The custom bike world has lost another exceptional talent. Top custom bike designer and builder Jesse Rooke has died. The celebrated creator was pronounced dead, according to several online posts, after a motorcycle accident on Friday, April 5, 2019, during Arizona Bike Week, though we haven’t been able to find any other details or the circumstances as yet. It’s a lot for the custom bike world to digest, especially in the wake of losing Arlen Ness on March 22, less than a month ago.
Rooke’s launch into the customizing world started after a previous accident left him semi-paralyzed and he began tinkering around with custom bikes during his recovery. That begat Jesse Rooke Customs in Huntington Beach, California, where he quickly developed a reputation for his top design talent. His innovative style hit like a meteor when Rooke burst onto the custom bike scene in July 2002 with his first bike, the groundbreaking “Dinah.” It was also about the same time Roland Sands was injecting fresh ideas into that world, and the two ex-racers, both the same age, formed a friendship after Rooke showed up in Sturgis with the stretched out, spacey Dinah.
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Jesse Rooke quickly made a name for himself in the custom scene thanks to designs that melded racing elements with chopper-y aesthetics and he’d go on to make several appearances on Discovery Channel’s Biker Build-Off, with one episode pitting his KTM-engined boardtracker “Darla” against buddy Roland Sands’ sport-flavored “No Regrets.” Dinah, Darla, Paula, Slowtard—the bikes flowed out of Rooke’s garage at a faster rate than anyone expected, The man was prolific, but he was also a meticulous builder who looked for unique elements to shake up the traditional custom formula. Most of his unconventional designs were colored by a background in roadracing, motocross, and BMX racing, which made for bikes that mashed together form, function, and simplicity, and always performance. You can see the smooth spareness in the silhouettes, curves that blended into each other and few unnecessary add-ons that piled on weight. The designs even caught the eye of big-name celebs like Brad Pitt, who’s been seen cruising on “Jaden,” a Rooke-built KTM Super Duke-based café racer.
With all that buzz behind them, Rooke’s trend-setting one-offs would regularly light up the pages of Cruiser as well as various covers and features of sister titles Hot Bike, Baggers, and Street Chopper. The man was always pushing boundaries, as with his “Kali-Kruiser” build featured in Hot Bike (below) which he said he made to prepare for his first Discovery Channel appearance.
Jesse was well known in the bike world and the outpouring of grief from the motorcycle community was swift, with friends and associates stepping in to offer condolences.
On Instagram, @RolandSands wrote: “Jesse and I became fast friends… I just want to say thanks for being the man you were and for pushing me and being an inspiration.”
Meanwhile, @RideDunlop wrote: “A kid that looked like he’d be more at home carving waves on a surfboard than with a TIG welder in his hand, he brought his own unique style and flair to motorcycle customization.”
Jesse Rooke was 45 years old, and is survived by partner Ashley Blair and his daughter Scarlett. We offer them our most sincere condolences.
A GoFundMe page has been set up by family members to help with ongoing expenses.
4/15/2019: We’ve just received news of an update on the GoFundMe site. Funeral services for Jesse will be a private affair for family and only the closest friends. For those wishing to offer support, a Celebration of Life will be held at Wild Horse West at 8415 W Carefree Hwy, in Peoria, AZ 85383 this Wednesday, April 17 at 3:30pm.
Longtime friend of the Rooke family, Terry Rymer (and others) are planning a tribute for Rooke at Sturgis, though it’s yet to be determined if the tribute will be hosted in 2019 or 2020, due to logistics. Please stay tuned for future updates.