On the surface, Howe Caverns and Orange County Choppers seem unlikely partners. Dig deeper, however, and it appears they may share some prehistoric roots. While the former is a six million-year-old cave, the owners of the latter are infamous for behaving like cavemen: kicking large objects in frustration, screaming at one another in unintelligible monosyllables, and — in the case of Paul Teutul, Sr. — sporting decidedly primitive-looking facial hair.
If the handiwork on the recently debuted Howe Caverns-themed motorcycle is any indication, the Hudson Valley’s favorite reality-TV family is no group of Neanderthals. The Teutuls and their crew built the bike in honor of the 10th anniversary of OCC and the 80th anniversary of Howe Caverns’ reopening to the public, both of which fall in 2009.
The idea for the bike came about when Michael Galasso, the son of Caverns co-owner Emil J. Galasso and an American Chopper fan, called the motorcycle manufacturers about a possible collaboration. The OCC gang thought the two upstate institutions would make a good match. “Paul Teutul is very much about things made in New York,” explains Robert Holt, the general manager at Howe Caverns. “It was a natural fit for them.” In May, the bike’s design and construction (as well as the Teutuls’ visit to the cave) were featured on an episode of American Chopper.
As is the case with all of the bikes manufactured on the show, “we built it from the ground up,” says OCC lead engineer Jim Quinn. With rearview mirrors shaped like bat wings and handle grips modeled after stalagmites, the chopper may be the most intimidating motorbike to call a cave home since Bruce Wayne’s Batcycle. A cracked skull sits atop the bike’s handlebars, scowling at would-be lane cutters. A rib cage lines its gas tank, reminders of the ancient bones that, over time, became the cave’s limestone floor and walls. Airbrushed on the pillion above the rear wheel are the likenesses of Lester Howe and Millicent, the landowner and cow credited with stumbling on (and discovering) the caverns in 1842. “It is truly a work of art,” Holt says.
On August 1, the Teutuls will return to Howe Caverns for the landmark’s anniversary celebration; next year, the Caverns will auction off a replica of the mean-looking machine. For now, the original bike will sit in the caverns’ lobby, daring passersby to hop on and go spelunking, chopper-style.