Professionals vs. Amateurs. One definition of a professional is one who earns a living in a sport or other occupation frequently engaged by amateurs. Another, is a person who is an expert at his or her work. An amateur is described as a person inexperienced or unskilled in a particular activity, or a person who engages in a given activity for pleasure rather than for monetary benefit. In the sports world, being paid to perform makes you a professional. And, you don’t get paid to perform unless you are clearly better than an amateur at what you do.
Amateur athletes compete for fun. Some amateurs are very good at what they do and some even come close to making it professionally, only to miss their big chance by inches. The professionals that earn the biggest paychecks and pile up Hall of Fame statistics are the ones who can clearly outperform their competitors. Sports fans argue about who is better and what team is the greatest, but every winter the Superbowl crowns the best NFL team in the country. Every spring, Lord Stanley’s Cup is presented to the best NHL club, and in the fall the World Series is won by the best MLB team. If you can out-skate Pavel Datsyuk and are not a Professional Hockey Player, then you have been hit by the worst luck known to man. In professional sports it is simple, amateurs just can’t do what the professionals can. Sure it takes a little luck to make it big, but the kid who is slam-dunking a basketball in Junior High has a pretty good start.
In the Motorsports world, the line between Professional and Amateur isn’t quite as cut and dried. There are lots of weekend warriors that race cars, boats, and motorcycles that might be very good at driving or riding, but they don’t have equipment that is competitive. They may have the talent to drive hard, but lack the resources to become a professional race car driver or motocross pilot because they cannot afford the machinery necessary to win. It takes a lot more luck to catch the eye of a major sponsor and a ticket to the “big leagues” in the motorsport world.
In our league, the National Chopper League, you don’t have to be the best to go pro. Becoming a professional is as easy as charging someone for your work. That’s right, the minute you charge someone to build a sissybar, you are a professional. It is a little more complicated than that, for instance – you need to have a formal business license in most states to legally operate as a business. You need to be insured, pay taxes, and lots of other formal nonsense, but anyone with a pulse can become a chopper building professional. You don’t need to be particularly good at it, and you don’t need to be able to prove yourself before you go pro. In time, your skills or lack thereof will determine how successful you will be in this eld. If you are charging people for your work, it would stand to reason that you should have enough talent and knowledge to warrant your fee, but there are no checks and balances in place to assure it. There may not be as many professionals in this business today as there were five or six years ago, but still there are plenty.
Professional sports are dominated by the young. As athletes age past a certain point, their skills diminish and they become less effective at their craft. In motorsports, competitors can remain active much longer than athletes who play a physically demanding game can. In the National Chopper League, builders often become better and better the older they get. Professional Athletes vs. Amateur athletes – big difference. Professional Motorsports Drivers vs. Amateurs – not such a big difference. Professional Chopper Builders vs. Amateur Chopper Builders - sometimes, no difference at all.
Take a look around your garage. You must have at least some basic tools, and maybe even a minimal amount of power tools: drill motor, hand grinder, saber saw or sawzall. For comparison, take a look around Jesse James’ garage. See any difference? Of course you do. Jesse has all of the cool stuff: the best welding machines, the best frame jigs, metal working equipment, anything and everything a bike builder (professional or amateur) could want. No wonder he builds such cool stuff, right? I mean, if he were in your garage, could he still build cool stuff? Hell yes, he could. He could, because he started out just like you with a minimal amount of equipment to work with and he has been honing his skills for the last twenty years. He could, because he would figure out another way to make do with whatever tools he had at his disposal to accomplish the task at hand. An imagination and some determination are foremost on the list of tools needed to be professional. Does having the right equipment make you a pro? Absolutely not. The right tool can make it easier to accomplish a given task, but without the skills necessary to operate that tool, it may as well be ornamental. Jesse James was not born with a tig torch in his hands, he was determined to learn his craft and he worked at it until he mastered it.
Where do you t in? Are you a hobbyist? Are you a professional? Is your bike better than some professionally built bikes? More than once, I have heard the comment: “some of the amateur bikes in this show are better than the professional bikes.” A statement like that is meant to somehow rock the National Chopper League. Like saying, “how is that possible?” How? Easy – being a professional in this business only means that you are finding people who are willing to pay you to do what they don’t want to do, or can’t do. It doesn’t mean that you are so much more talented than the average garage guy, that they aren’t t to change your sawblades. Dig out your old back issue #27, and you will see an amateur bike builder surfing on his hardtailed Shovelhead chop. It is a bitchin’ homebuilt bike that launched its builder on a very successful career in the NCL. It was built with a minimum of tools and resources, with a maximum impact. Jeff Cochran could have entered that feature bike in a professional contest and had a good chance of winning, even though he would have been considered an amateur at the time. “Some of the amateur bikes are better than the professional bikes.”
Skip forward to back issue number 47 (January 2005). Chris Barber’s Alfa-Romeo V-6 powered chopper featured on page number 44 is a work of art mechanically, aesthetically, and functionally. I really don’t know what Chris does for a living, but I am pretty sure he doesn’t build bikes. It’s a pity, too, because imagine what that guy would be capable of if he did it full time. He is an amateur, just like you. I might have a well equipped shop, but I can name a dozen friends with more equipment and space than I have who are just hobbyists. Some of them turn out bikes and hot rods that are incredibly well built and detailed machines. Some of these machines are better than the machines many “professional builders” push out the door. Some of these hobbyists inevitably end up building bikes or cars for other people because they have a deep passion for it and great talent too.
Men and women who make their living building and customizing motorcycles don’t necessarily have an advantage over you, the home bike builder. Determination and drive are what it’s all about. Attention to detail and a willingness to do the very best work you can do are signatures of a well built bike, regardless if you are being paid to do the work or if you are doing it for yourself. Month after month, bikes get featured in these pages that are amateur built with professional results. Some are built in a garage full of tools and equipment, some aren’t. Some have one-off CNC machined parts, and some have one-off parts sawn out by hand and led to shape with sweat and tired muscles. Some are built by amateurs who spend their days swinging a hammer, and some are built by amateurs who spend their day driving a truck. Every month the envelope gets pushed, and often times it is the home builder doing the pushing.
My idea of the National Chopper League is an elite league that welcomes all who approach bike building with a passion. It is a league well within your grasp. It isn’t a league for professionals alone. It is open to anyone with the drive to earn their place in it. When a receiver scores a touchdown in the NFL, he usually does some “hokey- pokey” stupid dance in the end zone. Really....? When you finish your bike in the NCL you kick start it to life, check its vitals and then rocket off down the road thrashing it and testing its limits - regardless if you are a professional or an amateur. Hokey-Pokey, or smoking your back tire. Is this even fair?