The Secret Life Of Arlen Ness

Whatever the way people make reference to him  – the Patriarch, the King Of Choppers or affectionately the Godfather  – nobody can deny the fact that from his Hayward, CA garage  in the mid 60’s where he started building frames and spraying paint on peanut gas tanks  to today where, helped by his family, he manages a custom empire in Dublin, CA,  Arlen Ness  is the man who created the path and always led the way into the future of custom motorcycles building and parts designing.

Has everything already been said about Arlen? I don’t think so, and I would suggest he tells us more, for example by writing his memoirs…Waiting for them, Arlen revealed to me, and now to you, some details about his personal life, likes and dislikes.

Cyril. In High School, what your teachers said about you? Arlen. Not a hell of a lot.       

Cyril. Who were your childhood heroes? Arlen. Gene Autry and the Lone Range.

Cyril. What was your 1st vehicle? Arlen. 1947 Oldsmobile Coupe Fastback.

Cyril. If you were not working in the motorcycle industry, what would you do? Arlen. Probably would have been in the automotive industry.

Cyril. What is your favorite way to relax? Arlen. Go to Maui.

Cyril. What are you afraid of? Arlen. Obama.

Cyril. Which film made you cry? Arlen. TV series “American Chopper.”         

Cyril. Name five things you hate. Arlen. Sushi, speeding tickets, bad martinis, C.A.R.B. (California Air Resources Board)

Cyril. What is the person you would love to meet? Arlen. Actor Jack Nicholson.

Cyril. What was the last book you read? Arlen. Sonny Barger’s book.

Cyril. Do you have any guilty pleasures? Arlen. None.

Cyril. Do you collect anything? Arlen. Motorcycles.

Cyril. What was your worst buy? Arlen. Investment in oil wells.

Cyril. How do you take your coffee? Arlen. I don’t…I drink green ice tea.

Cyril. What was the most embarrassing thing you have ever made? Arlen. No comment

Cyril. What is the best thing you can cook? Arlen. Hot water.

Cyril. When was the last time you were really angry? Arlen. Theft at my store.

Cyril. What is your perfect weekend when you are at home? Arlen. Walking, sitting on my deck and BBQ in the evening.

Cyril. What is your preferred rally? Arlen. Sturgis.

Cyril. What is the worst question a journalist asked you? Arlen. It hasn’t been asked yet!

43 Responses to “The Secret Life Of Arlen Ness”

  1. 1 Brandon. Oct 6th, 2010 at 7:54 am


  2. 2 Keller Oct 6th, 2010 at 7:55 am

    The Teutuls make Arlen cry! Ha, ha. Good answer Mr. Ness.

  3. 3 2Low Oct 6th, 2010 at 8:08 am

    Superb riding picture. Want to see new customs from Sir Ness.

  4. 4 Larry R Oct 6th, 2010 at 8:18 am

    The master has spoken. Thanks Arlen and Cyril.

  5. 5 LENNY SINNET ASTC PERFORMANCE Oct 6th, 2010 at 8:54 am

    Arlen is to the motorcycle industry as Elvis is to music but alive and still enjoying every day building and designing. Keep up the great work.

  6. 6 morriscustom Oct 6th, 2010 at 10:24 am

    This guy proves you stick with something you love and enjoy,are good at it,have integrity,and dont rip people off,you will be successfull!A benchmark for all other motorcycle businesses.I look up to you Mr Ness!

  7. 7 McScooter Oct 6th, 2010 at 10:46 am

    I know I’ve said it before but it is worth repeating! This man is a CLASS ACT and deserves respect as he has definately earned it. Thank you Mr. Ness for your efforts and leadership.

  8. 8 fuji Oct 6th, 2010 at 11:18 am

    No. 1#

  9. 9 Michael Henry Oct 6th, 2010 at 11:37 am

    Thanks for sharing this with us. Arlen Ness truly is a pioneer in the motorcycle industry. I really admire his skills and look forward to what he comes up with next.

  10. 10 Mike Avila Oct 6th, 2010 at 11:37 am

    The greatest builder ever !! Arlen is the one that everyone that has a new idea about a bike comes from something that he did already or the idea started from something that Arlen did and the new builder makes changes to it. He is the an incredable man and the greatest friend a guy could have.I feel truly blessed to call him my dear friend and one of my favorite people that I love to be around along with his wonderful family………………….

  11. 11 morpion Oct 6th, 2010 at 11:55 am

    the king of the king

  12. 12 Danny Murray Oct 6th, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    When the world lost Hank Williams Sr. it lost a legend, as will be the case when Mr. Ness is gone. We will have lost a legend that has made the entire world a better place.

  13. 13 Mr. Potts Oct 6th, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    In this short interview, I have become a fan of Arlen Ness. I’ve always enjoyed his work but now respect the man. Great questions, Cyril !

  14. 14 ray c wheeler Oct 6th, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    Great man with a great family.

  15. 15 ODee Oct 6th, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    I know a full on series would lack the forced drama of American Chopper, but what about a two hour t.v. movie about the Ness’s, maybe show the inner workings and how a successfull empire is run. Just have the cameras follow him around for a few weeks to show how a living legend rolls.
    It would be a great counter-point to show that it IS possible to be a respected, successfull entrepenuer, AND keep it classy, all at the same time!

  16. 16 highrpm Oct 6th, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    a little reminiscing: i always liked choppers and after seeing easy rider, even more. after graduating, i took a job in the bay area. one saturday afternoon, i was driving down e. 14th st in san leandro and saw this incredible custom bike parked outside a small corner shop, unlike anything i had ever seen. i whipped a u, parked and walked up and just took it in. the bike was like nesstique, only it was blue with lots of gold leafing and gold parts and 2 webers on the small blower mounted in front of the motor–gorgeous. adding to my luck, it was closing time and arlen came out with some of his friends, fired up the bike and laid down a line of rubber, all while laughing and joking with his friends. ever since, he has been the king of choppers with me.

  17. 17 Lightnin'Larry Oct 6th, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    Arlen, as it has been said already, is the epitome of class. He’s innovative, has great foresight and is just really an all around nice guy. I’ve had the opportunity to meet and speak with Arlen on many occasions as I live in the area. He is always approachable and seemingly in a good mood and loves to talk about bikes, parts, the weather, traffic, the economy or just about anything else of interest to the rest of us. He’s not camera shy (as so many other well known builders are) or an elitist, and he’s always very polite. Cory has taken after his dad in many of these same respects and is also a great guy to talk to. All in all the Ness’ are a great family with a great legacy that will be handed down generation to generation. Keep up the good work!

  18. 18 bajerry Oct 6th, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    I remember in 78′ at Sturgis City Park where everybody camped out and no real biker at the time would think of trailering his bike. Tthey would have a bike parade through the park on the first weekend, all the bike clubs, all the independents, riding choppers or stockers that were road worthy, riden to the run, some still dirty from the ride some cleaned up, but all were able to be riden across the country, no trailer queens, after we had made our ride around the park we were watching the rest come through, and then came Ness and about ten or so of his style bikes, squrrley, flashey, gold plated, weard looking to us, the riders(definately not bikers) had double knit pants, cowboy boots and flowerey shirts, they were just barley able to be riden around the park then back into the inclosed trailers they didn’t want them to get dirty, we laughed at them, threw beer cans at them and more or less ran them back to the Motel.

  19. 19 Woody Oct 6th, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    First time I laid eyes on the ’57 Chebbie bike I smiled and haven’t stopped yet. Great bikes, talent, attitude, you name it. #1 on any list IMHO

  20. 20 K. Maney Oct 6th, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    Very much NESStimated by the industry.

  21. 21 Joe Hermosa. Oct 6th, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    I think the great picture at the top illustrates very well Arlen Ness life. A peaceful and beautiful custom ride.

  22. 22 X harley rider Oct 6th, 2010 at 10:19 pm

    Where do you get off calling Arlen the king of choppers????
    He is the KING of custom and if wasn”t for Arlen and a few others back in the day there would be a hole lot less bike builders.

  23. 23 Neo Dutch Oct 6th, 2010 at 10:50 pm

    “Strictly Business” is still one of the best bikes out there.

  24. 24 nicker Oct 6th, 2010 at 11:45 pm

    No drama.
    Just interesting, quality builds.
    As it should be.


  25. 25 Bernadette Leasure Oct 7th, 2010 at 2:48 am

    You are truly the best Arlen. I can honestly say you were the best boss I ever had. I love seeing all the new creations from you and Cory and now Zach. You truly have a gifted family. Love to you and Bev.

  26. 26 Dyno Dave Oct 7th, 2010 at 7:49 am

    Cyril. What are you afraid of? Arlen. Obama. “Me too!”

  27. 27 Oct 7th, 2010 at 7:57 am

    I wish I knew Arlen, so I could say first hand that Arlen Ness is a First Class Dood. However I believe what you guys believe!!!!!!!! But Cyril, you can’t count . Call Arlen up as soon as he is up and ask him what the 5th thing is that he hates! I only counted 4! Other then that, Great Interview.

  28. 28 Gerry Delta B.C. Canada Oct 7th, 2010 at 10:06 am

    I remember years ago when I was pulled to the side of the road to put on rain gear on my way to Sturgis. A truck hauling beautiful custom bikes and a trailer also with custom bikes pulled over to see if I was broken down. Arlen Ness stepped out and offered help. That is a class act my man…..

  29. 29 chicagojohn Oct 7th, 2010 at 10:18 am

    Ditto Arlen, Obama sucks.

  30. 30 Steve The Producer Johann Oct 7th, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    Hey A few things of interest.

    We had Arlen on the Hog Radio show you can find interview under past guests section.

    Mondo Porras owner of Denvers Choppers is nick named The God Father of Choppers. Check out his site and interview we had with him.

    Arlen is fortunate to have a supportive family who is a very big part of the picture. Who wouldn’t love to have their son and Grandson working for you? These guys will keep the company going for years to come.

    Lastly – Check out South Maui Choppers they rent one of Arlens choppers. They’re located in Kihei, HI. Each November Ray and Cindy put on a ride which Arlen always attends and is a part of.

  31. 31 martin Twofeather Oct 7th, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    This was great. Cyril and the Ness family are a hallmark to the motorcycle industry…..

  32. 32 tim p Oct 7th, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    as always with the entire family how do you spell “CLASS” N-E-S-S

  33. 33 joe b Oct 8th, 2010 at 11:05 am

    What a great article !

  34. 34 jatinder pal Oct 8th, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    Great guy…

  35. 35 1550tc Oct 8th, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    That is a class act my man…..


    its what i have always thought of him when ever i have seen or spoke with him at various rallys and cincy

  36. 36 maroco Oct 9th, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    Great photo, one of the best ever.
    All the best.

  37. 37 Vaughan Pederson Oct 9th, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    Arlen runs a family business, one where he loves his son and grandson. They work together, side by side. They respect and enjoy each other. No wonder OCC’s show makes him sad.

  38. 38 JK Oct 11th, 2010 at 9:09 am

    I grew up in the Bay Area watching Arlen bring his new creations to the Oakland Roadster show every year, sometime even if they were not done just to show what he was doing next. And if anyone thinks they were the first to do Baggers, well think again, Arlen was doing it all, even back in the day. Take a look back at his builds and you will see the future as we know it today. Engraving is making a come back and we all saw it on many of his bikes. He is the Original, an Icon, and a damn nice guy!!!

  39. 39 kangol Oct 11th, 2010 at 11:53 am

    Afraid of “Obama”?

    Why? It’s California that drove itself into the ground. Fear THAT.

    Anyway, I’m a two-wheel fiend and a gun nut, but I simply avoid talking politics with anyone I meet through either world.

    We’re guaranteed to be ideological opposites.

  40. 40 john reed Oct 12th, 2010 at 9:23 am

    Arlen will always be the king

  41. 41 Kimo Oct 17th, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    funny we had the same childhood heroes

  42. 42 Tim Scheib Oct 20th, 2010 at 12:01 am

    HaHa Arlen, well spoken. After meeting Arlen and his family I have total respect for him and now his fan base is building big time. In New Zealand we have only just got to know of Arlen Ness Motorbikes in connection with Victory Motorbikes. So excited for the future and what will be next.

  43. 43 Todd Halterman Sep 6th, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    Arlen is the real deal and he’s one competitive dude. It is kind of sad though to see that custom builders are so petty. Just my two cents.

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Cyril Huze