s a small lobby with a receptionist answering the phones and directing traffic. The only hints that this isn’t the premises of, say, a roofing contractor, are the Orange County Choppers logos scattered across the walls, and if you want to progress past the front office it requires a buzz-in from the receptionist.
Beyond the cramped offices and conference room are the shop and build rooms as well as an impressive gym and weight room. Provided with a tour of the facility later in the day, not only did we see the equipment and machine shops used to put the bikes together, but also the various theme bikes that had been recently finished or not presented … “Oh yeah this is for (insert celebrity name here).” All the names were recognizable and there is no doubt OCC has people and organizations banging on their doors all the time.
But for all the celebrity this is still a working shop with the ability to turn out high-end and original custom motorcycles. There are many suppliers of components but much of the fabricating is done in-house.
The environs are all about to change as a new world headquarters will open 10 minutes down the road next to the freeway. The new building is going to be more reflective of the state of the business. It will incorporate a production floor, administrative offices and a showroom and store for the bikes and merchandise. It will make what the fans want to see more accessible as well as provide a more contemporary backdrop for the company’s future.
THE “PRESS CONFERENCE” WAS HELD IN THE LOADING BAY ON folding chairs. Paul Sr. strode to the mike in his trademark cut off T-shirt and opened with a remark about appearing nervous. But if he did have a slight case of the jitters, it had nothing to do with us—he was getting married the next day.
Paul Sr. was friendly but gruff, just as he appears to be on television. What you see is what we got. The purpose of the event was to introduce the company’s new line of production bikes that will be sold bearing the marque, OCC Motorcycles. Paul Sr. said that it was a return to their roots and what got him started in the motorcycling business—building bikes. It was an acknowledgement that the show, the celebrity, the money had moved the focus away from motorcycles and this new line of production bikes is a renewal of that original focus. Jr. followed Sr. with some product specific points and an actual unveiling of the models. Mikey was there with some comic relief … just as though we were on television, and, with all the cameras around, I guess we were.
OCC Motorcycles has a lineup of four production bikes. The T-Rex Softail, the Web, the Splitback and the Greenie. The T-Rex is the most “standard” of the four with a recognizable stretched chopper frame and gas tank. Being conventionally unconventional, it is what you expect a chopper to look like and almost a requisite model. The other three bikes are where things get interesting. The Splitback and the Web are both Hardtails with sprung seats. Both bikes carry off a look that is both minimalist and stylized. The look can be partly attributed to the unique frames from Canada’s own Rolling Thunder.
In the case of the Splitback, the oil tank is tucked just in front of the fender in such a manner as to appear part of the fender itself. The big 124” S&S motor in the Splitback sits well clear of the tank as a centre piece of the design.
The Web holds similar styling cues but pays homage to Paul Jr.’s Black Widow bike with spiderweb cut-out designs on the fenders, wheels and seat supports. It rides on a big 300mm rear tire and sports a 100-inch S&S motor. All three of these bikes feature a Baker six-speed transmission.
The Greenie is old school Sr. style all the way and, in some regards, is the most intriguing while still being the most mainstream of the bikes. This may be due to the power coming from a very recognizable source: a Harley-Davidson 1340 engine mated to a Harley five-speed transmission. The rest is all bobber with a chopped rear fender, sprung seat and pull-back bars. The inspiration for this bike came from another of Sr.’s creations the “Greeny” which was a more stretched bike with a modified springer front end. We hope to have one of the bikes at our office for a more comprehensive test in the future.
THAT OCC IS APPRECIATED IN ORANGE COUNTY, NEW York is without question. They’re local guys made good. Our escorts for the brief test ride, both front and rear and clearing traffic, were members of the Orange County Sheriff’s department. The fans across the street waiting were in for the day of their lives as all three of the Teutels came out of the building. Bikes were coming and going, the noise was intense, the paint flashy and the celebrity machine in full swing.
Handshakes. Photographs. Autographs. All were up for grabs. We hit the road with Paul Sr. leading the way as cameras shot scenes for an upcoming show. Yeah that’s me riding there beside Sr. Could that have been my five minutes of fame? The ride was filmed from beginning to end along with all the action and unveiling within the building.
Ironically the location of OCC’s facilities are the least fitting for a full appreciation of the company’s offerings. Riding around the county on a hardtail over rough pavement and across railroad tracks gets a little hard on the kidneys. However take them to Daytona, Miami or LA and they would be right in their element. Each are definitely attention getting motorcycles and with the OCC Motorcycles stamp, they possess a rare cache.
Part of the marketing will be the exclusivity of these bikes. They are urban trollers with flash and sizzle, but designed to ride across the country they are not. The units we rode were pre-production as the actual assembly of the line will take place at the new facility. There will be room for tweaking the product I suspect, though I do have to admit the ergonomics—particularly those of the Greenie and the Web—were quite good.
There was a refreshing naiveté about the entire experience, as though none of the Teutels ever planned on becoming media darlings, that it just kind of happened of its own accord. There was an attitude of: Here is what we have. If you like it, you like it. If you don’t, well that’s your choice … you are probably wrong but it is your choice. Oddly though, there is also an attempt to place distance between OCC Motorcycles and Orange County Choppers, the entity around which the television program revolves. Perhaps the show shouldn’t be a reflection of how the production bikes are put together, but the separation effort will be futile. There would be no OCC Motorcycles without Orange County Choppers or the Teutels.
Will the production bikes themselves be successful? Ask the thousands of fans around the world and it would be a resounding, yes. But given the hefty price tags these motorcycles will carry, most of those fans may be left standing on the street.
John Molony, Canadian Biker, #236