As old-school Ness as it gets.

As chopper legends go, Arlen Ness must be the king, as his business is still going strong after almost 50 years in the San Francisco bay area. He created a new ‘Bay Area’ style with his drag-bike inspired ‘diggers’ with lightweight tubing frames and ultra low seating. This ‘yellow chopper’ was built around a Harley-Davidson VL rigid frame about 1969, and Arlen says this is the 5th or 6th bike he built, “It is definitely old school.”

The motor is a 1969 Shovelhead bought from a Harley dealer, and to make the OHV engine fit, the top tube of the ‘single bar’ frame was replaced, and the exhausts (drag pipes) had to be re-made, with straight-through ‘shotgun’ outlets. As with most mix-n-match customs, the factory “didn’t make anything to fit, so we had to modify.”
The front forks are early Ness springers with a 4” extension, with drag-style handlebars to keep the profile of the machine low.


  • Engine: 1969 H-D FL with Tillotsen carb. “Shifter is directly off the ratchet top.” Joe Hunt magneto.
  • Chassis: modified H-D VL rigid, Ness springer forks, 21” front rim with Donny Rich billet hub (“They were the cool thing back then”), rear wheel stock hub on 16” rim.
  • Headlight, taillight, seat and buddy pad are Bates. Grab rail is hand-made. “Rear fender is section of an automobile Continental Kit, with a rib down the middle.”
  • Paint: “Candy pearl yellow with sort of a bird, with feathers” by Arlen Ness.


15 replies
  1. Steve Robinson
    Steve Robinson says:

    What part of that bike is a Sportster?
    It looks like a 66-69 shovel head engine in a 45 frame to me.
    I don’t see any Sportster parts on it at all.

  2. James Karalis
    James Karalis says:

    Are you boy up there in farm land smoking crack or did you keep doing that thing until you dam near went blind ??? that is no sporty , its a shovel .

  3. Lou Cutler
    Lou Cutler says:

    The only part on this bike that could possibly be anything even remotely Sportster would be the gas tank,,,,Yes it is a sweet looking ride in the old school style.Its a big twin motor and trany .Early generator shovel

  4. Bruce Rester
    Bruce Rester says:

    It would seem that the Museum needs to fire their webmaster and replace him/her with someone whom actually knows something about motorcycles. The description is so totally discrepant with the photos that I can only conclude that the photos of the wrong bike were posted with the “article”. The museum should immediately publish a correction before the whole world comes to think that they don’t have a clue.

  5. Scott Benedict
    Scott Benedict says:

    Must be the wrong bike being described, no big deal but…When I hung out at Arlen’s in the late 60’s early 70’s he was on east 14th Street in San Leandro CA. That is the Bay area for the uninformed…east bay. He was a local since he was young, not a southern CA builder at all!

  6. Mark
    Mark says:

    Good morning. Thanks for catching my copy error on the Arlen Ness “Yellow Chopper.” In too much of a hurry I pulled copy for a completely different bike.
    The correct information is now posted. This was not the work of our webmaster but solely my error.
    Thanks for reading our emails, and keeping me accurate,
    Mark Mederski
    Special Projects Director
    National Motorcycle Museum

  7. Bruce Rester
    Bruce Rester says:

    Mark, you’ve still got it wrong! The first part is technically accurate…then you get to “Tech” and again describe the engine as a Sportster. You either need a long vacation, or you need to quit smokin’ whatever it is you’re smokin’.

  8. Michael Day
    Michael Day says:

    You would think that whomever is writing articles for a motorcycle museum would know SOMETHING about motorcycles.
    An F.B.I. hire ? Friend, Brother or an In-Law ?
    I would like to apply for this persons job.
    There is a bright future for this guy with either the Federal Government or the United Nations

  9. Eric Lundquist
    Eric Lundquist says:

    Nobody should need to wonder about Mark Mederski’s motorcycling credibility. Google his name. The first ten or so entries is him!

  10. Tommy Summers
    Tommy Summers says:

    Jeez guys.. give the guy a break..
    It’s just a mistake and it’s been corrected..
    Mark is definitely not a yuppy just plugging for donations..
    Non of the staff in Anamosa are..
    Right up to John Parham the Founder and Chairman..
    They are all die hard enthusiasts that have been involved in the industry for many years..
    I’ve talked with Mark and met him and believe me, he knows what he speaks..
    These people go to great lengths to present tons of bikes and history that they rotate and change constantly..
    Instead of bitching about an oversight.. you guys should stop by there and see what they offer..
    It’s a sight to behold, believe me.


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