The custom motorcycle world is mourning the death of Arlen Ness, aged 79 years.
While the Californian will be remembered for his more recent flamboyantly styled choppers and the one-off models he designed for Victory motorcycles, his greatest legacy was created in the early 1970s.
Ness redefined the custom scene by creating the ‘digger’ or ‘lowrider’ chopper – the exact opposite of the high-handlebar, tall-sissy-bar style made famous just a few years earlier by the movie <i>Easy Rider<i>.
Ness used key elements from California’s drag-racing scene, which was entering a golden period of competition, to break new ground in design. His frames were low, usually with a goose-necked steering head. The handlebars were flat, the seat minimal, and the petrol tank often followed the angular shape of the frame.
These designs brought Ness worldwide recognition but he never lost the humility of a man who toiled for his success. The first Ness custom was financed by a $300 win in a bowling alley competition.
A family friend summed up his life succinctly: “Arlen Ness started with nothing, married his wife Bev (they were married for 59 years), raised his family, made a living doing what he loved by building custom bikes, and he was highly successful in all of the above. He lived his dream.”
By Hamish Cooper