The last several years have been a challenge for James Bonner and JBA Custom Cycles, to say the least. In 2019 his store caught fire. It could have been worse; the fire actually ruptured a water pipe that helped put it out. But he had to operate elsewhere for eight months. Thankfully, through the generosity of his customers and fellow business owners, he was able to get back on his feet. But then, the day of his grand opening ended up being the same as the start of COVID lockdowns.
“Ultimately, we prevailed,” he now says.
The pandemic actually ended up boosting business, as people had a little more time and money on their hands—and taking the bike out proved to be a perfect COVID-free excursion. His 12 years in business have seen ups and downs, but overall, considering he basically started from scratch, it’s been mostly ups.
The Fort Myers native had been into all things motorized as a kid: dirt bikes, cool cars and the like. He actually got his first motorcycle—a sport bike—because of, let’s say, his enthusiasm for fast cars. Actually, he had so many tickets that car insurance was too expensive, he said, only half joking. So he bought a motorcycle from his neighbor, and it sparked a passion.
JBA Custom Cycles started in Cape Coral, then moved to its current location in Fort Myers. It built its reputation mainly by word of mouth. Bonner’s bread and butter is repair work, but his custom work is what gets him his reputation. His designs have gotten national recognition; he’s taken home trophies from the renowned Daytona Bike Week. Some of his bikes can take up to a year to make and cost six figures.
He compares the process to creating a custom home. You sit and go down each component of the bike, put it in writing, create an illustration, then get to building. “Our customers have faith in what we do,” he says. “We never build the same bike twice. We always look to outdo what we’ve done before.”