Keanu Reeves on his two-wheeled addiction
by Simon Patterson
Arch Motorcycles step it up
The team from Arch Motorcycles grabbed many of the headlines from the Goodwood Festival of Speed last weekend when Hollywood A-list co-founder Keanu Reeves rocked up with Arch-partner Gard Hollinger and repeatedly thrashed a selection of their KRGT-1 bikes up the hill.
The Arch team had already spent a day with Norton Motorcycles at Donington Park, before heading down to Goodwood, and Reeves went straight from attacking the Goodwood hill, to attacking Paddock Hill at Brands Hatch on a trackday the following morning.
MCN’s Simon Patterson caught up with the duo recently to get the inside story of the fledgling bike builders’ road to obsession.
Keanu Reeves: For the past two years, Gard and I have been taking this motorcycling and manufacturing tour of the world; to try and get into MotoGP, have a look at Moto2, some supermoto riding, some trackdays, just looking at others areas of biking.
We’ve been to Emilio Romagna too, met with Ducati, Ferrari, Bimota, Vyrus. We’ve been on this tour just to try and meet other riders, creators, engineers, designers. So much of what we do is from a legacy technology, but at the same time what Gard has designed is pushing forwards.
Gard Hollinger: We’re trying to create something unique and very low volume. We’re now continuing to ramp up our very small production processes, continuing to manufacture parts to build a cache of stock to build from, and we’re selling bikes and trying to get the word out about what we’re doing and about what makes our bikes special.
Our target volume is very small – we understand that it’s a very expensive motorcycle. The owners and interested customers come to our facility, get fitted to the bike, and see how it’s built. It’s a production motorcycle, but it’s custom fitted for them – we do custom finishes, custom ergonomics.
KR: It’s like a production motorcycle but we fit the bike to you, let you pick your own colours, fit the seat to you, and hopefully start a relationship with the customer too. It’s built out of a passion for riding, though, the passion for being on a bike, the love of the aesthetics of a motorcycle.
GH: It’s a very interesting and unique motorcycle to ride. We’ve ridden a lot of motorcycles, as have a lot of very experienced motorcycle reviewers – and everybody comes away with the same thing. Everyone says it’s hard to describe or to compare, except that it’s unique and it always puts a smile on your face! The riding experience isn’t like anything else.
KR: You’ve got a big V-twin with a lot of torque, you have a really performance orientated experience in that it handles, turns in, holds a line. It’s got a long wheelbase but it’s very stiff; it’s very comfortable for cruising but when you get into the corners – you’re not going to rub your elbows, but it’s got a 240 year and you can use all of it!
You’ve got over a hundred twenty pounds of torque at the back wheel, and that just makes you want to go ‘YEAAAAH!’ With the right gearing and the right mapping, it’ll happily do 140mph.
When you have that in a forward-controlled bike that’s still a cruiser, it’s quite special. There’s some other bikes that have elements of it, like the Ducati Diavel, but it’s not got an American V-twin – that’s a whole different beast!
Having a bike like that was the goal from day one, and Gard has really made something special from the ergonomics of the bike – it’s very considered. You get on it and say ‘oh, it’s just anot… OH! It’s not!’ and it turns into something new. There’s going to be a new category in motorcycles; this is going to be one of the first performance cruisers.
We don’t make everything; our engine comes from S&S, our transmission comes from Baker, our suspension comes from Öhlins – and they all do something a little different for us. But there’s over two hundred parts that we build in-house for it.
We’re not after another company to come into the project as a backer; that’s not the point of this trip. It’s hopefully just the exchange of ideas and designs; maybe there’s a nice fit, something symbiotic, between what we’re trying to do and what others are trying to do. Back in the States, S&S have really got behind that, and while nothing is for free, there’s an excitement behind what we’re doing and a passion from us towards what they do.
GH: There’s a long list of other motorbikes that has inspired us. We tried to dig as far back into the history of motorcycles and of racing machines; I don’t think you can try to design a bike from scratch these days without considering all that.
I can’t put my finger on one single thing, but Keanu sees inspiration from Nortons in there, which is probably intentional. I see American V-twins and some competition bikes; he even sees some Japanese anime inspiration in it.
The bike has a lot inside that you don’t see, either. When our customers come and see us, and we get the chance to explain some of the things we do that you just don’t see form the outside, they’re always surprised. There’s an elegance to it that only reveals itself the more time you spend with it. Things like the air downfraft system, the unitized drivetrain.
KR: Certainly how Norton have come around to make something pretty special and cool is an inspiration to us. I guess they’ve got almost a hundred years on us as a brand, and hopefully one day we’ll have that kind of legacy; that’s what we’re hoping to do!
It’s a production custom bike; it’s bespoke to a point. There are other people out there that do that service; Porsche, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Bugatti – that whole idea of customizing a whole line or model comes from the car world, but we’re certainly in that tradition.
GH: In the beginning, the goal was maybe fifty or sixty bikes a year, with a maximum of a hundred. This year, I think we’ll do twenty-five or thirty.
KR: We’re working on second models already, though, plus some adaptations to this model. We’re learning all the time, and putting what we’re learning back into the motorcycle. That’s part of the fun of it; it’s a creative act as well as a business. It has to work as both.
Building a proper sports bike has been one idea that’s been fielded! Imagine doing the Suzuka 8 Hour – how on earth do you go for so long and maintain it so well? I don’t think we’ll ever build a proper racing motorcycle, but maybe we’ll produce something that’s fun to do some stuff with on a track, in our own special way.
Seeing the engineering of race bikes – there’s definitely stuff that a manufacturer like us can learn from. We might do something there; something track special, just because track riding is great!
GH: There just aren’t enough days in the week or hours in the day at the minute to do everything we want to do with the company! There are always lots of ideas, and while that’s what you need, we just can’t do something with all of them.
We’re right down the street from Tesla and SpaceX, and it’s hard to not be intrigued by the whole electric vehicle thing, but the reality of it is that is that while we might be there some day, we’re not there yet.
KR: I ride every day; for me, motorcycles are my main transport. I’m lucky that I get to ride something I helped make happen nearly every day, because it doesn’t rain much in LA! The car just kind of sits there looking jealous!
I actually like the occasional rainy day; I think I’m one of the few people in LA who likes riding in the rain! The Norton [Reeves' daily transport] has a skinnier rear wheel though; on the Arch sometimes you have to will it to just go straight, on that big 240 rear!