Jesse James Honda VTX Cafe Racer

Jesse James Honda VTX Cafe Racer

As long as we're talking about possible Victory sportbikes, it occured to me some of you may have forgotten about, or never even heard of, the cafe racer Jesse James built. It seems the Honda guys were tossing around ideas for something else to do with their then new (early 2002) VTX 1800 V-Twin engine. Someone came up with the notion that Jesse James might be just the right person to push the envelope a bit so they gave him an engine, some money and said, "Build us a bike."

Jesse retired to his West Coast Choppers workshop and produced the VTX Cafe Racer, first shown at the Cycle World show in Long Beach. It has an airbag rear suspension, an inboard rear disc brake on the driveshaft, handbuilt frame and bodywork, but in the end, it's a very interesting example of another direction for these big cruiser V-Twin engines the manufacturers already have in their back rooms.

Although there are many things about this bike that would never see production, it shows that cruisers aren't the only place for these engines. Could Honda build something like this? Sure. Will they? Chances are slim. They should, but they probably won't.

Victory, on the other hand, might have the desire to do what the big boys shy away from and if they do, I think they'll have a winner.

Link: West Coast Choppers
Photos: West Coast Choppers

More photos below:

Jesse James Honda VTX Cafe Racer

Closeup of inboard brake and airbag


  1. todd says

    That’s what it is: customization. That’ the one thing that could set Victory apart from all the other manufacturers. They are already along that path where you get to “design the bike yourself” like choose a color or if your wheels are polished or not. If they could figure out how to make each bike much more customizeable from cruiser to street custom to adventure tourer to sport bike to standard with kits of standard parts they would have a winner.
    This will need to be the trend of American manufacturers in the future. It is very difficult to compete in a comodity market with a comodity product if you have your factory in the US. The ability to customize and turn the orders around quickly is the only upper hand we have over low-cost-country providers like Japan, China, and Korea (among many many others just beginning to emerge into the US market -see India for one). If a customer can truly customize his/her own bike, tour the factory, and have the bike delivered complete in a couple months a factory will be able to visualize much higher margins for this type of service. The very opposite of cookie-cutter un-unique highly discounted low margin commodity motorcycles we see today.

  2. hoyt says


    thanks for the follow-up post – this topic deserves a lot of exposure since the market is ripe for this genre.

    I am anxiously awaiting something like this from Victory.

    Honda had the Jesse James special at Daytona Bike Week 3 yrs ago (or 4?). They invited people (who were viewing Jesse’s bike) to view and discuss a non-running prototype bike at their Bike Week HQ. It was similar in concept. Big torque, low rev engine in a sport package.

  3. sfan says

    Stranger things might happen… Honda has played to small or unproven niches in the past. If this segment were to take off, it would play to engineering strengths that Honda has in abundance. Yamaha has already made the first step with the MT-01. Ducati is doing very well with monsters and retros….

  4. hoyt says

    I should clarify the “non-running prototype”. This was a concept bike mainly for marketing research purposes instead of some pre-production prototype.

  5. mark says

    For the record, while this Honda custom was built by West Coast Choppers, it was apparently mostly the work of Mike Cook, who was WCC’s special projects director at the time and later went on to found American Cafe Racers. Jesse James’ personal involvement appears to have been relatively minimal.

  6. kneeslider says

    That’s true, something I mentioned way back here. Chances are, a lot of WCC work is spread out among other folks at the shop, just like the major hot rod shops who have a big name on the sign and lots of anonymous hands getting dirty.

  7. hoyt says

    i know i’m posting lots of comments, but this style of bike is at the top for me.

    I run around on a Guzzi V11 Sport – It’s not the lightest or the most powerful but it is damn fun on roads most of us care to ride, most of the time (roads with endless 25 mph – 35 mph corners).

    Plus, getting to those roads is good fun too, due to the low rev thumping music.

    A viable market exists for this style of riding, particularly when more people realize they want to ride their big-inch customs for longer stints than to the bar (maybe discover “thinner chicken strips” along the way).

    Good indicators for Victory to pursue a new model along these lines include:

    Honda concept listed on this post
    Big Twin Racers by Curt Winter
    Supermanx by American Cafe Racer (Mike Cook)
    Roland Sands’ “No Regrets” (and to some degree 2 other bikes)

    In addition, the accessible performance topic on this site fits perfect with the above bikes. The perfomance & fun factor of these bikes on winding roads should not be overlooked.

  8. C.J. Luke says

    I ride and love my 2004 Triumph Daytona 600 and fell into a deeper love with the 2006 Triumph Daytona 675…but all of the post in the KneeSlider comments over the last year or so has finally made me want to run down to the Harley shop and test ride a Buel

  9. TriumphGuy says

    Switch from a Triumph to a Buel!!!!? For the love of grace, don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Look at what the Ring did to Smiegel.

  10. C. J. Luke, III says

    No…No…NO! I said test ride…not buy! I just want to see if the big V twin really is that much fun on “SLOW” turns :)

  11. dave says

    Well, on the subject of Honda building something like this… I can say one thing: the R&D dept for Honda North America is doing some outlandish stuff. Think Confederate is going to get the Wraith to market? I hope to god they do. It is an wonderful bike, and even though it is “out there” as far as most people are concerned, it is VERY NICE and exactly whatt this segment is about. The current prototype is a great evolution of the original. I, for one, hope they stick with it. BUT Honda already has their own version of the wraith in testing (i have my sources) and it will be everything the original wraith was meant to be. I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but it just goes to the core on the fact that the big mfg’s DO take chances, and play with design. There are lots of great ideas out there, and honestly, the first guy to put one of these bikes to market is going to set a trend for years to come. Confederate did it with the Hellcat. Every “power-cruiser” today can trace it’s design to a Hellcat. Now someone needs to build the sport-bike version. They wraith is a jump on that. Build customs all you want, but the first *PRODUCTION* bike is going to be the killer.

  12. dave says

    Oh, and on the Buell…
    Specifically the XB’s (I had an S-1) you want to know what the Buell is like? Take an XB up US 129… Amazing. 2nd gear. Into 3rd. Then back to 2nd. All you have to do is twist the throttle. Small bikes with big twins are the shit for fun riding like that. I for one, could care less about top-end. I have friends who are Dragon-Killers with the R-1’s and the like. 11 minute times to run the Dragon? How about 8 minutes? Wow. But you know what? At the top, they’re all tired, and sweaty from the run, and have to take a breather, while I show up with my smile muscles hurting. It’s all about enjoying the ride… A big twin in a sport chassis just does that for me.

  13. hoyt says

    excellent, Dave.

    Which came first? 1997 Guzzi Centauro power cruiser or the Confederate Hellcat? I can’t remember the date of the 1st gen. Confederates.


    There are significant differences from the saddle while riding on the street between the in-line 4’s & big twins. I don’t mean to state the obvious but to underscore that many people overlook torquey bikes because the top-end hp of hyper bikes is glorified.

    Two sets of performance specs should be responsibly presented by the publications. (one for the street & one for the track. And, footnote these with rider skill level). Yeah sure, the pubs. list torque figures with hp in the small charts accompanying the articles; but when was the last time you saw CW or Motorcyclist exclaiming (in scratchy, bold letters on the cover) descriptions that would be fitting to street riding?

    Hopefully with the advent of more big torque sportbikes this may change…..

    On roads like the 129, the margin for error is so much tighter when the engine is strung out. The worst thing that could happen is a subtle lasp in concentration (while in a right-hander on the inside lane) and you run wide into oncoming traffic, screwing you & other riders.

    I’m not suggesting big torque sporbikes are immune to this, but that there is a difference in the margin for error & magnitude when pushing the limits of yourself.

    The big twin (or big torque) sportbikes are a better balance between its performance and most rider’s skill.

  14. hoyt says

    The “Master Bike” comparison in last month’s CW has an interesting bar graph that deserves a close look….

    The 3 final bikes were:

    Kawi ZX10
    Aprilia Mille
    Triumph 675

    note the graphs that compare the approach speed vs. mph at the apex of all the corners.

    I’m not one for the spec sheets (as mentioned above), but these specs seem to favor a big twin & a small bike…except for turn 12.

    The 675 is faster in the corners than the ZX-10 in every corner except one and tied in another corner.

    The twin is fastest in parts of the track that have successive corners closer together where torque is emphasized.

    This is all obvious to most of you….but here are specs the 20-something
    The Mille is

  15. hoyt says

    [those touch pad mice are annoying…..]


    This is all obvious to most of you….but here are specs the 20-something
    soon-to-be-squid that is about to buy the repli-racer should consider.

    The saddle experience is still king, especially since the numbers in the magazine testing is so close.

  16. dave says

    Well actually, the first production Hellcats were ’96 models. the first hellcat was I believe built in mid-’94..

    My point on the subject is that when the Confederate hit the scene, no-one was thinking in that direction. Yes, it was still a cruiser, but a sport-derived cruiser. The ’00-’01 redesign by JT shortened the bike considerably, and gave it more cornering clearance. The ’06 changes even further the usability of the bike. Other makers of “power-cruisers” or “muscle-bikes” are still following the pattern created by that first Hellcat. (big-bore twin, stacked transmission, radiused single-backbone, sport-bike suspension/brakes) Look at the Wakan… the ‘newest’ of these types.. same essential design. I’m not hawking the Confederates any longer, but don’t get me wrong, I STILL LOVE those fuggin’ bikes! Now is the time for other Co.s to step up, and solidify this type of machine into the collective motorcycle conciousness. There are some great ideas out there… I’ve been watching, and we’ve been designing. Some great things to come, my boys… (and girls!)


  17. hoyt says

    ok, I thought so…..I actually was surprised to find the Centauro only went back to ’97 (for some reason I thought it was older than that, but it might be a case of time going too fast).

  18. Fred Gaehring says

    I love the Idea of big twin sport bikes,I want to turn my 1500 intruder into a cafe racer but thats kind of hard.but could be done but I ride daily in florida we can ride just about everyday here.And a big twin sport bike will be what people want .Every time I see one I stop and stare these mile long choppers are pretty but are they fun to ride?

  19. Seeker says

    I give this bike some credit for it obscene look, and ridiculous designing. Though I would like to know where customs are going if your not customizing with YOUR OWN TWO HANDS! That’s the reason their called “customs”. I do agree that Victory should take design department to the street, and find out what else people are building. Not just the big names, but Joe scooter who has taken a lot of time, love, blood, and careful attention to the details of his own bike. In my belief (opinion) if you have no business with a wrench in your hand, or a mechanical synapses in your head, do you really need a custom bike? Strike that last one, your putting money in my pocket so…PROCEED!