Keanu Reeves is more than happy to talk with you about the Arch Motorcycles KRGT-1 superbikes he makes with his long-time friend, Gard Hollinger, a revered designer in the motorcycle world.
The $US78,000 motorcycles are based on a prototype Hollinger made for Reeves years ago in Hawthorne, California.
"Building that [first] bike is where we got to know each other," Reeves said in July during an interview at their shop. Unlike most experienced riders who started riding from a very young age, Keanu learned to ride as an adult. But he has already logged tens of thousands of miles on the backs of Nortons, Suzukis, a 1974 BMW 750, a Kawasaki KZ 900, a 1984 Harley Shovelhead, and a Moto Guzzi racer - all from his own personal collection.
Reeves first approached Hollinger in 2007 with the request to modify his Harley with a "sissy bar" - Hollinger refused. "That wasn't really my thing," he told me with a wry grin. That's when they started talking about building a completely new bike that would look beautiful and cruise, a gleaming silver prototype with thick tires and a gas tank curved like the fender of a Bugatti.
When Hollinger finished the bike, Reeves loved it so much he wanted more. A lot more - some for himself, and some to share with friends. He wanted to start a motorcycle company.
"It was really riding the prototype that was the proof of the business concept, even though we didn't know it," Reeves said.
Beauty and power out of raw metals
"It was this idea of a big V-twin, a long wheel base with modern grade suspension and the telemetry that Gard had designed and the ergonomics that I wanted from the first time riding that bike. I'd never ridden anything like that."
Hollinger wasn't convinced. His company, LA County Chop Rods already generated plenty of business; the former motocross racer had developed a cult following of riders who loved his ability to coax beauty and power out of raw metals.
But Reeves the A-list actor wasn't used to hearing "no." He asked Hollinger three more times – after long dinners and booze-filled nights brainstorming how good it could be – before winning him over.
We're going to die anyway
"I told him, 'OK, the reason that we should do this is because the machine is amazing, and we're going to die' [anyway]," Reeves said, laughing. "Let's make something."
Hollinger finally agreed. He would design the bikes himself based on Reeves' vision, and the actor would road test them. It took them three years between finishing the prototype and getting the final result to production.
They called the company Arch because it made me think of tunnels and bridges and connections and journey. It was the rider to the bike, the experience of riding a motorcycle, our relationship, the idea with connecting with the company and our client."
"The original bike was the result of Keanu expressing what he was hoping for in a motorcycle," Hollinger said.
Exclusive, bespoke bikes
The two 40-somethings continue to spend countless hours and their own money (Reeves declined to say how much, other than noting they have no outside investors.) building a brand for one simple explanation…they're searching for a feeling. "It has to make you giggle when you ride it," Hollinger says.
Arch has sold a handful of KRGT-1s since 2014. Hollinger says he expects to make roughly 30 or just slightly more a year – exclusivity is important.
The bikes are made of more than 200 individual parts, most of which he fabricates with a small team of workers in the Hawthorne shop.
Each is bespoke to its owner, so speed and power specs are subject to change, but in general they weigh around 538 pounds and, at 121 hp, can cruise easily at 100 mph. With their six gears, scooped-out insides, ultralight carbon fiber wheels, and aluminum bodies, they're heavier than, say, a 485-pound Ducati xDiavel S but much lighter than something like a 640-pound Harley-Davidson V-Rod. Their five-gallon gas tanks will take you 200 miles before a fill-up. Each requires a $15,000 deposit even before that US$78,000 price tag.
No passengers allowed
"It's a bike that's really confident feeling going straight," Reeves told me, rattling off engine specs and power calibrations. "Our bike has a lot of torque - 115 pounds - so whenever you get on the throttle, you really feel the pull and push of the motorcycle. It can turn and handle."
If you see an Arch motorcycle on the road, you'll know it in a second. They're rounded at the front, with a dip in the middle for the single seat before curving up again at the rear. This is a lone-wolf bike, no passengers allowed. They have a single LED headlight and low, short handlebars. The rear Michelin tire is fatter than the front, but not so wide as to distract; their reflective aluminium rear cowling makes them unmistakable at night.
Similar to buying a custom suit, buying your own KRGT-1 requires multiple sessions of measurements - Hollinger fits the pedals, the handlebars, the seat angle to your exact size. The proprietary Arch suspension is also adjustable according to riding style and preference. Once you settle on your model, delivery time takes 90 days or so - the Arch billet aluminium swing arm requires more than 17 hours of machining alone - though most of that time is spent working with outside vendors for finishes such as custom paint, engraving, and metal finishes to personalize the bike for the customer.
In actual work time it takes only a couple weeks to build the bike. Then Reeves takes it out for a test drive.
Let's go ride
"It has to work," he said, laughing. "After that it's aesthetics and feel and taste. The bike started off as a classic American big V-twin, but because of the way that it handles and the ergonomics and the telemetry that Gard has designed, I feel like it's in a new class of motorcycle which might be called a 'performance cruiser.'"
Whatever you call them – that term is a new one – they'll keep even the most experienced rider occupied. The bikes are not fat and low like a hog, nor are they flat-seated for extra passengers like a cafe racer. For urban riding and highway cruising they hit the Goldilocks sweet spot: just right.
Better yet, they will hit 60 mph in the time it takes to read this sentence.
"We went for a ride yesterday for 400 miles," Reeves said. "I'm still thinking, Let's go ride, let's do that again."