Motorcycle Legend Arlen Ness Dies At Age 79

The King of Custom Motorcycles left a big mark on the industry

Arlen Ness on his bright yellow custom bike
Arlen Ness, the King of Custom Motorcycles, has passed away at the age of 79.Julia LaPalme

We've lost another of the great ones. Acclaimed motorcycle designer, builder, and customizer Arlen Ness has passed away. The company he founded, Arlen Ness Motorcycles, posted notice that the widely acclaimed motorcycle legend passed away on March 22, 2019, at the age of 79, surrounded by family and friends. The notice goes on to say:

“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.”

The post goes on to say a memorial service and celebration of life will be announced after some “private time.”

The outpouring of support and condolences on platforms like Facebook and Instagram was swift and massive, with everyone from regular folks who’d met Arlen at a rally to big builders like Roland Sands and Brian Klock praising the man’s genius and—to a person—marveling that behind his legendary status was a humble person and a true gentleman who had time for everyone. Having crossed paths with Arlen several times over the years, I can confirm that he was as kind a soul as you could ever hope to meet.

Arlen Ness on his bright yellow custom bike
Among other concepts, Ness single-handedly invented “theme bikes” with voluptuous designs and others that came to be known as “body bikes.”Cycle World Archives

Ness started down the custom path early, buying an old 1947 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead over his wife's objections, then fabricating modifications in his California garage in the 1970s and going on to earn widespread acclaim as a bike builder. Eventually he opened his own shop in Dublin, California, specializing in custom builds, paint jobs, and parts but always pushing the boundaries with his custom fabrications and unique paintwork. Later on Ness began working with several motorcycle brands, most recently the now-defunct Victory Motorcycles, to design some of their limited-edition production models. The company that now bears his name, Arlen Ness Motorcycles, evolved from a custom shop to also developing custom parts for Harley-Davidson, Indian, and Victory motorcycles. He'd go on to influence an entire generation of customizers with his unique, one-of-a-kind creations, and the company opened a museum with some of Arlen's most famous designs at its Dublin headquarters. His custom builds became legendary and were seen in numerous shows and magazines, and even on TV, being featured on Biker Build-Off and Let It Ride.

Ness’ influence spread to his son, Cory, and grandson, Zach, who continue the family tradition to this day, building their own noted custom machines and parts.

We extend our heartfelt condolences to the entire Ness family. Arlen will be missed.