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Preview – Zeroed In – Jesse James

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Photography by Kenda Lenseigne

He’s Apparently One of America’s Most Hated Men. He Also Started a Firearms Company. Haters Gonna Hate.

Jesse James is one of those guys who, according to the wretched hive of scum and villainy that comprise the supermarket tabloids, should have been stoned to death for marital infidelity. Which is an interesting perspective coming from people whose lifetime achievements amount to…well, what exactly? In no position to cast the first stone, we sat down with him at his home workshop near Austin, Texas, to find out about his fascination with firearms, his new manufacturing venture, and life after Hollywood.

In talking with him, you get the impression that he’s drawn a line under the excesses of the L.A. scene and living under the constant scrutiny of paparazzi. His current existence is tame by comparison, based in rural Texas Hill County and revolving around his three kids and wife, Alexis DeJoria. “Tame,” however, is a relative term. If your idea of a tranquil family routine includes being married to an heiress who races 200-mph Funny Cars on the NHRA circuit, then you can probably relate. Despite the GT40 and gullwing Mercedes in the garage, the Desmosedici in the living room, and the safe full of machineguns, he’s one of the most down-to-earth guys you’ll meet. Egotistical? Sure, but he’s got enough achievements under his belt to justify it.

After growing West Coast Choppers from a one-man operation in his mom’s garage to a 200-person, 70,000-square-foot market leader in one of the least business-friendly states in the union, he left it all behind and moved to Texas in 2011, following his much-publicized breakup with third wife Sandra Bullock. Since then, he’s largely dropped off the radar and gone back to his roots, making custom bikes and hot rods by hand, one at a time.

Jesse James West Coast Choppers Truck First Examples of JJFU Cisco 1911, Nomad AR-15 and Aero Sonic

RECOIL: How did you get started in the bike business?

Jesse James: I worked at a wheel and tire shop called Performance Machine when Hot Bike ran a “how-to” article on installing a fat tire on a Softail in ’92 or ’93. They asked me to make a fender for it. The only wide fenders at the time were crappy fiberglass, so I took two Harley fenders and cut them so the left and right sides had an offset, welded them together and finished it. Next thing I knew, other guys were asking me for fenders. I made a bunch in the evenings and weekends. So when my daughter Chandler was 6 years old, we loaded up the Astro van and took it to Laughlin and sold everything I’d made for, like, 800 bucks a piece. Then a distributor came up to me and said, “We’ll take every one of these you can make.” My whole goal was to build bikes, but having a product that I could sell so that I could buy CNC machines and a polishing shop and buildings — well, all that comes down to the fenders.

You’re coming to market with an AR when, according to everything we’re seeing right now, the market bubble has popped. Does this concern you?

JJ: I think that the market for low-end stuff, like $1,000 ARs, is definitely maxed out. The problem I’m seeing with the market is that it’s like where the bike scene was in the mid ’90s, where everyone was doing stretched fatbobs on a Daytech frame and suddenly, “Hey, we’re Joe’s Customs.” In the AR scene everyone’s using forgings from one of a couple of places, then getting creative with their logos, but that’s about it. Companies like Christensen and Warsport are forward thinking, and I just think there’s always going to be a market for nicer stuff. If you’re going to be an also-ran and the only thing different is your logo, then, sure, everyone is going to buy the version that’s five bucks cheaper. I think it’s important for us to do great work, but I’m not getting into this business with the same attitude I had when I opened West Coast Choppers. Back then, I was out to crush my competition. Now, I just want to offer another option — a rising tide floats all boats right?

You’ve got a successful brand with West Coast Choppers, a business building custom hot rods, and a highly visible TV career. Why do you want to get into the gun industry?

JJ: Motorcycles will always be my No. 1 passion, but I’m at the stage in my career where I’m only entertaining myself. I can build a bike and make everything by hand including the transmission and wheels and bodywork. But I’d be doing it only to prove I could do it, rather than being able to sell a hundred of those. Part of what motivates me is being patted on the back and coming up with stuff that’s crazy and out there and far ahead. I don’t really do stuff like that for money, but for the challenge. So I guess that’s what it is, a new challenge.

Jesse James

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