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Jesse James Stayin' True

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Jesse James is no stranger to media exposure, with the Spike TV show Jesse James is a Dead Man just the latest in a string of cable television hit shows.
Once a biker always a biker. This is a mantra Jesse James lives by. Even with a handful of hit TV shows, larger-than-life personality and movie star wife, James still shows up at his Long Beach, California, motorcycle shop, West Coast Choppers, getting his hands dirty every day. How many other celebrities do you think can say that?

"I feel cheated if I'm not welding something everyday."

“I’m still here every morning ready to work. I think if I ever get to the point where I don’t work I’ll just get rid of the place. I think TV and everything else takes me away from what I really should be doing, and that’s working, and I feel cheated if I’m not welding something everyday,” says James, looking every bit as sinister as always; tattooed arms draped over the front of an evil looking chrome, black and red chopper.

The thing is, James is far from sinister. An extremely smart businessman and an even nicer guy, he’s always talking your ear off with a host of incredible stories, most involving death-defying antics.

We’re at his Long Beach shop for the cover shoot and one look around the massive warehouse reveals exactly where these stories come from. 

"It's like WIlly Wonka Land for grownups" is what Jesse says when asked about his old car collection, off-road trophy trucks and the nitrogen-powered land-speed car sitting in his Long Beach shop. Yes, you read correctly, James has a hand-built nitrogen-powered, tube-framed rocket car in which he is going to attempt to set a land-speed record. Why, you might ask? Because he’s Jesse James and that’s what Jesse James does.

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It’s for one of the episodes of his new show, Jesse James is a Dead Man. The show has been a project of his for the past year, in which each episode James is put into extreme scenarios of all different kinds. One episode has him riding a BMW GS up to the Arctic Circle the first week of December in 65-below-zero weather, while another sees him race a trophy truck in Baja California.

An episode that brings about a host of good stories is when he raced a US Hare Scrambles for the first time. However, in typical Jesse fashion, it didn’t go quite as planned. He was training at Supercross star Jeremy McGrath’s ranch and the day before the event almost put himself totally out of commission. We recently rode with Jesse at a BMW intro and he was still hurting from the mishap, though keen to tell us the story.

For one of the episodes James runs from the police in a mock-chase. You'll have to watch the show to see who wins...
"The show is a different death-defying  race or adventure every week..."

“As part of the training I went to McGrath’s place to ride, I trained for this race for months. He had a 100-foot water crossing set up where you try to pin it and make it across. Of course, he does it no problem. And me being a dumbass, I’m like, ‘Yeah I can pin it and do something Jeremy McGrath can do,’” laughs Jesse. “Well, I did it, but the bike popped in the middle of the water and sent me sailing. It knocked me out and hurt my back. I still had to run the race and it was pretty brutal, but I didn’t embarrass myself too bad.”

“Basically the show is a different death-defying race or adventure every week,” he adds. “One week it’s a car or motorcycle race and the next it’s an off-road truck race, or trying to ride where someone never has before.”

James on sidecar racing: "It was fun, I’ll give them that, and those guys are all nuts. There’s even one girl up there that does it and she’s nuts too; it’s their own little secret society."
James even ran an F-1 sidecar race at Willow Springs, finishing second in his first-ever outing.

“It’s really not that fast. I thought those things were way faster than they are,” James says of the hand-built sidecar he piloted. “I’m used to 800 horsepower trucks and stuff. It was fun, I’ll give them that, and those guys are all nuts. There’s even one girl up there that does it and she’s nuts too; it’s their own little secret society. I would like to do one again with a Hayabusa motor and run it at the Isle of Man. Now that would be crazy.”

With plenty more madness where that came from, we’ll no doubt be sure to watch and set our TiVo on SPIKE TV. It should be extremely entertaining.

But with all this chaos going on outside the motorcycle world, what’s up with West Coast Choppers these days?

“We’re still building bikes for customers,” says James. “We probably build 10-15 bikes per year and we still customize stock Harleys and stuff like that. I’m actually doing a BMW for someone that saw mine – they wanted it all blacked out. We’re a motorcycle shop and we’re trying to keep it just that. I still have three or four guys who I personally build bikes for each year; they are good guys and I like to be creative and stoke them out.”

Buy a West Coast Chopper and theres no doubt Jesse James took a major role in building it despite his hectic schedule as a celebrity.
Buy a West Coast Chopper and there’s no doubt Jesse James had a major role in building the machine despite his hectic schedule as a celebrity.
So, what does the “man with all the toys” keep parked in the garage as his personal motorcycles? Not what you may think.

“I’ve got my little Harley Dyna Louisiana Police bike and I’ve been riding one of those K1300 BMWs. The Police bike is a sleeper, though. It has $10,000 heads on it, among other internal modifications, and though it looks pretty haggard it puts out 160 horsepower to the rear wheel. No one expects it, it’s really fast – I love it!”

And when James says he rides, he rides… “I put in probably 20,000 miles a year still. I have a house in Austin (Texas) too and I have a couple bikes there, a ’37 Indian Chief and one of those Harley Rockers that I’m kind of making cool to keep down there and ride. How can you own a motorcycle shop and not ride? C’mon.”

What’s next for Jesse James and West Coast Choppers? Well, it’s pretty simple. “I’ve been building bikes since ’91 and I plan to keep on doing just that,” he says with a smile. And we believe him. Jesse James is a biker, and always will be.

So You Want a West Coast Chopper?

Like what you see? Want Jesse James himself to build you a West Coast Chopper? Good luck, right?! One would think with all his fame and everything he has going, getting him to lay a hand on a customer’s bike would take an act of Congress. But if you read the story you’d know this isn’t the case at all. Jesse’s in his Long Beach, or “Strong Beach” as he calls it, shop every morning welding and getting his hands dirty, a lot of the time on customer’s bikes. Now you have to remember, getting a custom bike from West Coast Choppers isn’t cheap. But neither is the quality.

"We still build 10-15 bikes per year for customers and we still customize stock Harleys. We’re still a motorcycle shop first."

Is Jesse James a dead man? We'll see...

I’ve seen my fair share of expensive one-off motorcycles and, while some have been extremely nice and very well done, there are always little details where you can tell it’s handmade, some minor flaws. After spending a day with James and a few of his customer-built customs, I didn’t find a single imperfection. Not one! Perfect welds, no yellowing chrome - finite detail right down to the last nut and bolt. In fact, his signature piece is a round clamp or cover with the back of several .44 caliber bullets inset in it. He even takes it one step further, having “Jesse James .44” engraved in each one, ever so small, to add the finishing touch. This is what West Coast Choppers are all about.

Cost totally depends on what you are looking for, though I can tell you they start in the six-figure-territory. Basically, if you have to ask, you can’t afford one. Surprisingly, though, one isn’t just paying for the name.

“I have $80,000 in labor alone into making each one of these, sometimes more,” said James, who quickly points out the details. “Check out that frame, it had to be perfect before getting nickel-plated and chromed so as not to get any yellowing. This bike here would go for about $120,000 or so, but I’ve got almost that into it. This is no way to get rich, this is just what I do, ya know?”

It’s for this reason not many are built each year and they take time to complete. “We build 10-15 bikes per year,” he adds. That’s one a month, maybe less. These are no cookie cutter customs. There are months of blood, sweat and tears in each one. So while it’s not cheap, when it comes to custom choppers, West Coast Choppers stands head and shoulders above most others I’ve ever seen. In this case, you really do get what you pay for.
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Janee Carter -former sales custom chrome  September 1, 2010 02:19 AM
Met Jesse at a custom chrome show years ago, a true biker with talent. ever watch him weld? make a fender? He deserves repect! He did Sandra Bullock a hugh favor being in her life, it finally gave her one. Now butt out leave him alone! he's truly a classy guy.
Bob Mateski -Bob  August 16, 2010 08:30 PM
I grew up riding in Long Beach back in 1970 when a big bike was a 650 Triumph or a Norton 750 Commando, the only thing bigger was a Harley 74 CI.
I had a 67 Honda 305 that I bobbed and rode around for 3 years, then I got the chance to buy a Forest Green metal flake 66 Triumph chopper for $1,200 bucks.
It had a king and queen seat with raked out twisted chrome front end, no springs on the front and a hardtail rearend.
No front brake and rams horn handlebars that put the grips right near your chest, she was a looker but hurt like hell after a ride to San Diego and back - now thats old school!
bheuere -jesse  April 17, 2010 01:20 AM
this guy is a terrible mind lollll crazy lol, a good worker, and he makes more speed records, at least he is not bored lollllllllllll jesse you are the king of Long Beach:)
Heimy -old diansaur biker  March 19, 2010 06:34 AM
what a dumb ass cheating on Sandra I am probably old enough to be your dad if I was I would take ya over my knee an whip your ass I wish I could talk to ya personlly Jesse I am really upset with ya Heimy
iamthewalrus, -Jesse's riding  July 26, 2009 07:55 PM
He rides a dirt bike like a girl
macrowopp @ yahoo.com -ironworker  July 16, 2009 09:11 PM
i see you like challenges i can appreciate that im a welder also a fearless ironworker i walk the steel and see you as fearless too and also a welder but are you fearless enough to walk the steel not tied off like (old school)like i its ok if you cant but i know you like the challenge let me know also i love your show keep up the good work (macrowopp@yahoo.com)
unclewill -nitrogen?  June 19, 2009 07:58 AM
I think you meant that Jesse James would be driving a nitromethane powered car to the land speed record - though it would be quite interesting to see a nitrogen powered car...
Scooter -Cryin' 4 mama  June 16, 2009 05:40 PM
Not hardly! Look, Jesse's got Spike to buy his episodes, so he can spend money doing things that he'd (& I'd, & maybe you'd) want to do *anyway*, w/o going broke. More power to him! Me personally, I tried watching one of the episodes & got bored after about 5 minutes: all hype, not much action. But then, I'm not a big fan of ANY of the (un)reality t.v. drivel, so I'm clearly not in the target market. I kind of suspect nobody who actually rides is, since any of that segment would rather go ride than waste their time watching the show! Instead, the tv show is for all the arm-chair adventurers who think that: #1: Jesse James makes choppers, so he must be cool! #2: Are too spineless to actually own a bike themselves. But I still give kudos to Jesse for figuring out how to have a lot of fun on someone else's dime! ;)
MDF -NW  June 16, 2009 04:10 PM
Lets see you try any of this, you would be crying for your mother.
Donald W. Reeves -Speedway Shelters wants to donate a Shelter to West Coast Choppers for a donation.  June 16, 2009 10:35 AM
How do we contact Jesse to present the offer. Thank you! Don Reeves dr@speedwayshelters.com
NW -Jesse  June 16, 2009 10:10 AM
Attention whore with nothing to back it up. The things Pastrana and his friends do in his back yard (or just about any 20 year old with little sense of fear and a high pain tolerance for that matter) are more dangerous and impressive than this drivel. Once again Hollywood takes what could be interesting and dumbs it down and feeds it to the zombie public in easy to digest segments. Next.