There are some bike builders whose work you recognize immediately. Jesse Rooke was one of those. His builds were always clean and lean and usually reflected his background in racing dirt bikes, racing go-karts, or were imbued with elements of the Southern California scene.
Rooke dared to run a single-sided fork and swingarm on his first build, and the motorcycle helped put him on the radar of the custom motorcycle world. Stints on Discovery Channel’s Biker Build-Off further escalated his career, as did having clients like Hollywood A-lister Brad Pitt rollin’ around on a KTM Super Duke-based café racer he built.
Last year, Rooke’s life ended tragically in a motorcycle accident during Arizona Bike Week.
Fortunately, his legacy lives on in the custom motorcycles he created over an 18-year span. Three of those motorcycles are up for sale in Mecum’s 29th annual Vintage & Antique Motorcycle Auction in Las Vegas that kicks off this week. Among the trio is the 2002 Rooke Custom Chopper Dinah, the first custom he built, the same one which helped launch his career as a custom bike builder. The motorcycles are being put up by his family who have decided “it’s time to let Dinah and two other precious Rooke Customs pass into new hands.” Like the Indian Larry originals that are getting ready to go under the gavel, this is a rare opportunity to own a piece of custom motorcycle history.
Here’s more information and photos of the Jesse Rooke Estate Collection courtesy of Mecum Auctions.
2002 Rooke Custom Chopper Dinah
- From the Jesse Rooke Estate
- Named after his childhood sweetheart Dinah Foddrill
- First custom build of Jesse Rooke's short but iconic career
- Built with the help of Danny and Larry Foddrill and T.R Strump of Foddrill Fabrications
- They managed to build what Jesse had in his mind and bring it into reality
- Jesse had ordered wheel blanks from Germany to his specs and machined
- Chassis painted by Miquels Psycho Cycles
- Rare single-sided front fork and rear wheel - a first almost
- One of a kind wheels, hidden lights and no gauges
- Hidden wires, cables and oil tank, frame downtubes
- Graceful sculptured frame design
- Artistic artwork for paint scheme by Jesse's choice
- Suicide shift, subdued exhaust gracefully executed and styled
- Won the first show it was entered - the Long Beach Calendar Show in 2002
- Even 17 years later it still takes your breath away
- One of the Rooke bikes Jesse kept for himself
Jesse Rooke met Dinah Foddrill through a friend of his at high school. His friend was a dancer that danced with Dinah at functions, and Jesse met her at a party. Dinah went to a different school, though they soon became an item. At 15 years old, Jesse was probably headed towards a possible career in Motocross/Supercross, as many of his peer riders had made the jump in that direction. Unfortunately, Jesse had injured his leg in a terrible motorcycle accident, shattering his right femur. He needed three days of traction prior to an operation to insert a rod between the lower part of the bone near the knee and the upper part near the hip. It was about three years of non- to semi-weight-bearing rehabilitation.
Jesse got into karting during this period, specifically Shifter Karts: 125cc two-stroke motocross engines with about 45 hp and weighing in at 360 pounds total with the combined driver/kart weight. They were quite a ride to be sure. He quickly advanced in karting, racing at the national level and doing well. He became national sales manager for one of the largest importers in the country, becoming very well paid and responsible for a lot of the growth in the industry. He helped a lot of current and new dealers realize how to grow their position in the sport and create more market. He became a dealer himself, leaving the well-paying job, and he became the No. 1 dealer in the country, first for CRG karts and then for Tony Karts. He traveled to Portugal, Spain, Italy, Germany and England in this time with the karting industry.
Jesse and his younger brother, James, had worked together for quite a few years when James decided he wanted to get out on his own, get some space in his life and try his own hand at bicycles. Jesse decided he did not want to be running the business by himself and, fortunately finding a ready buyer for his successful business, decided to sell out of the karting business that he had been in for about nine years. What's there to do when you are 26 with no job to go to and some money in your pocket? Jesse was still involved with Dinah Foddrill and closely involved with her family and their business, Foddrill Fabrications. Foddrill Fabrications was the builder of fantastic sandrails for the dunes at Glamis, California, off-road racing buggies, various class pickups and VWs, all of which were successful, race-winning vehicles. Jesse had worked closely with them and built his own early model Bronco on/off-road terror while in the karting business.
"I'll build a Custom Harley," he thought, and if it's no good, "it'll make a hell of a coffee table." He already had a go-kart coffee table, so why not a motorcycle one. With the help of Danny and Larry Foddrill, T.R Strump and the rest of the crew at Foddrill Fabrications, they managed to build and develop what Jesse had in his mind into reality. Most everybody was shaking their heads at many points during the build, but it did happen and it did work. As hard to believe as it was, it worked.
Jesse had ordered wheel blanks from Germany to his specs, had them machined locally to his design and then chromed. His finished chassis was taken for paintwork to Miquels Psycho Cycles, the crew who took Jesse's artistic design and made the finished product a work of art to behold. Beautiful, mysterious and breath-taking at first glance, even now, 17 years later, it still takes your breath away. To realize that a 25-year-old newcomer to the motorcycle custom industry could have such vision and professionalism to create something this exciting with his first build is unbelievable. And, yet, here it is, still as beautiful as when it was first shown and when it won the Long Beach Calendar Show in 2002.
2008 Rooke Custom Red Bull I.M.S. Chopper
- Built for the MotoGP race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
- Sponsored by Red Bull and IMS
- Later-version Rooke-CFL frame by West Coast Customs
- REV-Tech engine and modified front forks
- Quality components from Performance Machine and Dunlop Tires
- A Rooke 'RAW' version as he liked them
- One of the Rooke bikes he kept for himself
- A great thrill to ride – as Jesse stated “just raw fun”
Jesse liked this style of bike for the ease and joy of riding. He did quite a few of these in various forms, probably at least five different ones for Red Bull alone for different events and causes. These bikes were an upgrade of his earlier Scrambler bikes built in association with Swift Trucking and Bruce Rossmeyer. This later version uses a West Coast Customs CFL frame modified to Jesse Rooke’s specifications by West Coast Customs during production. He used this frame on many bikes. It is believed this particular bike was done for one of the MotoGP races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, thus the IMS logo on one side of the tank and Red Bull on the other.
Rooke loved the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and had many friends that raced there in Indy cars and on motorcycles. This bike is a raw version, as Jesse loved to let the people see what was really there, as well as the patina it could develop with care. Featuring the Rooke CFL frame, the REV Tech engine and the narrow rear tire, this bike was an absolute thrill to ride; you could burn the rear tire down to nothing if you weren't careful. It handled easily and quickly. This bike features quality components from Performance Machine and West Coast Customs, as well as modified front forks and great tires from Dunlop Tire Company. All in all, it’s just raw fun.
2011 Rooke Custom National Guard Scarlett 3-Wheeler
- From the Jesse Rooke Estate
- Built at the request of the Jordan Suzuki Superbike racing team for National Guard
- Built around a new GSXR100RR Suzuki Superbike supplied by the factory
- Jesse's love for 3 wheeled English vehicles was the spark for this project
- Custom chassis was a product of his involvement with Foddrill Fabrications
- Foddrill fabricated suspension pieces and aluminum body panels
- First reaction from the National Guard was “this not what we expected”
- That changed when it turned into a 'fan favorite' in Daytona
- National Guard toured the country with this popular Rooke machine
- Following its tour as a 'Guard attraction' it was renamed “Scarlett” in honor of Jesse's new daughter
- One of the Rooke bikes Jesse kept for himself
Jesse Rooke became associated with the Jordan Suzuki Superbike team sponsored by the National Guard. He was friends with Jake Zemke, a rider on the team. The team asked Rooke to build a sidecar rig for event support and promotion, allowing greater involvement with the fans and National Guard awareness. They sent him a GSX-R1000RR Suzuki Superbike to use as a basis. Jesse just couldn't wrap his head around it; he got what they were trying to do, but a GSX-R1000RR sidecar?
Jesse had loved the English 3-wheeled vehicles that used V-twin motorcycle engines sticking out up front, and he had visions of building a modern one with a Harley-Davidson V-Rod engine. How about a superbike-styled 3-wheeler? And it came to pass, with Jesse and his brother James, working at Foddrill Fabrications again, bending tubes for the frame, fabricating suspension pieces, rolling aluminum panels and shaping carbon fiber body parts. Using as many Suzuki GSX-R1000RR parts as he could — the engine, ignition, instruments, clutch lever, swingarm, cooling system, fuel pump, wiring harness — Jesse brought it all together and finished it off with paint.
It was great to be working within a shop that did this type of stuff all the time and to get the quality help when instruction and fantastic welding work was needed, as well as getting the geometry for the front suspension right the first time. James had a friend that could shape the carbon fiber parts. This was all done independent of the Jordan and National Guard folks. When first revealed, they were a bit surprised and unsure; it was not what they had asked for or envisioned coming from Jesse Rooke with a GSX-R1000RR base starting point. It was not the look into the future, maybe more of a back to the future, and it wasn’t a motorcycle.
The group went to Daytona, where it was a fan favorite when it first rolled out of the trailer. They could give rides to all the people involved in the team, sponsors, family, owners, etc., and the National Guard personnel could take base commanders around at all the events they went to and all the people they wanted to. They could even drive it if they had the right connections. The National Guard took it to many non-motorcycle events it was involved with that year, and it was a hit everywhere it went, with many different crowds of people. It was an entirely successful project for National Guard awareness to be sure. In keeping with Jesse Rooke tradition and following the National Guard theme, it received the code name Scarlett, in honor of Jesse Rooke's new daughter, Scarlett Rooke.