Starting from humble beginnings in his mom's garage, Jesse James has built a customizing empire and a career as a television star.
Founder of the famous West Coast Choppers, Jesse James has renewed the interest in custom choppers with his TV shows and rebellious attitude.
Jesse James custom motorcycle shop, West Coast Choppers (WCC), once produced some of the most highly-sought after custom motorcycles around. WCC’s list of celebrity clients was long, as people like Shaq, Kid Rock, Keanu Reeves and wrestler Goldberg shelled out $100,000-plus for a Jesse James custom motorcycle. It also built contemporary choppers like the El Diablo and retro-styled motorcycles like the CFL out of its shop in Long Beach, California, priced more within the means of the general public. Jesse James started out like most custom bike builders, hammering and welding away in his mom’s garage. But what started out as humble beginnings evolved into a 250,000 square foot, multi-faceted empire that included Jesse’s own burger joint next to his bike shop called Cisco Burger in honor of his beloved pit bull, Cisco.
Jesse James first entered the public eye in 2000 when the Discovery Channel made him the subject of the documentary, Motorcycle Mania, where cameras chronicled his everyday life as a custom motorcycle builder. This would lead to the Discovery Channel offering him the host position for the show Monster Garage, where James converted an assortment of vehicles into monster machines. His fame would continue to rise through other projects like History of the Chopper and Iraq Confidential with Jesse James.
After piloting countless custom creations in Monster Garage, Jesse puts him self in a hotter seat with his own show pushing the limits in the aptly named Jesse James is a Dead Man.
Concurrently, the West Coast Choppers shop continued to expand and develop, helping to rejuvenate a Long Beach neighborhood. His eco-friendly burger joint, featuring Angus beef and organic veggies, became a popular local hangout. With philanthropic efforts around the city, James became a fixture in the Long Beach scene.
His popularity reached its apex when he starred in SpikeTV’s Jesse James is a Dead Man where he met challenges like riding a motorcycle in the Arctic Circle and twisting the throttle on a 200mph nitro-powered drag bike. James had made the transition from garage builder to household name.
West Coast Choppers led the way in branding and marketing. The WCC iron cross logo became an iconic symbol in the motorcycle industry. But James didn’t stop with just motorcycles. His shop also built hot rod cars, off-road racers, full-on race cars and more. He started his own magazine dedicated to the hot rod lifestyle called Garage. He and his team of builders also built a Trophy Truck in which he competed in events like the Baja 1000.
While custom choppers started his career, it seems Jesse's foray in the world of Hollywood / Celebrity is the part most will remember.
If that’s not enough, James has also ventured into the publishing and film-making world. In addition to taking over the reins of Garage, he started up Pay Up Sucker Productions, a documentary film company that has created titles like Chopperdom: Seldom Honored African American Bike Builders. Besides making his own movies, he also married a movie star, the popular actress Sandra Bullock.
But James underwent a fall from grace that was even more meteoric than his rise. His highly publicized extramarital affair on wife and Hollywood darling Bullock was drug through the mire of tabloid headlines. Negative publicity replaced a positive perception and not long after, he closed the doors on West Coast Choppers. James recently moved to Austin, Texas, focusing his attention on his business there, Austin Speed Shop. He once said to Motorcycle USA, “If I’m not grinding or welding on something almost every day, I’m not happy.” His talents with the torch and hammer will never be in question.
As far as the fate of his popular eatery, Cisco Burger, it is “kicking ass” and James has discussed opening one in Austin and is contemplating one day franchising it nationally.