Review: Arlen Ness is a legendary name in the chopper business but with all of the chopper shows on TV these days, it’s easy to just lump him in with all the rest, a little older and far more successful maybe, but a chopper guy nonetheless. I just read Arlen Ness: The King of Choppers. When I first picked it up I was expecting one of those coffee table picture books and not much more. I was surprised. This book takes you through the whole of Arlen’s career as a builder of what have become some of the classiest and most artistic choppers out there. Until you look through the photos, you don’t realize how much he’s done and what jumped out at me was that many, if not most, of his bikes aren’t the extreme rake, unrideable monstrosities you see on TV but are actually very cool customs.
Arlen has done some radical work, he can do things as crazy as the next guy, but he also has an artistic eye and often uses a lot more sheet metal. I remember seeing Smooth-Ness at the Cleveland show in the mid 90’s and it was absolutely stunning, all green and based on the 1932 Bugati Roadster. He did the Ness-Stalgia, a yellow bike with a 57 Chevy style body and the Ferrari Bike, a red, twin blower, twin nitrous, quad carb creation with a car tire in the back because the fat tires of today hadn’t been developed yet. There are a lot of other bikes I remember but many I had never seen.
One neat bike is his Convertible Sled, it’s actually two bikes in one. There is the full fendered flowing metal version but with about 10 minutes work you have a stripped down chopper. It looks just right and complete in both configurations, not an easy task.
He’s done a lot of overhead cam bikes, too, and there are indications in the book we might see some commercial development along those lines. Neat.
The last bike in the book, Mach-Ness, began when Arlen saw Jay Leno’s turbine motorcycle but didn’t like the $250,000 price tag, so he built his own. It doesn’t look anything like the bike Leno rides. It looks a lot better.
If you like motorcycles and motorcycle design, this book is well worth considering. You don’t have to be a chopper guy to enjoy it either. The story of how he built his multi-million dollar business from the beginning with his purchase of a $300 Knucklehead is the kind of thing that inspires us to focus on our goals. This book is Kneeslider Recommended.