July, 2015 By Brian Catterson
Photographer : Barry Hathaway, Simon Hammerson
Keanu Reeves doesn’t live in the same world as the rest of us. And no, I’m not talking about The Matrix—though the 50-year-old actor’s reality is arguably no less surreal. Guys like him, when they want a custom bike built, end up owning the company. Or starting one anyway. That happened to him once before (see ON THE RECORD: Keanu Reeves), and now it’s happening again. And this time it’s not just a shop; it’s a manufacturer.
“I had this Harley-Davidson Dyna that I was looking to customize, and what I was doing was horrible,” Reeves recalls at a press intro held at the new Arch Motorcycle Company headquarters southwest of Los Angeles. “I met Keith Oliver at Bill Walls, who was doing some custom seats, and [told him] I wanted a sissy bar. And he was like, ‘Yeah, this dude needs some help.’ He called Gard Hollinger, and we rode over later that day. Hollinger just looked at me and said, ‘You know, I don’t make sissy bars, but why don’t you come inside and see what we do here?’”
“This was sort of a departure for me because it was the first time I had done a custom bike for a person and not a manufacturer,” confirms Hollinger, who prior to co-founding Arch with Reeves ran L.A. County Choprods. One thing led to another, and over the next three years Reeves’ custom Dyna became the prototype for the production KRGT-1. You could call the venture “Keanu and Gard’s Excellent Adventure,” if it weren’t too painful a pun.
On paper, Arch’s first motorcycle looks like a throwback to the turn of the 21st century. Not only is the proprietary S&S-powered 124ci (2,032cc) Twin Cam V-twin a Harley-Davidson “clone” motor, but the styling is “sport-cruiser,” the likes of which haven’t been seen since Victory’s V92SC. In the flesh, however, the bike is quite impressive and becomes increasingly so the more you learn about it, as we did during our tour of the firm’s 20,000-square-foot manufacturing facility.
That two-piece gas tank, for example, isn’t just a Harley-style Fat Bob; it’s machined from aluminum billet and houses a K&N air cleaner mated to a downdraft induction system. Likewise that roadrace-style solo tail is machined from billet and is weight-bearing. “We buy aluminum for $3 per pound and sell the scrap for 50 cents,” Hollinger quips. “We sell a lot of scrap.”
And then there are the little touches: the arched double-cradle steel frame that’s coupled to the billet swingarm with billet side plates. A billet oil tank that joins the engine and gearbox. A Bandit belt primary working with right-side chain final drive. An upswept Yoshimura exhaust with carbon-fiber end cap. A cove-style reflective LED taillight. Tidy bar-end mirrors. And the buyer’s choice of 2- or 3-inch bar risers, forward or mid-controls, and narrow or wide-mounted footpegs. All machined from billet, naturally, and created using sophisticated computer-aided design programs, not your usual custom-builder hairy-eyeball.
Remember, crazy not stupid.
At lunchtime we were shuttled to Malibu, where we spent the afternoon looping around the twisty canyon roads of the Santa Monica Mountains. That’s pretty ballsy for a manufacturer introducing a cruiser because it invites all the usual criticisms about too much weight and not enough cornering clearance. In fact, the last cruiser intro I attended in these parts was for the Ducati Diavel, which is far from typical for the genre.
And yet, surprisingly, thanks to its muscular stance and 240/40-18 Michelin Commander rear tire, the KRGT-1 feels like nothing so much as a Diavel. True, with its high-tech, 160-hp desmo motor the Ducati would wax the Arch in a dragrace, but the latter’s 122 hp and matching 122 pound-feet of torque are nothing to be trifled with. The six-speed Baker gearbox helps immensely here, as compared to your typical five-speed it closes up the gaps between ratios, speeding acceleration. As with all rubber-mounted V-twins there’s debilitating vibration at idle, but once under way that largely disappears, resulting in the familiar Hand-of-God-pushing-you sensation. Or maybe it was Morpheus.
I thought it wasn’t real. Your mind makes it real.
As impressed as I was with the engine, however, it was the chassis that really blew my mind. Although the KRGT-1 is long (68-inch wheelbase) and heavy (approximately 613 pounds full of fuel), it’s solid, reminding me of when I raced an 883 Sportster in the old AMA Twin Sport series. Muscle the bars and the bike flicks from side to side with respectable composure, and the ISR brakes (with twin six-piston calipers up front) provide immense stopping power. Also, thanks to the rear suspension having more than a couple inches of travel, cornering clearance is exceptional for a cruiser. Just take care that you don’t ground the solid-mounted footpegs—or the pipes if you’ve got forward-mounted controls—too hard, or you risk levering the tires off the tarmac. One of the crew learned that lesson the hard way, though on a positive note the bike survived largely unscathed.
Criticisms are few: While the fuel-injected motor mostly runs well and pulls strong, the low-speed throttle response could be less abrupt. (There’s a joke about not letting it fall below 50 mph in there somewhere.) Also, although the fully adjustable Öhlins fork and Race Tech shock are high-quality pieces, the rear end tends to chatter in rippled corners. We’d put that down to too much unsprung weight due to the “overbuilt” billet swingarm and that phat rear tire; it assuredly isn’t because of the BST carbon-fiber wheels! Lastly, the MotoGadget instrumentation looks like a prop from a bad science-fiction movie (<Johnny Mnemonic>, maybe?). You’d expect something more high-tech (or completely analog?) on a machine like this. Aside from those few nitpicks, however, this is one fine ride.
But the question remains: Why choose an Arch over the many other custom V-twins on the market?
Choice. The problem is choice.
The answer, according to Reeves, has to do with the riding experience: “Gard asked what I wanted from a motorcycle, and I told him something that I could ride long distances but that also handled. A kind of hybrid, a V-twin that performed in a way I had never experienced before.”
That morning during our factory tour, as the list of parts made in-house (more than 200 in all) grew longer, I found myself wondering how much the KRGT-1 costs. That’s not a major concern for a boutique brand like Arch that only plans to sell 50 examples of this model. Nor even for a major manufacturer like Harley-Davidson, considering how many $30,000 CVOs it sells each year. Yet even so, I was stunned when I heard the price: $78,000.
You ever have that feeling where you’re not sure if you’re awake or still dreaming?
Nope, Keanu Reeves doesn’t live in the same world as the rest of us. Fortunately for him, he’s got neighbors.