The heart of "Monster Garage" is the gearhead team leader, Jesse James. James, who runs the Long Beach, California, bike shop West Coast Choppers, is one of the most successful bike builders in the United States. At $60,000 to $150,000 a pop, his distinctive bikes are not for the casual, budget-conscious biker, but they sure get widespread attention. The shop tends to attract clients with either a large disposable income or a real passion for bikes. James and his crew have built custom choppers for Shaquille O'Neal, Keanu Reeves and Kid Rock, among others.
James, who is related to the infamous Western outlaw of the same name, was born in 1969 and grew up in Long Beach. From an early age, he was fascinated by motorcycles and anything else related to engine mechanics. As luck would have it, his father's antique shop shared a warehouse with an aftermarket motorcycle parts manufacturer, which saw a steady stream of Harley Davidsons and high-end sport bikes.
At age seven, James got his first minibike (a Kawasaki 50cc), and by age 10, he was spending a lot of his free time working on motors and other projects in his mom's garage. While he never lost his love of motorcycles, James devoted much of his time in high school to football, and after graduation, he enrolled in the University of California at Riverside on an athletic scholarship. After a sports injury abruptly ended his football career, James trained as a bodyguard and went to work for various rock bands, including Soundgarden, Slayer and Danzig.
Another injury, from an incident at a concert, led James to give up the bodyguard business and get back into motorcycles. In 1992, after an apprenticeship of sorts with the legendary hot-rod builder Boyd Coddington, James started up his own shop, working out of a friend's garage. Today, James has more than 18,000 square feet (1,670 square meters) of work and showroom space, complete with all manner of high-end tools and even a shark tank, and more than 50 employees to keep his business going.
James first got involved with the Discovery Channel in 2001, when Thom Beers, the president of Original Productions, approached him for a Discovery special on motorcycles and motorcycle culture. Discovery had commissioned Beers for the special after checking out his "History of Harley" special on TBS. Beers asked some of his contacts at Easy Riders Magazine who might make an interesting subject for a documentary, and they recommended Jesse James. James' big biker personality and loud, vibrant garage was exactly what Beers was looking for, so he brought in a camera crew and documented James' daily life. The result was "Motorcycle Mania," an hour-long special that turned out to be a big hit with the Discovery Channel audience.
Discovery followed up with another special, "Motorcycle Mania 2," which tracked James as he built and designed a custom chopper and then took it on a 1,400-mile (2,250-km) road trip to the annual biker gathering in Sturgis, South Dakota.
Beers enjoyed James so much that he decided to develop a new show centered around life in the garage. The concept, a coupling of an educational look at the craft of customization and a challenge show along the lines of "Junkyard Wars," appealed to both James and Discovery Channel immediately, and "Monster Garage" was born. Beers, James and Discovery worked out the details, decided on a logical timeline and budget for the projects, and shot four episodes for the initial run. The original series was a big hit, so Discovery requested more episodes. The fourth season of Monster Garage will air later this year.
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