Iconic bike builder Arlen Ness dies aged 79

Arlen Ness - one cool dude

Iconic American motorcycle customiser Arlen Ness has died, aged 79, surrounded by his family in California.

Arlen was known for his wild paintwork as well as his outlandish custom choppers, baggers and cruisers.

As well as producing his own customs, he worked with several motorcycle brands, most notably the axed Victory Motorcycles, producing limited-edition production models.

He also branched out into riding apparel and merchandise featuring his wild designs.

Facebook eulogyArlen Ness custom motorcycle

His company’s Facebook page has published this eulogy:

It is with heavy hearts that we announce Arlen Ness the visionary, loving husband, father, grandfather and leader of our family passed away last night March 22, 2019. Arlen passed away comfortably in his home surrounded by loved ones after the most creative and inspirational life anyone could imagine.

The most important things in Arlen’s life were his wife of 59 years Beverly, his children, grandchildren, friends and motorcycles. Arlen once said that “Motorcycling has been a great ride…my whole life since I’ve been motorcycling has been wonderful. I’ve met so many nice people. Friends all over the world…. We can go almost anyplace and stay with friends. It’s been great.” With few words Arlen conveyed his priorities every day, family and friends.

Everyone who knew Arlen respects him for his achievements and for who he was as a person, both of which are superlatives. The respect is how Arlen came to deserve the commonly spoken nickname “The King of Custom Motorcycles”.

Arlen rarely reflected on his own success. He never planned for it, this is because what he achieved had never been done before; it had never been dreamt of.

Arlen has touched the lives of our family, the Arlen Ness team and thousands of others around the world with his genuine character. We will announce a memorial service and celebration of life after some private time, and appreciate your understanding. We thank you for your respects and condolences.

Although the Ness family cannot put their loss into words, they can look up and smile knowing Arlen has done something that few men do in a lifetime of trying. He has inspired.

Arlen bio

He was born in Moorhead, Minnesota, on July 12, 1939.

After moving to California and working in a bowling alley, he raised money to buy his first bike, a 1947 Knucklehead Harley-Davidson which he customised.

It was followed by many more custom motorcycles.

He was married to his wife Beverly for 59 years and is succeeded in the custom bike business by his son, Cory and grandson, Zach.

Ness Combustion Victory Motorcycles concept arlen
Zach Ness carries on the tradition

21 Comments

  1. Mr. Ness, will be sorely missed on this world, I first met him, at his shop in San Leandro, he had a way about him, very casual, unassuming, very magnetic. I’d almost always see him in all the runs, and rallies, always excited to see what he created next. Ride On, you’ve got some of the greatest company, that ever lived, riding with you, thank you for gracing our lives. May your family, forever bask in your glory.

  2. I met Arlen in the mid 80’s while I was working at Creative Machining in the Santa Cruz mountains. At that time were were producing Motorcycle Frames for him. We could never get them out fast enough for his demand. A few years later Creative Machine went out of business and my Husband’s shop took over the frames for Arlen. In 1996 we moved our shop to Sonora CA and my Son really took over the frames for Arlen. We worked with Arlen Ness Motorcycles for years and knew everyone in the family, they were like family. Arlen was a kind, gentle, sort of quiet man. He always made you feel important and always shook your hand when he saw you. We lost a legend, a great man, way to early in his life. Bev, Cory, Sherri and their families our deepest Sympathy to you all, and to Arlen, Ride Free until we meet again my friend.

  3. I met Arlen when I had Fremont Raceway Tony Del Rio and myself bowled on a team in Hayward with Arlen then when Evel Knievel jet cycle cought on fire at Fremont he gave it to me Tony and Arlen fixed it back up to show Arlen’s Nesseciets and Del Rio Customs was painted on the sides of the jet cycle and are still there I am so sorry to see him go but will remember the good times I had with him

  4. I was 12 years old in 1972 when I started sneaking into my parents bedroom to steel my dads Easy Rider magazines, he kept them there out of reach of me and my sibblings due to the scantly dressed women that use to be modeling with whatever custom bike was being featured, many times more than one. Anyway at that time in my life I could care less about the women but instead was only looking to see what Arlen Ness bike might be featured in that months issue. Arlen was the reason I became obsessed with motorcycles and the art work that could be created customizing them. He was a true inspiration in my motorcycling life and I’m happy to say that 40 years later I still have all the same passions. Thanks Arlen.
    You will be missed.
    Condelences to all his family and all his close friends. “RIP”

  5. Had a picture taken with Arlen in RedDeer with my bike. Was one of the hilights of my life. Rest in piece buddy.

  6. Our deepest condolences and prayers to the Arlen Ness Family. Arlen was an inspiration to us at CROSS MC Ministries and to the biker world! May the Peace of God comfort you during your time of mourning.

  7. RIP Arlen Ness, my Heartfelt Condolences to the entire Ness Family. No words can truly express our sadness for your loss. Pee-wee and Family from El Paso, TX.

  8. Truly one of greatest souls that I ever met. He could speak to anyone and make them feel that he very much cared what it was they were saying. I think because he really did care. One truly wonderful human being, Of course he was a legend, that goes without saying, but his true greatness is how great he made people feel. I kneel for the Ness family and all of thousands of people he touched. He is without pain now and with God. We mourn for all of us that will miss him.

  9. A life well lived and creative genius. I remember visiting the first shop years ago and to see what the Ness legend grew into is a true testament to his success.

  10. I met Arlen Ness in 2009 while in California for work. I stopped by his shop in Dublin, just hoping to see some of his customs. His brother, Kevin greeted me at the door like I was an old friend. After a few minutes in the shop, Arlen himself approached us and Kevin introduced me. The legend himself took time to show me around his second floor museum with all the amazing bikes I remembered from the magazines. Mr. Arlen Ness treated me like I was somebody important. Maybe it was because we spoke the same language (motorcycles) or maybe he realized he was a big influence on me when I was a kid, but whatever the reason, he treated me like we were just a couple of riders checking out some cool bikes. I got to spend the better part of an hour with a legend. It’s a day I’ll never forget. Godspeed, Mr. Ness.

  11. Oh Bev, Cory and Zach,
    I’m so so very sorry to hear of your terrible loss! He was one hell of a guy… He may be gone but could NEVER EVER be forgotten. God bless you all and hope you all find peace.
    Who knows…. maybe he’s blasting some really MAJOR illegal pipes and God’s loving it! Hey, ya never know..
    He was a true inspiration and a great friend and one who could always be counted on… God bless…

  12. He was a great motorcycle builder and a great man and will be deeply missed …..
    Deepest condolences to the Ness family …..
    RIP my friend …..
    Paul Barrasso , A Hamster Brother ….

  13. Arlen was a colleague and friend. We was humble, honest and will be greatly missed.
    Godspeed and our hearts go out to the entire Ness family, wife Beverly, son Cory, his daughter, and
    The grandchildren.

  14. My sincerest condolences to the family. Working for him was one of the highlights of my life. He always treated everyone with respect. I will miss him.

  15. Utmost respect to all family and friends, from Essex UK
    We have a heavy heart for the loss of a fabulously talented man..

  16. My heart and thoughts go out to the Ness family. I am very sorry Beverly. I met Arlen once at Sturgis once. He was such a key and and down to earth man. Took a picture with me and my daughter and gave us his autograph. A memory her and I will both cherish A true gentleman. He was such an inspiration to many. His work will last the ages.

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