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Orange County Choppers: The Tale of the Teutuls - A Motorcycle Book Review

How a dysfunctional family of chopper builders created an empire

This article is a review of a motorcycle book called Orange County Choppers (TM): The Tale of the Teutuls by Paul Teutul Sr., Paul M. Teutul, and Michael Teutul with Keith and Kent Zimmerman. This motorcycle book is available through Warner Books.

I think just about everyone has heard of the Discovery Channel series, American Chopper. It stars a family of chopper builders located in Montgomery, NY headed by a father, Paul Teutul, and his two sons, Paul Jr, and Mikey. They started their business out of Paul Teutul's basement where Paul and Paul Jr. collaborated on designing and fabricating six or seven so-called Basement Bikes. Orange County Choppers (OCC) was founded in 1999 and the Basement Bikes were its first products.

This book describes the life stories of the Teutuls as they grow and begin living the American Dream.

It's really not a book primarily about choppers although you'll see 33 pictures of choppers. You'll also see 33 pictures of the Teutul family members and faces from the cast of characters from the OCC shop. The book is more a study of determination, struggle, family values, a focus on hard work, and an innate ability to take a dream and build a highly successful business out of it.

OCC was founded in 1999, the same year that the Motorcycles site was started. I've watched almost every show of American Chopper. Many people who have visited the forums on the Motorcycles site have had quite divergent opinions of the OCC gang. Some opinions border on jealousy of their achievements. However, an evolution of OCC has been taking place and an American TV phenomenon has occurred that absolutely no one could have predicted. Here's an excerpt:

    "While it's probably no different in any other industry, there's this wide-scale thing going on in the motorcycle world about jealousy. It runs very deep, and it's all very macho. We Teutuls consider ourselves nice down-to-earth people, but Sturgis had an ultracompetitive vibe. While it's true that everybody has an ego and we're all in there trying to outdo the next guy, there seems to be a lot more resentment and suspicion among bike builders than you'd find in most people. Among our contemporaries, we got mixed signals. Some fellow builders were impressed by what we were doing, some didn't like us, and some admired our hot bikes but wouldn't dare admit it to our faces."

The book is organized into 13 chapters by Paul Sr, four chapters each by Paul Jr and Mikey, and one each by Danny, Vinnie, Rick, and Paula (Paul Sr's ex-wife). One chapter by Paul Sr. is about his daughter, Cristin, who is not seen on the TV show. In that chapter, Paul talks about his daughter and then there are responses from her interspersed in quotes. It makes for an unusual "point counter-point" between father and daughter.

The book is mostly about Paul Sr who you'll quickly find out is really a Junior himself.

It's a book about family relationships in a dysfunctional family. Paul grows up with a severe drug and alcohol problem. He overcomes it in 1985 mainly by attending AA meetings and each day saying to himself that he would take a drink tomorrow but with each passing day and year he doesn't.

OCC would have been just an ordinary custom shop had it not been for its being placed on a list of possible East Coast chopper companies that were being considered for a new motorcycle reality show to follow on from the success of the Jesse James shows.

Pilgrim Films wanted to create a show where a chopper would be built by picking out a frame from a junk yard and then building a chopper around it. When the Teutuls were approached with the idea they rejected it out of hand. They wanted to start from scratch and build everything new. The show decided to change its slant and immediately went into production on the first pilot.

During filming, several flare-ups between father and son occurred. The Teutuls thought these would be edited out but surprisingly, the executives liked the human interaction and tried to stuff as many father-son fights into the pilot as possible. On the day of the first show on September 29, 2002, the Teutuls watched and were dismayed that they were now going to be the laughing stock of the industry. All their work to create OCC would soon be for nothing. They were on the phone the next day angrily denouncing the way they had been portrayed. They were told, "Wait for the ratings."

That afternoon they received a flood of emails of congratulation. Over two million viewers had watched, making it the number one cable show. Another pilot was run on January 19, 2003 and it got the same response. A series was ordered and American Chopper started its long run.

Since then, OCC has greatly expanded and is known all over the world. How did it all happen? Read the 25 chapters over 211 pages and find out how in six short years American Chopper has created a revolution in reality TV and draws a demographic spanning all age groups.

This is a book you won't be able to put down.

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