Arlen Darryl Ness

March 25, 2019

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Arlen Darryl Ness

The American artist Arlen Darryl Ness died last week.

The next day, his Dublin, California based company, Arlen Ness Motorcycles, announced via Facebook:

“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.”

Ness began building his, mostly, Art Deco motorcycles in the 1970s.

Art Deco, was an artistic movement that became a style in France between the World Wars. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica it “represented modernism turned into fashion. Its products included both individually crafted luxury items and mass-produced wares, but, in either case, the intention was to create a sleek and anti-traditional elegance that symbolized wealth and sophistication.”

Art Deco, or Deco, is generally understood to be an attempt to infuse useful and practical manufactured objects like buildings, automobiles, clocks, radios and even ashtrays with an artistic sensibility. It opposed the idea of fine art, which in the 1920s was defined as art that just sat there and looked pretty and didn’t do anything. Art Deco was a way of making mass produced goods look like one-of-a-kind custom-made objects. The Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company built Art Deco inspired motorcycles before it went out of business in 1953. When Ness started building motorcycles 5 years later, he began turning basic, blue collar machines into “individually crafted luxury items… that symbolized wealth and sophistication.”

A controversial exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum in 1998 called “The Art of the Motorcycle” included a 1948 Indian Chief but failed to notice any of Ness’s work.

Arlen Darryl Ness was born in Moorhead, Minnesota on July 12, 1939 and moved to San Lorenzo, California, east of San Francisco Bay when he was in the sixth grade.

After high school he worked as a pin boy in a bowling alley, a postman and a moving man. He earned the money to buy his first motorcycle as a competitive bowler. It was a 1947 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead and he began his life’s work when he customized it. He built his first motorcycles in his home garage in San Leandro., California.

His fame began to grow after Harley-Davidson enjoyed a renaissance in the early 1980s and he started selling Arlen Ness designed and branded motorcycle parts as well as custom motorcycles.

He is survived by Beverly Ness, his wife of 59 years, his son Corey Ness who now runs the company founded by his father and his grandson Zach Ness.

The Facebook announcement of his death said:

“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.”

On his own Facebook page, well known and respectfully regarded motorcycle enthusiast Ralph “Sonny” Barger wrote: “I am very sorry to inform everyone that my friend of 60+ years, Arlen Ness, died of a cancer related illness Friday Night March 22, 2019. He will be missed by all.”

Arlen Darryl Ness was 79-years-old.

Requiscat In Pace.

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9 Responses to “Arlen Darryl Ness”

  1. Cal Sykes Says:

    I met Arlen in 1979 at The Tropical Bar in Daytona. He was such a humble and great guy. I have always had much respect for him.Ride Free Arlen. Cal Sykes,Thomaston Georgia.

  2. Mark Says:

    I crossed paths with the man a few times over 40 plus years, he always seemed to be cool enough and knew his parts. His parts that I’ve used have always worked as intended, very well. May his family and friends find comfort in his absence from this world.

  3. Ian Mutch Says:

    Rally sorry to hear this. I met Arlen in 89 when he agreed to be interviewed by me when I was riding across the USA. A very understated modest man whose character was so at odds with the flamboyance of his creations. It was pouring with rain the afternoon I interviewed him and rather than leaving me to ride miles back to where I was staying he offered me the hospitality of his home for the night. A real gent.

  4. Fred Bramblett Says:

    Arlen also had a daughter Sherri and her children. Arlen son Cory also has a son Max brother of Zach working with Indian in MN. Wonderful man and family that had a large positive impact on the industry as well as individual lives.

  5. Paladin Says:

    My sincere condolences to those that knew and loved him.

    Long May He Ride,

    Paladin

  6. James Pritchett Says:

    Met the man, and his son, when they came to Hawaii for a show and ride many years ago. Man was a class act and he could handle a machine on the road. R I P

  7. Dasein Says:

    “…quietly outgoing.”
    Good one, Stroker.

  8. jrino Says:

    A gentle humble man in person. May he rest in peace.

  9. stroker Says:

    It is with pleasure and fondness that I remember riding with Arlen (and Corey) from the late 70’s thru the 80’s into the 90’s, doing the Redwood Run and Sturgis, with the beginnings of the Hamsters. Back then and as long as I’ve known him, he was always warm, friendly and quietly out-going. He was a stone biker, but a gentleman too. We had fun heading north on the 101 to Garberville (Harleyville) shepherding him as he rode his custom creations to one of the last real biker runs in the west. Even though he created some high-end, wild, costly creations, he wasn’t afraid to put them on the road, even during the “Wet-Wood Run” (Corey, you’ll remember that one) Arlen wasn’t a poser, he was a rider. The real deal. The parties at Bells Motor Lodge in Spearfish (SD) with Gary Bang, and all the rest of the guys, are warm spots in my brain-wrinkles. Good Times.
    Vaya Con Dios my friend.
    You will be missed.

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