Five-hundred miles had come and gone on the new engine. Still 500 to go before home. But if you’ve gotta make a pit stop for a service job, Arlen Ness Motorcycles isn’t a bad place to have to stop.
Backside of the building I roll up to the second-story garage on the Indian Chieftain Dark Horse. They’ve graciously got me in on short notice. The job left me a couple hours to wander around the Ness compound.
Walking in the building is like the Pearly Gates of custom motorcycles, the split staircase rising from the foyer leading to the land of Arlen Ness, twin-engines, superchargers and a larger-than-life picture of the man himself. He deserves to be supersized. His ingenuity and artistry is a benchmark of the industry, as is his humble ambassadorship.
It takes talent to reinvent the same bike again and again to make amends. Makes you appreciate “Untouchable” that much more. Besides, it’s the “First,” the bike that helped put Arlen on the map. Not sure what’s finest – the flow of the frame, the belts of the Magnuson Supercharger boosting the big-bored Knuckle, the stretch of the tank or the paint that’s on it. Then there’s what’s not seen, like the oil running through the frame and the brake line run through the fork.
I don’t know where to look. There’s “Ness-Stalgia” next to “Mach Ness,” the Biker Build-Off “Overhead Cam Sportster” ready to battle the “Hulkster.” There’s the orange and matte grey bike he went to town drilling out. Shovel lower, Knuckle upper, it was one of the first with belt drive. Arlen bead-blasted it to get the matte-to-gloss effect, blasting trim like the fender struts, too. Ness bucked trends.
Had to virtually tear myself away from the museum. Zach, the third-link in the Ness trifecta, kindly gave me the grand tour. Zach is moving on up. Literally. He’s moving his office upstairs near Arlen and Cory. Smart and ambitious, he’s also moving up in the industry, leaving little doubt the Ness empire will be in good hands for a long time coming.
In a back room he shows us one of his latest projects. The frame is a modern take on a digger, 27 pounds of chromoly with Arlen’s axle plate design anchoring its tail. The Victory Freedom 106 engine has been cracked open and built up by Lloydz Motorworks and outfitted with a B Class race blower. Words like 250 horsepower entered the conversation, straight-line acceleration and Point A to Point B.
In another chamber we meet Jeff Border, who’s been with the company 26 years. He uses what he’s learned in those 26 years to lead research and design of Ness parts and accessories, a lucrative part of the Ness portfolio as Big Sucker sales can attest to. Zach says Border “makes things work” around here.
Work is one thing there’s no shortage of. While Zach’s project sat downstairs, Arlen’s build for Born Free was taking shape upstairs. The company is in the process of producing Octane parts. They’re fine-tuning a new saddlebag and topcase combo for Victory Visions, the Ness design more traditional, changing the complexion of the bike in a good way. Resources are being spent on wheel development. The warehouse was full and shipping trucks were hustling in-and-out all morning, operations running like a fine-tuned machine.
Speaking of fine-tuned machines, we take one last trip around the upstairs garage before hopping back on our freshly serviced Chieftain Dark Horse, walk by treasures like the chopped and slammed red Ness van called the “Harley Hauler.” Above it, the one-off, hand-built roadster race car powered by a motorcycle engine hangs ornamentally on the wall. Another fine example of Ness’s hand-formed aluminum bodywork, the Roadster features a tubular hand-fabricated frame to boot. As for the engine, it’s also been given the Ness touch, the 104 cubic-inch S&S V-Twin outfitted with a Magnuson Supercharger and Twin Weber Carbs. The iconic duo needs to be squeezed into the museum somehow instead of gathering dust in a storage area.
While I would have been happy to spend more hours there, time to hit the road. A long day through the Shasta range awaited. But what a pit stop. Not every day you get a behind-the-scenes look at an industry leader, from the research and design department responsible for their hot-selling parts to the paint booth tucked in the back of the building. Better yet, how many other oil changes come with a free museum tour of world-class customs from three generations of builders and display cases overflowing with more than 40 years of trophies and walls of magazine covers? Going above and beyond seems to be the Ness way.