'American Chopper' build-off bikes revealed
Jesse James was, at one time, best known as an outlaw bike builder who'd forged a career with a welding torch in one hand and an ape hanger in the other. A high-octane bad boy with a redlining lifestyle, he was a blue-collar artisan who'd grown a homemade TV show into a cultural phenomenon and a motorcycle shop into an empire. That was before a very public breakup with now ex-wife Sandra Bullock that dragged his name into the dirt.
Tonight, James gets back in the saddle with a guest appearance on "American Chopper" that is showcasing his first bike in five years as part of a three-way build-off with the Teutels. A back-to-basics machine that mirrors James' scandal-inspired embrace of his roots, the "everyday little motorcycle with sugar sprinkled on top" is the first bike he's built since closing West Coast Choppers in Long Beach and purging his 50-person staff.
"To do it on my own without all the resources and manpower I had in my back pocket for the last 17 years, it kind of scared me," James said of the first bike he's built in his home garage since relocating to Austin, Texas. "I'm not doing it so much for the competition as I was doing it for myself to prove that I could do stuff after West Coast Choppers and still be the same or better quality."
The last bike he built predominantly on his own was the radial bike, he said.
"This isn't a game to me. This is my whole life," said James, who chose to build the bike out of stainless steel because he's never been good at welding it. "I figured it was the best thing to build a bike out of, especially something this under the microscope. I should pick the thing I'm afraid of and use that."
His competitors have also pulled out all the stops. "We're the only company that has everything to lose," Paul Teutel Jr. said of the build-off, whose winner will be determined by audience vote and revealed in a live Las Vegas event Tuesday. "If you want to be the best in the world, sometimes you have to accept some challenges and see where it falls."
The bike Teutel designed with his team at Paul Jr. Designs is "our greatest achievement as a company," he said. Inspired by a World War II P-51 Mustang fighter plane, with a plated and riveted feel, there is "not one stitch of paint on our bike anywhere."
Paul Teutel Sr., on the other hand, has gone "totally out of the realm of what people are going to expect," he said. "We didn't really do a motorcycle. We did a Mad Max type of thing" that has the profile of a snowmobile, the tracks of a tank, two electric motors -- and flame throwers.
-- Susan Carpenter
Photos: Jesse James' bike for "American Chopper"; Jesse James' Radial bike; Paul Teutel Jr.'s biker build-off bike; Paul Teutel Sr.'s biker build-off bike. Credit: Discovery Channel