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The life and art of Arlen Ness: King of Choppers

Arlen Ness: King of Choppers

No custom bike builder has had a longer or more prolific career than Arlen Ness. He helped build an industry, ascended to its peak and has remained there ever since.

He began his career in the 1960s, with the customization of a 1947 Harley Knucklehead. After entering the Knucklehead in local motorcycle shows, Ness' work was noticed by the press, as well as by potential customers. Soon he was able to start a business custom painting bikes. Not long after, Ness began selling custom parts and created a catalog to keep up with customer demand. As business boomed, Ness continued to create custom motorcycles, with a stretched and lowered style and high-performance engines becoming hallmarks of his designs.


"Awesome-Ness" featured 11 of Ness' significant creations, including "Untouchable," (right) the 1947 Knucklehead that launched Ness' career. Additionally, the exhibit spotlighted "Two Bad," his 2,000cc twin-engine Sportster; "Ness-Tique," a modern custom inspired by a 1903 Harley-Davidson depicted on a Cartier trophy he won at a Harley-Davidson ride-in show; "Red Flame Chopper," a straightforward, high bar bike inspired by his first Knucklehead; "Top Banana," winner of top honors on the Discovery Channel's "Biker Build Off"; "Overhead Cam Sportster," a one-off 1200cc with sportbike styling that Ness keeps in his office; and "Mach Ness," his helicopter turbine-powered bike.

"Awesome-Ness" also featured three designs inspired by classic cars, "Smooth-Ness," modeled after a bronze of a 1932 Bugatti Roadster; "Ferrari Bike," (right, foreground) which evokes the iconic Italian automobiles; and "Nesstalgia," inspired by a classic 1957 Chevy. Together, Ness' creations formed a timeline of the custom-bike movement in America. His work has influenced everyone from other bike builders to factory engineers.

Ness is the second designer to be featured in the Museum's Hall of Legends. The first was " Man in the Wind," featuring 1999 Motorcycle Hall of Fame inductee and Vetter Corporation founder, Craig Vetter.
"Awesome-Ness" opened on July 24, 2008, ended May 2010. Read more about Arlen Ness in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame.