The world of customised Harley-Davidson motorcycles is mourning the passing of a living legend, Arlen Ness, who passed away on March 22 at 79 after a battle with cancer.
During his 56-year career, he was almost single-handedly responsible for transforming regular Harley-Davidson motorcycles from straightforward two-wheeled machines to museum-quality works of art. Ness is remembered for handcrafting hundreds of wildly artistic motorcycles typified in his own style of low-slung, colourful sleekness. His long list of celebrity customers included Journey guitarist Neil Schon and moustached wrestler Hulk Hogan while his workshop produced some of the most sought-after custom bike parts in the world.
Ness was inducted into the American Motorcyclist Association Hall of Fame in 1992 in recognition of his pioneering craft of motorcycle customisation from his shops in Oakland, San Leandro and Dublin, California.
Despite his often outrageous creations, Ness is remembered for his unpretentious, mild-mannered persona. Even so, his son Cory recalls he sometimes 'let loose'. On one such occasion when he was 77 years old, the two were rumbling across America on their hand-built motorcycles. They stopped for gas in the middle of nowhere, Colorado.
“All of a sudden Dad lit up the tires and did a burnout across the gas station,” Cory recalls, “It was so unlike him - he really was a responsible motorcycle guy, really friendly and humble. But man, you should have seen the look on people’s faces. He loved it.”
Born in Moorhead, Minnesota, Ness began humbly as a pin setter at his local bowling alley and later as a post office worker and furniture mover. He competed semi-professionally in bowling and used his winnings to buy his first motorcycle, a 1947 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead, which later became his first customisation project.
His museum in Dublin [https://arlenness-motorcycles.com/Info/Arlen-Ness-Museum ] features more than 40 of his custom motorcycles including 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.
A true Harley-Davidson hero, his legacy is continued by his son, Cory.