Arlen Ness

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Arlen Ness
Arlen Ness cropped.jpg
Ness in 2014
Born(1939-07-12)July 12, 1939
DiedMarch 22, 2019(2019-03-22) (aged 79)
Occupation Motorcycle designer, entrepreneur
Years active1960–2019
Known for Custom motorcycles
Beverly Ness(m. 19602019)
Relatives Cory Ness (son), Zach Ness (grandson)

Arlen Darryl Ness [1] [2] (July 12, 1939 – March 22, 2019) was an American motorcycle designer and entrepreneur best known for his custom motorcycles. Ness received acclaim for his designs, most of which are noted for their unique body style and paintwork.


Early life

Arlen Darryl Ness was born in Moorhead, Minnesota on July 12, 1939 to Elaine and Ervin Ness, and moved to San Lorenzo, California when he was in the sixth grade. [3]

Prior to his career as a motorcycle builder, Arlen worked as a pin setter at the local bowling alley, and later as a post office worker and furniture mover. Ness also competed in semi-professional bowling leagues, the earnings of which he used to buy his first motorcycle, a 1947 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead that he later customized. [4] [5]

Ness was married to his wife Beverly for 59 years until his death. [6]


QuickNess, in the permanent collection of the Oakland Museum of California. QuickNess 1984.jpg
QuickNess, in the permanent collection of the Oakland Museum of California.
A motorcycle with two engines by Arlen Ness Arlen Ness two engine motorcycle.jpg
A motorcycle with two engines by Arlen Ness
A streamlined motorcycle by Arlen Ness Arlen Ness streamlined motorcycle.jpg
A streamlined motorcycle by Arlen Ness
Ness-Stalgia Model Ness-Stalgia.jpg
Ness-Stalgia Model
Arlen Ness Victory motorcycle at the Seattle International Motorcycle Show Arlen Ness Harley-Davidson Progressive Insurance.JPG
Arlen Ness Victory motorcycle at the Seattle International Motorcycle Show
Entrance to Arlen Ness Motorcycles in Dublin, California Arlen Ness Motorcycles 1.jpg
Entrance to Arlen Ness Motorcycles in Dublin, California
Arlen Ness motorcycles and trophies on display in Dublin, California Arlen Ness motorcycles and trophies.jpg
Arlen Ness motorcycles and trophies on display in Dublin, California

His first customs were made in the garage of his home in San Leandro, California, but by the early 1970s he had moved to a storefront on East 14th Street. [8]

Ness was recognized for his unique painting style and for developing a line of custom motorcycle parts. His popularity grew as he built new custom bikes [9] and then had those displayed on the bike show circuit and featured in motorcycle magazines. [10]

After more than three decades of custom bike building, his business, Arlen Ness Motorcycles, moved to a Dublin, California facility that includes a museum featuring more than 40 of his custom motorcycles. The museum displays his Untouchable, the twin motor Two Bad, the antique inspired Ness-Tique, Blower Bike, the Italian sports car inspired Ferrari Bike, the '57 Chevy inspired Ness-Stalgia, the Bugatti-like Smooth-Ness, the Discovery Channel's Biker Build-Off bike Top Banana, and his jet-powered Mach Ness. The company is also an authorized dealership for Victory Motorcycles and for Indian Motorcycles. [11]

The Mach Ness is a motorcycle Ness built in 2005, inspired by Jay Leno's turbine-powered bike, that incorporates a jet-powered helicopter engine as its power plant. The design, concept, paint, and graphics were created by Carl Brouhard and the hand-made aluminum body work was by Bob Monroe. [12] [13]

Ness received recognition and awards including Builder of the Year, induction into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame and Lifetime Achievement Awards. [12] His son, Cory Ness, has worked with Ness for more than 30 years, and now runs the day-to-day business operations at Arlen Ness, Inc. [14] Cory has himself been recognized as a top custom bike builder and even defeated his father in a 2004 episode of Biker Build-Off. Carrying on the family tradition to a third generation, Cory's son, Zach Ness, built several high end customs before finishing high school in 2006. [15]

Ness received a patent for the Big Shot, a method of altering the motorcycle's fuel injection system, and thereby enhancing a motorcycle's performance. [16]

Ness died on March 22, 2019 at the age of 79. [6]

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  1. "Happy Birthday to Arlen Ness, Legendary Custom Builder, Victory Motorcycle Dealer & Motorcycle Icon". Victory Motorcycles . Retrieved 8 August 2014.
  2. Blake Z. Rong (15 July 2013). "Happy Birthday, Arlen Ness". Autoweek. Retrieved 9 September 2015.
  3. "ART OF THE CHOPPER: ARLEN NESS – FIRST LOOK". Cycle World . Bonnier Corporation. December 17, 2007.
  4. "AMA Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame - Arlen Ness". AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame. American Motorcyclist Association . Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  5. "Arlen Ness to Receive Lifetime Achievement Award from Sturgis Motorcycle Museum". American Iron Magazine. TAM Communications. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  6. 1 2 Williams, Don (March 23, 2019). "Arlen Ness Passes – 1939-2019". Ultimate Motorcycling. Retrieved March 23, 2019.
  7. "Arlen Ness - Harley Davidson: QuickNess motorcycle". OMCA Collections. Oakland Museum of California. 2019. Retrieved March 24, 2019. Harley Davidson Sportster Motorcycle, 1972. Customized body with silver and copper leaf, gold plating, and engraving. History: Arlen Ness customized this motorcycle in 1984. He used it for display and in competition naming it "QuickNess." Regular shows were held where customizers exhibited their artistry. Arlen Ness has won many trophies for his superb machines. This one has a tangerine orange body with copper leafed and painted designs and engraving on the chrome parts.
  8. "Arlen Ness Bio". Motorcycle USA. 3 December 2010. Retrieved 8 August 2014.
  9. "The most beautiful motorcycles: Arlen Ness • Luxe Fair". 22 June 2018.
  10. Charle, Suzanne (October 16, 1997). "When It Comes to Harleys, Arlen Ness Is One Very Cool Customizer". The New York Times . Retrieved August 8, 2014.
  11. "Manufacturer Models". Arlen Ness Motorcycles. Retrieved March 25, 2015.
  12. 1 2 "Arlen Ness - Heroes of Harley-Davidson". Motorcycle Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 23 May 2014. Retrieved 8 August 2014.
  13. "Mach-Ness - 74th Annual 2014 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally". Archived from the original on 17 August 2014. Retrieved 8 August 2014.
  14. "A New Breed: Ness revving up less expensive line of manufactured motorcycles". East Bay Times. 2005-11-25. Retrieved 2019-01-05.
  15. "Zach Ness Profile/ Sailor Jerry Presents Hot Bike Invitational Bike Build-Off". Hot Bike. Bonnier Corporation. 10 June 2014. Retrieved 8 August 2014.
  16. "Supplemental fuel injector trigger circuit" . Retrieved 8 August 2014.

Further reading