Being included in the cast of the reality-television series, “American Chopper” turned Rick Petko into one of the best-known fabricators and mechanics in the chopper-style motorcycle building industry. His life changed when the auto customizing shop called Orange County Choppers he belonged to was offered a TV deal by a TV production company. While he wasn’t the main star of the show, his exposure on TV elevated his reputation as a bike builder, most especially since the show became one of the most-watched on cable television.
- 1 Rick’s early life and education
- 2 How did he join Discovery Channel’s “American Chopper” crew?
- 3 His reality-TV stint with “American Chopper”
- 4 Spin-off series, “American Chopper: Senior vs. Junior”
- 5 Second Spin-off series: “Orange County Choppers”
- 6 Where is Rick Petko now?
Rick’s early life and education
Rick Petko was born on 11 September 1968, in Bath County, Pennsylvania, USA. His father built bikes, so Rick’s interest was piqued while growing up; he also loved watching movies and TV shows that included chopper bikes. One of the memorable moments in his life that he shared in his Instagram account was a photo of himself riding a mini-motorbike when he was little, and captioned with ‘I remember my dad bringing this home for me in the van…Yeeeaaaa, that bike was badass!! I was stylin too!’
His parents made sure that he somehow fulfilled his dreams of becoming a racer. Rick started by joining GoKart competitions, and then made a transition from three-wheelers to four-wheelers. He kept challenging himself, and was eventually lured to dirt bikes. However, racing took a back seat when he fell in love with the art of building motorcycles.
After matriculating from Northampton Area Senior High School, he already knew what he wanted to do in life, and so he enrolled at Northampton County Area Community College where he studied welding. At a young age, he realized that breaking things was one of the best ways to learn how to build stuff. It isn’t clear if he graduated with a college degree, but he had enough skills to be given a chance to work at Pocono Raceway. After a while, he joined the Hooters Pro Cup Team, with which he gained more experience in fabricating and building.
How did he join Discovery Channel’s “American Chopper” crew?
Rick’s improved skills landed him a spot in the Orange County Choppers (OCC) crew wherein he also received much higher remuneration. It was a dream job, as OCC was considered one of the most reputable custom motorcycle manufacturers in New York. It was founded in 1999 by Paul Teutul Sr. with the help of his son Paul Jr.; the business had been going up and down since it started, but their creativity and workmanship didn’t go unnoticed by the motorcycle-loving community. In 2002, Pilgrim Films and Television production company was looking for motorbike builders to be featured in their newest reality/documentary TV series. When they offered OCC an opportunity to be on TV, the Teutuls grabbed the chance of at the least getting free brand marketing. They all believed that it was plain luck that they were paid for doing what they loved, as the TV crew promised they would just document their daily activities.
As part of the OCC crew, Rick along with Nick Hansford, Vincent DiMartino and Cody Connelly was automatically included in the TV show. As every custom motorcycle project was done systemically in the shop, it didn’t take long for the pilot episode to be filmed, and pitched to Discovery Channel,and so given the greenlight for a season. When the episode was aired, the OCC family was disappointed, since Pilgrim Studios included all the arguments that occurred between Paul Sr. and Jr., feeling that those fights might have discredited their reputation as serious chopper builders, until Paul Jr. checked their email the next day. It was bombarded with thousands of emails congratulating them, as well as sending questions about their services. Rick was one of those people in OCC who was skeptical about the project, but was equally shocked when he learned that the pilot received the highest TV rating the night it was aired.
Discovery Channel ordered 29 episodes for the first season, and the first episode was aired on 31 March 2003. Motorcycle enthusiasts who had access to the cable network around the world were captivated by “American Chopper”, and since then Rick has become one of the most recognized faces in the motorcycle building community.
His reality-TV stint with “American Chopper”
The fans of “American Chopper” found Rick fascinating enough, that he became a fan favorite whenever the two main stars, Paul Sr. and Jr., weren’t on the screen, actually the tumultuous relationship between father and son became an additional factor in making the show such a huge hit. While other reality-TV shows had a hard time including drama to make them more entertaining, “American Chopper” was on another level, since the arguments between the Teutuls didn’t need to be scripted. Conversely, the interest in Rick was mostly due to his extensive knowledge in fabrication, as well as his easygoing personality, which was quite different from the shouting matches that regularly occurred between the owners of the shop.
— Race Of Gentlemen (@RaceOfGentlemen) May 29, 2018
The battle over Rick by the Teutuls
Viewers were fascinated with the battle over Rick’s attention, time, and skills between Paul Sr. and Paul Jr. During that time, the owners were working on separate bikes, and since Rick’s skills were respected by the two, they often fought for his attention in the workshop. Basically, he was tasked to assist Paul Sr. on his project, but would be asked now and then for his opinion by Paul Jr. The older Teutul resented the time Rick spent giving advice to the younger Teutul, and said that Paul Jr, or Paulie, was asking Rick something every two minutes so that he couldn’t finish anything on his end. In any other auto shop, it would be grounds for someone like Rick to tender his resignation, as they made him some sort of a ping pong ball, but he adapted well to the unique working dynamics in OCC, which fans truly admired him for. He took everything in stride, and still worked diligently on the projects.
Dealing with Paul Sr.’s Short Fuse
While Rick might be grateful for the opportunity that his boss gave him, sometimes fans thought it wasn’t worth it for him to stay with the OCC shop, particularly when Paul Sr. was having what the fans would call hissy fits. Rick could easily put up with the demands that came with the bike-building tasks, but getting yelled at each time something bothered the old man made some fans uncomfortable. However, the TV executives knew that Rick’s laid-back personality was perfect for the show, as it helped diffuse tense situations. Even when Paul Jr. left OCC to establish his own business, and offered him a job, Rick chose to stay with OCC and dealt with the difficulties of Paul Sr.’s moods with flying colors. Obviously, his contract with the TV show was extended.
Cancelation of “American Choppers”
After six seasons on TV, the executive producers felt that it was time for “American Choppers” to end, and unlike other reality-TV shows that abruptly ceased airing with no announcements, Discovery Channel issued a press release about the cancelation on 6 February 2010.
While no explanation was forthcoming, fans assumed that the legal issues between the Teutuls contributed to its demise. The finale episode was aired on 11 February 2011.
Spin-off series, “American Chopper: Senior vs. Junior”
No one saw it coming, but network executives milked the opportunity of the controversies between Paul Sr. and Paul Jr. for all it was worth. Three months after the cancelation of the original TV show, they announced in April 2011 that they’d made a spin-off series called “American Chopper: Senior vs. Junior.” The show would focus on the events after Paul Jr. left OCC, and launched his own company called Orange County Iron Works just across the street, that was being managed by his younger brother, Dan. It was aired on the TLC network, which was Discovery Channel’s sister station, with Rick still part of the spin-off series, as he was working with Paul Sr.
Paul Sr. mellowed down
It was a win-win situation, since both Teutuls needed the TV exposure to continue promoting their brand, as the bike building industry had become more competitive, as more people became chopper-obsessed. Paul Sr. and Jr wouldn’t see each other that much, as they were mostly filmed separately, and father and son ironed things out, settling their two-year lawsuit that had torn their family apart. The other OCC crew said that Paul Sr. mellowed a bit, and the working dynamics at the shop were quite different compared to the past, with the Teutuls separated.
Free Rick Movement
There were times that father and son still got into arguments, whether about the business or something that happened to them personally but it only made the TV series more fascinating to viewers. In season two, an episode was entitled “Free Rick” as they tackled the rumors of Rick’s discontentment at OCC. A movement called “Free Rick” was started by one of Paul Sr.’s sons, Mikey, hence the episode title, however, it was all in jest, and Rick even said that he’d be more interested if he got to produce merchandise out of it, such as T-shirts and caps.
Temporary peace in Teutul’s world
Rick managed to work with the Teutuls without becoming embroiled in their battles, and even had a hand in getting father and son together on a happy occasion such as his wedding. “American Chopper: Sr. vs. Junior” lasted for four seasons and aired close to 70 episodes. The narrative at that time was that their passion for motorcycle building brought them together, but also drove them apart. They needed to move on from it ,and they did with a bang, by donating a bike that they all collaborated on, as in the past, to a New York museum called Motorcyclepedia. The final episode of the show was aired on 17 December 2012.
Second Spin-off series: “Orange County Choppers”
Rick was seen again in another spin-off series spawned from “American Chopper”, which this time focused on the activities of Paul Teutul Sr. and his Orange County Choppers which started it all.
— OrangeCountyChoppers (@OCChoppers) October 14, 2021
The pilotw as a two-hour special to introduce the new show, entitled “Orange County Choppers: Sneak Peek”, aired in August 2013 on Country Music Television cable channel
Three months later, the first episode was aired on 16 November 2013, with everyone in OCC part of the series, including a newly hired Creative Director, Evan Favaro. However, Evan’s old school methods didn’t blend well with the rest of the OCC team, and created tension while they were building their new designs. Paul Sr. then demoted him to a fabricator, so that he could learn the OCC building process.
By the third episode, Rick was given more responsibilities to lead the team in building a new bike, but he informed the Boss that he would be mostly away during their third project, there just to supervise when they finalized the build.
Evan took the chance to prove his skills, and was resentful that when Rick came back to check on them, he made subtle changes to the exhaust design, which the Boss approved. It was quite obvious that Paul Sr. still respected Rick’s opinion and skills.
Over the eight episodes that they filmed, Rick earned the title “Senior Whisperer” from the rest of the OCC crew. Apparently, each time someone made changes in the original design plans to make it better, Paul Sr. expressed his disapproval. After seeing some of the other crew members becoming frustrated by it, Rick taught them how to make small changes that wouldn’t earn the ire of the Boss; the other crew members learned quickly!
One of the biggest moments for Rick was when NBA All-time great, Shaquille O’Neal, dropped by OCC and ordered a chopper, which turned out to be the shop’s biggest bike they’d ever built.
It happened during the final episode of the TV show entitled “Bikes for Everyone,” which was aired on 11 January 2014.
Where is Rick Petko now?
When the reboot of the original series, “American Chopper,” was ordered, Rick was no longer part of the show, since he was not working for OCC anymore. He felt that it was time for him to be with his family, and instead of commuting every single day for almost two hours going to OCC in New York, he quit. To continue building motorcycles, he talked to Jim Schlier, the owner of the local auto shop, Pocono Mountain Harley Davidson. Jim was confused as to why someone like Rick would be interested in working for him, but was ecstatic since having Rick around would elevate his company’s success and reputation of being a world-class motorcycle builder. Rick manages the full custom fabrication shop in the Schlier’s dealership.
His reputation of building great chopper-style motorcycles for more than a decade helped Rick in promoting his other businesses. He launched a company called RPD & Co., which produces custom kitchen knives and jewelry rings alongside his custom bikes.
Rick’s skill and experience in metalwork for many years could be seen in the culinary knives that he personally created. He worked with Damasteel stainless damascus, and developed his own nickel-clad san mai. With all the incredible designs he placed in each of the knives, his brand became popular not only with his “American Chopper” fans, but with the chefs around the world as well. They weren’t only beautiful to look at, but were also functional, made for daily use in the kitchen. He was awarded “Knife of the Year” by the Damasteel Group in January 2020.
Aside from the knives, he also handcrafted jewelry rings – the most popular among his creations were wedding rings. The only problem was that he’s quite busy, and hasn’t opened any slots for it recently, since his schedule was already full.
Rick married Brittany Cockeram of Roseburg, Oregon on 19 May 2012, with the ceremony featured in one of the episodes of “American Chopper: Sr. vs. Jr.” His wife graduated from the California Culinary Academy located in San Francisco, and manages a wool shop called Machelete Shoppe. The couple has two children, Everly Rose, born on 25 October 2013, and Lucy Mae, born in January 2016. They were the reasons he gave up the reality-TV shows, OCC, and the chance to work with Paul Teutul Jr.’s successful new auto shop.
Rick’s net worth
Since he joined OCC in the early 2000’s Rick’s net worth has increased each year, particularly when he became part of the reality-TV shows associated with the chopper customization shop. Authoritative sources estimated his net worth to be over $3 million as of October 2021, from a combination of his earnings as a fabricator, as a reality-TV star, a culinary knife-wielder, and jewelry ring creator.
Long may his efforts continue being profitable!