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Arlen Ness Interview at the V-Twin Expo

Saturday, February 6, 2010
The man needs no introduction. Over a 40-year career he’s built some of the most iconic motorcycles in the industry, like Untouchable, the 1947 Knucklehead that helped launch his career. But even though he’s already a
Arlen Ness and Bryan Harley
Motorcycle USA caught up with Arlen Ness at the 2010 V-Twin Expo in Cincy. Always a class act, the man has earned legendary status in the custom motorcycle building world by creating iconic bikes for over 40 years.
member of the Motorcycle Hall of Fame, Arlen Ness isn’t quite ready to slow down just yet. When he’s not busy running Arlen Ness Enterprises or collaborating with Victory Motorcycles, he’s touring around the country promoting his business and meeting with fans. He’s been extra busy lately developing two new product lines called Deep Cut and Retro for his 2010 Parts and Accessories Catalog for Harley-Davidson Motorcycles. Classy, gracious, and always quick to sign an autograph or pose with fans for pictures, Ness is a true legend in the industry.

Motorcycle USA: Since the sales of custom production bikes have taken a dive, what has your company been doing to stay afloat?

Arlen Ness: We have so many aspects of the business, from our catalog to new parts to our dealer network that we’re doing OK. Sales of production bikes has been really slow, but I did just get back from a trip to Italy and Spain as we're looking to expand our European network. We are now licensed to sale in 11 countries.

Motorcycle USA: What are you working on now?
Arlen Ness: I’ve been working mainly with Victory Motorcycles. We’re already working on the 2012 models. We’ve also been putting a lot of energy into our new product line since we’re celebrating our 40th anniversary, including lots of cool stuff for baggers.

Motorcycle USA: How does it feel to have both Cory (Arlen’s son) and Zach (his grandson) carrying the Ness torch?

Arlen Ness: It’s great. Cory’s been running the company for the last 15 years, and Zach’s four months away from finishing college. He’s getting a degree in business administration. Zach has also been working on the bike that he built for Victory that’s going to be released in 2011. Victory is looking for the influences some of these young guys are bringing.

Motorcycle USA: Did they pick up custom bike building on their own or did they feel obligated to carry the family torch?

Arlen Ness: Zach was always into sports, but after building a few, we realized he has an eye for it. I don’t think they felt obligated so much, but you might say they were bred into it.

Motorcycle USA: What would you like your legacy to be?

Arlen Ness: I’ve had a great life. Working on motorcycles is good stuff. I get to meet people with the same passions from all around the world, and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to do what I love for a living for a long time.
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Skip -DH buried in the past.  February 10, 2010 11:00 AM
Harley Davidson is buried in the past. HD is marketing to a group of people that are in there 50's and 60's. Harley spends most of there R&D money on updating there line of clothes, clocks, ash trays, underwear and performance parts. They sell an underpowered motorcycle so they can sell you performance parts. What a racket. All the Harley idiots like to say they ride "American Made Iron". Well it is truly a shame that is all the United States can come up with is a Harley Davidson motorcycle. There are so many advancements in modern motorcycles such as electronic suspension adjustment, traction control, motors with mult-valves and multi-cams, throttle by wire. Harley Davidson chooses to ignore modern advancements in place of there stupid outlaw biker image. Tube frames and the ancient Harley motor design belong in a museum. Along with a outdated motorcycle design that HD refuses to change and an aging buyer HD is doomed. No wonder Arlen Ness chooses to run with a motorcycle manufacture that is at least trying to see into the future.
Mike in WV -Is Axel really the Milwaukee Moron in disguise?  February 10, 2010 05:46 AM
OK Axel, or Milwaukee Moron, or both, which ever the case may be. The Ness team is a class act all the way around. Big Dog's are not outselling Victories and Victory really isn't trying to put HD out of business, HD is losing business all on their own. Victory just wants a healthy portion of the pie and they know that giving riders a solid, dependable, great looking bike will keep the riders happy and the company productive. I always love seeing the Ness bikes and I love Cory's version of the Cross Country. I have a Cross Country and if I could have any other bike, it would be Cory's version of the Cross Country.

To Axel/Milwaukee Moron. Yank your crank to "American Iron" all you want...being flatlanders I guess you don't need much more power than a riding mower, so HD and it's mentality suites you. The rest of us who are open minded and informed are free to choose and ride any bike we want. Come on, admit it...you have a neon bar and sheild right beside your Elvis black velvet paint by number picture, don't you? lol
No Harley -Harley past there "Sell by Date".  February 8, 2010 06:09 PM
America's iconic motorcycle company? Sure Harley is an icon of past days. Harley sells out of date motorcycles and spends more money on marketing clothes and crap than they do updating there out of date motorcycle line. Harley's are a poor excuse for as you say "an American Icon". I'll bet you are sitting there with your Harley underpants on and an official Harley ash tray. Harley made the mistake of trying to sell Buell as a "American Sport Bike". Who in the hell wants a sport bike with an out of date Harley boat anchor motor in it. Plus you had to go to a moron Harley dealer to look at them. Who wants to put up with all the Harley fags there showing off there pirate costumes and out of date, over weight, over priced crap Harley's. What a circus that is. A bunch of old guys with pot bellies, tattoos, and long hair trying to look tough with there fat women. I think a Harley is the perfect bike for that bunch. Harley riders are too stupid too know or admit they made a mistake. Even if I was stupid enough to buy a Harley I sure would not buy a new one. There is no such thing as a new Harley. They have been making the same crap for years. Just new colors and more chrome. The newspapers are flooded with used Harley junk.
Axel -who cares about Arlen's abortions  February 8, 2010 05:29 PM
Frankly, I'm glad to see Ness screwing up Victories instead of Harleys. Last I heard, even Big Dog sells more bikes than Victory, so the "old men" who buy Harleys don't have to worry much about the competition running America's iconic motorcycle company out of business any time soon.
Informed about HD -Mike is Wrong - Again  February 8, 2010 08:21 AM
Milwaukee Mike sure sounds like a moron. Arlen went with a company that is looking towards the future. Harley Davidson just recycles there cycles every year and expects the public to sucker for it. Harley lost there chance to make a dent in the sportbike market while also attracting younger customers when they killed Buell. A new 1125 was in the pipeline with the new Rotax motor instead of the Harley boat anchor motor. Harley says it will spend about 125 million to shut down Buell,yet the idiots running the company turned down an offer from BRP, the parent company of CanAm and Rotax to buy the design, tooling and right to manufacturer and sell the 2011 1125 as its own under a new brand and model name. Not sure how Harley stockholders view that missed opportunity. Apparently there was fear that if the model succeeded for a company that didn't keep it buried behind a bunch of out of date cruisers it would make the Harley management look as stupid as they are. With Buell gone Harley has pinned its sport bike flag on the XR1200, an old tube framed, HD engined model in the Sportster line.(good luck with that smart move) SO - did the wrong bike die? This shows how stupid and buried Harley is in the past and there trying to keep that stupid "outlaw" image. Harley Davidson's current customers are headed for walkers and RV's in a few years. When that happens HD will be looking for a company to buy them. Young buyers are not looking to buy a Harley, in fact a Harley is mostly a joke to young riders. Personally I feel it is too late for HD. They spend there R&D money on there 2nd tier items not there namesake. HD and the dealers would rather sell Harley endorsed hats, pants, belts, belt buckles and the such. Yes, I think Arlen made a good choice to tie his name with a company that is looking forward and not too a customer dressed up like a pirate looking for a outlaw image. Victory motorcycles are in the future with modern technology and not putting out the same bike every year with a new paint job or a new name.
Matt -Mike - Harley and globalism  February 7, 2010 10:33 PM
Mike can I understand some of your frustration with the new global economy but I don't see now Harley is nessesarily immune from it either. The relationship between Polaris and Swissauto is for engine development (not full scale production). Just like Harley and Porsche Engineering Group work together on projects like the Revolution Engine. And I don't see how this will really effect Victory anyway since I don't believe to date Swissauto has had anything to do the their v-twin engine line.
GB -Nice guy  February 7, 2010 08:31 PM
met arlen last year at his Vegas shop, truly a decent dude. took time to talk to us and it was nice to hear someone who just loved riding no matter what you rode. unlike milwaukee mike who is probaly right now standing in front of a mirror admiring himslef as he poses in his Harley bra and panties....
Racer1 -Class act - Arlen that is  February 7, 2010 06:18 PM
Arlen Ness continues to be a class act and a great advocate for motorcycling. He is an American success and I have the utmost respect for him. Mike... Mike... Patriotism? What on earth are you smoking? You are not patriotic, you are an ignorant, xenophobic, small minded little troll... Your HD obsession is truly pathetic and blinkered... why even bother posting? Victory is a great company, employs AMERICAN workers and sells worldwide (that GLOBAL market is important to the USA numbnuts)... sheesh, read a book, go back to school, try riding something fun and exciting... your life can get better!
Mike in WV -Milwaukee Moron returns  February 7, 2010 02:21 PM
Welcome back moron. Spewing the same hate as always I see. Let's all look at your only arguement...if it's not HD, then it's garbage. Well moron, thankfully a lot of people know better and an Icon like Arlen Ness recognizes that HD is not the only game in town and again...a bike having "metric" measure as opposed to SAE makes no difference. Calling the Vision an abortion is a testament to your limited intelligence. Would you tell Arlen Ness that he was wasting his time on Victory bikes??? Why should Arlen waste his time on HD? HD obviously doesn't care about innovation anymore...building the same old bikes year after year...even sticking with an underpowered motor for their bigger bikes...WTF is HD thinking? No wonder Arlen jumped ship and joined Victory. As far as Polaris/Victory and snowmobiles...snowmobile engines have to perform in extreme conditions, so if they are leaders in that arena, I'm confident they can do well with motorcycles as well. Victory is doing business smart...they have good growth...not too fast, and the fact that they bought swissauto says that they are looking to expand...possibly into sport bikes. You remember sport bikes don't you moron? Like the Buell's that HD dumped and had to fire all those employees. Maybe HD was overextended...it made sound business sense to let Buell go...but why not let Erik Buell take the company back and keep people in work???

I always enjoy seeing what Arlen and the boys come up with. I love Cory's version of the Cross Country...Victory is a platform that forward thinking designers can express their imagination with. Congrats to the Ness family for their 40+ years of success and I hope we can all enjoy another 40 year legacy of innovative concepts.
milwaukee mike -Arlen Ness sure left his followers  February 7, 2010 09:10 AM
Arlen used do build some of the wildest HDs on earth. Now he has turned against his fans and is working for a metric company that makes an abortion like the "Vision". Too bad he turned his back on American bikers to work for a company that specializes in snowmobiles and now wants a swiss company to build their motors. Why is patriotism taking a back seat to globalism?