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Motorcycle Mania And Hugh King

The Man Who Rode Custom Bikes Onto Television

By K. Randall Ball with photos from Hugh
12/28/2006 12:11:14 PM

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What hit the American Motorcycle industry like straight pipes and tire sizzling burn-outs, at 4 in the morning? Television, in the form of Motorcycle Mania one and two. The introduction of chopper building skills and rebel attitude, unleashed broadband, to citizens all over the country, rocked the biker world. Then chopper heaven in the form of Biker Build-offs struck with round two. Who was responsible for this Tsunami boon to our lifestyle? It was Hugh King, the producer/director/writer and editor at large of Original Productions.

Hugh felt the crisp freedom and wild wanton wickedness of the chopper industry in 1947 as a Milwaukee youngster, with his nose pressed against his living room window. An older neighborhood wildman, Billy Brody, screamed down the street on a bobbed '46 Indian Chief. He tore across his folk's lawn and slid to a stop on the front porch ignoring the driveway and garage alongside the house. That scene, on the Oak shrouded street, was emblazoned in Hugh's expanding creative mind for years to come. In fact he added a wild black and white scene of a biker burning into a bar, to his documentary resume while living off grants and making social action films.

In 1989 he hauled ass to California and scrambled for a position cutting Easyriders Home Videos.

Through the reams of vast, rough-shot, motorcycle footage he learned the Harley biker industry, from event coverage, to land speed record attempts. Hired by Original Productions he produced reality shows. Then one fateful day, while warm California rays graced his small Original Productions, office, Tom Beers, his boss, wandered in.

"Discovery Channel called," he said. "They want a feature on the custom motorcycle industry. You've experienced the motorcycle world. It's your assignment." Since the offices were located in Burbank, California, Hugh investigated valley shops and called motorcycle mag editors. A mystery connection was made, and an old crocked finger pointed toward West Coast Choppers. "And the rest is history," Hugh said.

"Discovery didn't billboard the first Motorcycle Mania episode," Hugh said. "They only mentioned it one-half hour before it aired, but by act 4 they knew we had hit a home run."

By Motorcycle Mania two, Jesse became a star. "Viewers wanted to talk to him," Hugh said of growing audience. "We filmed it for the average Joe and sensed immediately that people wanted to reach out and touch tools. There was a deep longing for the ability to make something out of nothing."

Jesse smacked a cord in young American viewers with a ballpeen hammer against a flat sheet of aluminum. Fans witnessed pure raw alloy shaped into sleek gas tanks. "The footage of metal being annealed was graphically inspiring," Hugh said. At that stage he was the producer, director, writer and editor (Tom Beers was the executive producer).

Discovery was rocked and wanted more, so Hugh directed the first four Monster Garage segments, then kicked off the Build-Off series.

"We shot Borget versus Billy Lane and Discovery ordered three more," Hugh said. "It was another grand slam."

Life kicked into high gear for Hugh and again Original Productions was approached by Discovery Channel to make Motorcycle Mania III or "Jesse James Rides Again" starring Jesse James and featuring his buddy, Kid Rock. Jesse worked with wheelwright, Fay Butler, in Massachusetts to learn the intricacies of copper fabricating. Fay manipulates old yoders like an artist's brush shaping copper. Yoders were used in WWII to fashion sheets of metal for fighter fuselages and wings. Jesse and Fay worked together to shape the copper chopper gas tank.

The MMIII film endeavor raised the bar for Hugh. "I had the opportunity to work with high def film and top quality camera equipment," he said. "We got to use the highest standard automobile commercial equipment like a Shot Maker and Chapman cranes for dramatic rolling angles." His life hit overdrive as he filmed the building of the Copper Chopper for Jesse, American Bad Ass Chopper for Kid Rock, and they hit it to Mexico. "Nothing went according to plan," Hugh said. "We changed the itinerary constantly. The people of Mexico were terrific as we shot from El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico, in 125 degrees, through 350 miles due south to Chihuahua."

Hugh filmed spectacular footage of the two riders passing smoldering sand dunes, sweeping vistas and lumbering Iguanas crossing the rugged roads toward Copper Canyon.

"We suspected trouble from Federales," Hugh said, "but Jesse and the Kid befriended the law. They stood alongside the smoldering highway and blasted sand dunes with the cops' weapons."

Having the time of their lives they rode south to Chihuahua, a growing city, and searched through the old market place. Riding west they climbed 6,000 feet to Copper Canyon, in the middle of the Sierra Madres, which is six times longer than the Grand Canyon. They slept in a small village on the lip of the gorge, in a town of 65.

Jesse and the Kid accomplished their goal of escaping fame and fortune as they continued West toward the coast over torturous curved roads through blinding lightening storms and over a territory where the only vocation is hijacking. "We slept in the camera van," Hugh said, "since there was no place to stay, until we reached the white sand beach on the Sea of Cortez. It was a transcendental experience."

Motorcycle Mania III will experience limited theatrical release later this year, followed by Discovery Channel airing. Hugh has a year and a half invested in the film while directing Biker Build-offs with Billy Lane, Dave Perewitz, Roger Borget, Paul Yaffe, Indian Larry and currently with Yank Young, Chica, Eddie Trotta, Russ Mitchell, Arlen and Cory Ness. "Choppers have turned my life upside down," Hugh said. Although the family man doesn't own a bike, he rides constantly. "I'll jump anything the builders let me straddle," Hugh said. You can see the motorcycle mania fever boiling in his gaze.

What's the future hold for Hugh King? The Biker Build Off series is rockin' through another chrome and flamed season and even hotter segments are headed for next year. "We kicked off the series with Billy Lane and Roger Borget," Hugh said. "Initially it was intended as an elimination competition, but no builder can manufacture one ass-kickin' bike after another, every 30 days. We currently pick builders by regions and diverse styles." In 2005 he hopes to throw a massive live finale in Las Vegas and take the bike voting interactive.

At 65, Hugh ramped into an all-time high with custom bikes. He's riding it for all it's worth and the entire industry benefits.


h. king laughlin 
bike 2

THE LAUGHLIN BUILD-OFF-- On April 20th ten of the world's greatest bike builders thundered into Laughlin, Nevada. For 72 hours in a secret desert shop they worked non stop to create BBO X, a one-off 124 cubic inch, rigid, right side drive, black and chrome, spear-like chopper. Then they presented it to Hugh King, producer of Discovery's Great Biker Build Off. The geniuses who came together to make this awesome steed were Arlen Ness, Cory Ness, Russell Mitchell, Eddie Trotta, Mitch Bergeron, Kendall Johnson, Matt Hotch, Joe Martin, Chica and Hank Young.

h. king lauglin 

Chica hand fabricated the gas tank. Hank Young made the oil tank. Kendall Johnson was responsible for assembling and tweaking the 124 cc. S&S motor and the Baker 6 speed transmission, Mitch Bergeron was responsible for the frame and the billet down tube (in which was cut in the Roman Numeral X and the Discovery planet), Matt Hotch fabricated the fenders, Joe Martin built the pipes and did the pin striping, Russell Mitchell and Eddie Trotta built the front end and Arlen Ness and Cory Ness were responsible for the paint and the overall supervision of the project.

A special guest appearance was made by legendary seat maker, Danny Gray who fabricated a black leather seat with a zebra stripped manta ray inset.

On Saturday night, April 24th, before thousands at the Laughlin River Run, BBO X was unveiled and formally presented to Hugh King.

Each of the ten builders had competed in Bike Build Off before. Their ten bikes were on display at the Discovery both where the people voted on which motorcycle they thought was best in show.

Matt Hotch's low slung, blue beach cruiser took the prize. Watch every Monday night for a new Build-Off on Discovery.

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Reader Comments

You and I got to talk again for old time and I am still waiting for the morter cycle you had Indian Larry made for me so he could be on TV my email address later man

James M Cole
Delta, OH
Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Editor Response I sent your message to the Chopper King...
Hello Hugh
Double D here
Would like to talk to about you telling the story of my life
A Marine that was raped
Hugh you may remember me I was your camera man
For biker build off the only person Indian larry would let I his shop
I have many A.K.A
Dave Lee pro.
Camera man biker build off
Deadliest catch
American chopper
Gave Wayne peliter American loggers the business card in '96
Filmed the browns in the start
Mountain men
Down east dickers is one of my show ideas
The killing fields
Met with Joel Wilkinson to get Northwoods law started
Street outlaws
The list is Long
Was Leon Wilkins lynyerd skynyrd
I'm From Maine
My bronze statue is one of the soldiers in the Korean war memorial
I worked for the Regan's as a guard for there oldest daughter
Filmed videos for
Ginger Mae
Hank Jr
Kid rock
Signal to noise
And more
Please call me (207) 400-2208
I'm Waiting

Donald Dyer
ocean side, CA
Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Editor Response I will pass this onto the Chopper King.
Please bring back this wonderful show, with a lot of the original guys......

james seabolt
Huntsville, AL
Monday, June 15, 2015
Editor Response I'll ask the Chopper King. He's at the top of the mountain. I'll be right back...
The article is awesome,and i`d like to hear from Hugh,himself, on whether or not he would consider another round of Biker build-offs?

I think that there is still a very large,and a very hungary viewing audience out here for that type of programming.

I also believe that if handled correctly, as in , 20days to 30 days, instead of only 10 days, you will attract a lot more newer builders.

It would also be great to bring back alot of the more experienced builders, who are so great to watch, which in turn generates revenue, as more and more people will begin once again, to pick up their tools and commence to try to build a bike of their own!

Hence,you have begun to help heal a sagging economy.It`s just awesome to watch pros do their thing!!

james seabolt
Huntsville, AL
Monday, March 30, 2015
Editor Response Hugh will get back to you. We are kicking around show options.

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