Two West Coast Choppers Custom Harley-Davidsons—From The Archives | Hot Bike

Two West Coast Choppers Custom Harley-Davidsons—From The Archives

Outlaw customs from Jesse James

This article was originally published in the August-September 1999 issue of Cycle World's Big Twin magazine.

At the mere mention of the name Jesse James, dusty Kansas images of a century ago come to mind. Pistoleros and desperados. Bandits on the run. And a young outlaw who became a legend before he became a man.

The purple chopper pictured here, with its legs stretched out ’til next Tuesday, has an attitude suggesting that Jesse James might have owned a bike like this in his time. But the truth is that although he doesn’t own this nasty creature, Jesse James actually built it. Jesse James of Long Beach, California, that is.

Jesse James Chopper

Another creation that came out of the West Coast Chopper garage.

Jim Boyle and Guy Spangenberg

Jesse James the bike builder isn’t a historical figure, but he’s well on his way to gaining legendary status among chopper aficionados. At just 30 years old, he’s the owner of West Coast Choppers in Long Beach, California, and long-known to customizers all around the world as a go-to guy for fenders and metal fabrication.

But James is also a custom builder of the first water. He employs 29 people at West Coast Choppers, but still does most of the fabrication for individual bikes himself, and his infinite attention to detail is abundantly apparent on every bike he makes. “I did everything on this purple bike myself,” says James. “I made the tank out of aluminum by hand. I made the headlight, which frenches down and covers that whole adjustable triple-clamp. I also did the fenders, seat, oil tank and pipes.”

For James, the building process for the purple bike was optimum. “The owner gave me the money I needed to do the bike,” he says, “and also gave me all the pieces he had that he wanted on it. Then I didn’t see him for a year.”

Jesse James Chopper

James’ blue custom is the quintessential chopper: a clean, lean hardtail that contains nothing but the absolute essentials. But though it’s entertaining to look at, it’s also enjoyable to use, adhering to its builder’s philosophy that motorcycles are meant for the riding, not just for the looking.

Jim Boyle and Guy Spangenberg

With that amount of freedom, James constructed the bike as though it were his own. “On a chopper, you can do pretty much anything and it’s accepted,” he says. “For instance, you can stick your hand through this bike’s wheel, which American Wheel makes exclusively for us. I like that kind of stuff.”

On the other hand, the orange bike came to James almost completed—sort of. It had bounced around from one custom shop to another, the last of which went out of business. After the owner retrieved the nearly completed custom, he took it to James and asked him to put the finishing touches on it. “Everything those other shops had done was bad,” says James, “like the motor, for example, which hit the frame.”

Reluctantly, James finished the bike. But after the owner rode it around the block just once, he brought it back and asked James to tear it completely apart and rebuild it from scratch—the right way. After 10 months of work, the completed bike is a gem.

When asked why so many of his customs have solid paint schemes, James replied, “A lot of people think crazy paint is like an extra ingredient, but I believe most bikes don’t need it. If a bike has good lines and you put a radical paint job on it, the paint kind of cancels everything out; all you notice is the paint instead of all the metal work.”



Jesse James Chopper

This orange custom further illustrates James’ disdain for complicated design elements. Not only is the paint blatantly monochromatic, the bike’s overall styling theme is simplicity defined.

Jim Boyle and Guy Spangenberg

That’s just one example of how the view about motorcycles at West Coast Choppers is refreshing. For James and his crew, it’s all about fun and making customs that are ridable. “People sometimes forget that these are motorcycles we’re making here, so I try to stress that fact. My philosophy is, ride it. If it breaks, fix it or get it fixed. The whole time I’m spending 200 hours on a gas tank or a fender or frame or something like that, I’m wondering how it’s going to feel to ride it. Some people treat these things like they’re holy relics, but I don’t care how much a bike costs or how much time I have in it; if I can’t go out and do a burnout or a wheelie on it, then screw it. What fun is it?”

With that kind of an attitude, it’s no wonder that Jesse James is a genuine legend in the making.

Jesse James Chopper

“If a bike has good lines and you put a radical paint job on it, the paint kind of cancels everything out”

Jim Boyle and Guy Spangenberg

Specifications
GENERAL
MACHINE Rigid Chopper
OWNER Dr. Bob Williams
DESIGNER/FABRICATOR/BUILDER Jesse James’ West Coast Choppers 718 W. Anaheim Street Long Beach, CA 90813 562/983-6666
PAINT AND CHROME
Molding Kal Koncepts
Painter Kal Koncepts
Graphic artist Craig Frasier
Polishing West Coast Choppers
ENGINE
Year 1999
Model Evo
Builder Jim Lilligard
Displacement 80 in.
Cases H-D
Lower end H-D
Rods H-D
Pistons H-D
Heads H-D
Valves H-D
Cam Andrews
Pushrods H-D
Lifters Jims
Primary cover West Coast Choppers
Ignition Crane
Coils/wires Crane
Carb Edlebrock
Air cleaner West Coast Choppers
Pipes Jesse James
Mufflers None
TRANSMISSION
Year 1999
Type H-D
Primary drive Karata
Clutch Rivera
FRAME
Year 1999
Make Gambler
Type Rigid
FRONT FORK
Year 1999
Make Kennedy’s
Type Adjustable
Modifications Polished
REAR SUSPENSION
Type None
FRONT WHEEL/TIRE
Wheel JJ3
Tire Metzeler
Tire size 3.00-21
Rim width 2.125”
Brake Tolle
REAR WHEEL/TIRE
Wheel JJ3
Tire Metzeler
Tire size 180/55-18
Rim width 5.5"
Brake Tolle
ACCESSORIES
Handlebar Super Bars
Risers Pure steel
Grips Simms
Gas tank Jesse James
Oil tank Kennedy’s/Jesse James
Front fender Jesse James
Rear fender Jesse James
Headlight Jesse James
Taillight LCS
Turn signals None
Electrics Koon
Speedo/tach None
Instrument/gauges None
Seat Danny Gray
Foot controls American Made
Rider footpegs American Made
Passenger pegs None
Specifications
GENERAL
MACHINE Orange custom
Base model 1991 FXR
OWNER Gary Cooper
DESIGNER/FABRICATOR/BUILDER Jesse James’ West Coast Choppers 718 W. Anaheim Street Long Beach, CA 90813 562/983-6666
PAINT AND CHROME
Molding Damon’s
Painter Damon’s
Graphic Artist Damon’s
Chroming South Bay
Polishing West Coast Choppers
ENGINE
Year 1996
Make S&S
Builder West Coast Choppers
Displacement 98 in.
Cases S&S
Lower end S&S
Rods S&S
Pistons S&S
Heads S&S
Valves S&S
Cam Red Shift
Pushrods Rivera
Lifters Jims
Primary cover H-D
Ignition Crane
Coils/wires Crane
Carb S&S
Air cleaner S&S
Pipes Samson
TRANSMISSION
Year 1991
Type FXR
Primary drive Chain
Clutch Rivera Pro
FRAME
Year 1991
Make H-D
Type FXR
Builder West Coast Choppers
FRONT FORK
Year 1996
Make Jonny Anderson
Type Smooth
Modifications Chromed
REAR SUSPENSION
Make Progressive
Swingarm H-D
Modifications Polished
FRONT WHEEL/TIRE
Wheel Mickey Thompson
Tire Metzeler
Tire Size 3.00-21
Rim width 2.125”
Brake Performance Machine
REAR WHEEL/TIRE
Wheel Mickey Thompson
Tire Metzeler
Tire Size 180/55-18
Rim width 5.5”
Brake Performance Machine
ACCESSORIES
Handlebar West Coast Choppers
Grips Ness
Gas tank Battastinis/West Coast Choppers
Oil tank H-D Chromed
Front fender Jesse James
Rear fender Jesse James
Headlight Custom Chrome
Taillight Badlands/Frenched
Electrics Koon
Speedo/tach None
Instruments/gauges None
Seat Danny Gray
Foot controls Performance Machine
Rider footpegs Performance Machine

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