1957 Chevy Bike

But that's just the tip of the iceberg, no more than a niche in a much larger business empire. Because Ness has used his gifted design abilities to create one of the largest motorcycle custom parts business in the world.

1957 Chevy Bike
1957 Chevy Bike

In the world of motorcycle makers, Arlen Ness is internationally recognized as a master builder, a mechanical Matisse, an artist in grease- spattered coveralls.

Take his “Ness-Stalgia,” a chopper designed with the trademark tail fins of a 1957 Chevy, or a glimmering smoke-green machine with a teardrop-shaped front wheel cover.

And his list of clients is unique, too: Tonight Show host Jay LenoLos Angeles Lakers star center Shaquille O’Neal and wrestler Terry “Hulk” Hogan, just to name a few.

The soft-spoken Castro Valley man has spent much of the past 31 years working on his unique motorcycle frame designs from a small shop on East 14th Street in San Leandro that doubles as a showroom and assembly plant.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, no more than a niche in a much larger business empire. Because Ness has used his gifted design abilities to create one of the largest motorcycle custom parts business in the world.

In the past two years, the legend of Ness has grown with the introduction of a line of motorcycle clothing, leather gloves and jackets and casual wear.

“Arlen is undoubtedly the king of customizing,” said Dave Nichols, editor of Easyriders, the world’s largest motorcycle magazine. “He developed a look that was uniquely his own in the early days of choppers in the 1970s and he has pushed the envelope using high-tech equipment,” Nichols added.

“Everybody in the motorcycle world knows who Arlen is, and there are some young guns coming up who are trying to dethrone him because he’s the man.”

Ness takes between 50 and 60 orders for bikes each year, mostly from entertainment and sports celebrities or very well-to-do businessmen, and it’s no wonder: Each bike sells for between $25,000 and $50,000. Very special orders can reach $100,000.

The frames are handmade by metal worker Bob Monroe, who shapes and smoothes the metal with a sandbag and rubber mallet. Monroe also handles the welding work. The bikes are also painted by hand, and the Harley-Davidson engines are the only parts that aren’t bought, assembled and installed onto the bikes. And even those include Ness’ custom parts.

But the designs are pure-Ness, whether it’s Arlen or his son, Cory, who has joined his dad in the family business. Ness’ wife, Bev, and his daughter, Sherri, are among the 50 or so employees at the shop.

Each of his creations is unique. The 60 custom bikes on his showroom floor are not for sale and he rarely duplicates them. Like the Chevy design.

“It was an idea of a friend of mine,” said Ness. To make it more authentic, Ness used a headlight from a 1957 Chevy sedan on the bike.

There was one time, however, when a prospective buyer from Italy flew to California to purchase a bike he had seen online, and Ness made an exception and copied one of his favorites, the Mona Lisa, a long, low black bike with flowing lines.

Ness admitted feeling some sympathy for the man who had traveled so far, and with a sly grin he said, “I decided to take the money.”

Like most success stories, Ness started off small, working from a small shop in his garage. By day, he worked as a furniture mover and later as a carpenter. By night, Ness would tear apart the only bike he owned at the time, and then rebuild it again and again, until he could do it in his sleep.

It was a natural avocation for a man in love with fast-moving wheeled machines.

In 1969, he quit his day job and devoted all his time to motorcycle design and construction, and word of his work spread quickly.

source: https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/johnson/article/CUSTOM-EYES-Arlen-Ness-designs-dream-machines-2901445.php

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