American Chopper's Vinnie, unplugged
April 11, 2006
How do you get to Hollywood? Ride a motorcycle when you're 3 years old, start welding at 8, and rebuild a car engine at 9—if you want to be the lead fabricator on American Chopper, that is, one of the most popular metal fabrication-as-entertainment reality cable TV shows airing on the Discovery Channel. Paul Sr. and Paul Jr. Teutul are the highly visible father-son pair usually featured in the media. But it is Vincent DiMartino who is the fabricator behind the bikes, the muscle behind the biceps, the grin behind the guns. Vinnie surmised that the automated waterjet from Flow Intl., Kent, Wash., is probably the most sophisticated equipment he uses, and that much of what he fabricates for the choppers is cut on OCC's waterjet.
|Vincent DiMartinoMr. Vinnie to youis the fabricator behind the bikes, the muscle behind the biceps, the grin behind the guns.|
The show follows the everyday work of custom motorcycle shop Orange County Choppers, Montgomery, N.Y. While the shop provides a creative outlet for Orange County Ironworks owner Paul Sr. and company, the show gives viewers an insider's look at the fascinating world of custom chopper shops and at how highly stylized, intricate metal components are formed and fabricated.
Wherever the choppers can differ from ho-hum, mass-produced motorcycles, they dofrom the handlebars to the carburetors to the gas tanks to the foot pegs to the fenders. Rims spiral. Frames swoop. Exhaust pipes form impossible curves. Tubular rakes stretch from here to eternity. And then every square inch is chromed, painted, powdered, or polished.
Most featured choppers are designed and fabricated to embody a theme. Each component is customized to support the chopper's theme, and every detail is tended to. Beveled, daggerlike accent pieces that look like they could double as ninja weapons are welded to the rims of the I, Robot-themed bike (see Figure 1). Webs of round barstock cloak the Gothic Black Widow bike fender, rims, and frame. One ride is modeled after a Comanche helicopter, dedicated to Viet Nam POWs and MIAs. Another is customized to be a fitting dedication to the firefighters who lost their lives on Sept. 11, complete with a fire hydrant-shaped carburetor. Even the end of the exhaust pipe is fitted with a part resembling a firehose.
Cutting the beveled, daggerlike accent pieces that look like they could double as ninja weapons for the I, Robot-themed bike required the use of a waterjet cutting machine.
Although the bikes' glistening, customized components are dramatic in and of themselves, there are plenty of other sources of drama to keep the show interesting. Let's just say the bikes aren't the only things that are high-maintenance. Start with continual sparring between rough-edged Paul Sr. and Paul Jr., thrust Vinnie in the middle, add jokester Mikey Teutul into the mix, and you've got the makings of a compelling reality drama.
Vinnie attributes his fine-tuned mechanical skills to his father, who owned a repair shop and gas station.
"My father is the type of guy who [believes] nobody fixes anything for youyou fix it yourself. So when something broke, no matter what it wasa hot water heater or a carhe would make me watch him fix it, which I hated when I was young. You know, I wanted to go out and play, ride my bicycle, then my motorcycle. Which, now, I appreciate, because I fix everything myself; that's basically how I learned fabricating. I'm a total hands-on guy." Couple his mechanical abilities with his love for machines in motion ...
"I guess I'm just a pure motorhead. I was into cars before bikes. I always built hot rods, and I liked to drag race. I used to work on all my friends' cars, and then I got into motorcyclesmainly offroad, sport bikes. But I tend to get into trouble with them" he said with a laugh, "so I took it upon myself not to ride them anymore, or at least not to own one. I'll ride one every once in awhile, and then I realize why I can't have one. Now that I'm married with a kid, I gotta think more about that stuff."
Vinnie and his skills were in the right place at the right time when "American Chopper" was conceived.