Keanu Reeves' side project: Building $78,000 motorcycles
by Robert Frank
Action star Keanu Reeves is known for immersing himself in every detail of his roles, and now he's doing the same with his new business venture — making motorcycles.
With his partner Gard Hollinger, Reeves has redefined the American-made motorcycle with Arch Motorcycle Company, which the duo co-founded in 2011. Starting at $78,000, the company's bikes are handcrafted dream machines that have become cult favorites for their combination of elegant design and workmanship, and monster power and handling.
While the company's unmarked brick factory in an industrial park near Los Angeles International Airport seems a world away from Reeves' Hollywood career, the 51-year-old star of "The Matrix," "Speed" and "Point Break" says motorcycles have long been one of his chief passions.
"For me, riding is a kind of freedom. Just the sound, the feeling of it. The connection to the road, to riding, to the environment, to the journey."
Reeves has been riding motorcycles since he was 22, and almost always takes two wheels to his movie sets. But he never planned on going into the motorcycle business. In 2006, he brought one of his Harley-Davidson's to Hollinger, an L.A. chopper guru, to customize the seat. Hollinger refused to fix the seat, and instead wound up designing Reeves an entirely custom-made motorcycle.
"Four years, later we had a motorcycle," Reeves said. "And we looked at that bike and [I] was like, 'That's an amazing machine. It rides amazing. Do you wanna start a motorcycle company?'"
At first Hollinger demurred, recalling other fleeting vanity projects by Hollywood celebrities. But Reeves insisted they could build something big — and lasting.
"I said, 'Listen, man, we're gonna die. You know? We're gonna die,'" Reeves recalled. "'Let's build something. This machine is incredible. What you've done is amazing. Let's try.'"
Arch produces just one model, the KRGT-1. Yet the duo anticipates creating more models in the future. As Reeves explained, their motorcycles are more like works of art than modes of transportation — from the hand-stitched leather seats to the gleaming, in-house engine parts that look more like pieces of jewelry. The swooping gas tank, carved from 534 pounds of billet aluminum and welded together with intricate precision, takes 66 hours to make and could easily pass for a multimillion-dollar Jeff Koons sculpture.
"The bike is exceptionally made," Reeves said. "And it offers something very unique for motorcycling. ... It's like nothing else."
It's also a beast on the road. Its V-Twin, 2032 cc engine, made with S&S Cycle, can deliver 122 horsepower to push the 538-pound bike to more than 130 miles per hour. Motorcycle reviewers describe it as the best of both biking worlds: the power and performance of a sport bike, but the comfort of a touring bike.
Reeves and Hollinger declined to give exact production numbers or financials. But they plan to keep production small, in the dozens rather than hundreds of bikes a year. Their chief mission is not to make money, they said, but to make a motorcycle that buyers ride and collect for decades. That includes giving the rider a deeper connection with the bike and road.
"Not scary, but visceral," Hollinger said. "We didn't want too much of a barrier between you and the experience."
While Hollinger focuses on engineering and producing the bikes, Reeves is closely involved in their design and testing. He refers to himself as the "chief dreamer," asking the "what if" questions when designing or conceiving of a new bike.
Reeves draws from his experience owning dozens of bikes — from Harleys and Nortons to Moto Guzzis and Kawasakis — as well as the hours he rides every week.
"Keanu is the perfect tester, because he breaks things nobody else can break," Hollinger joked.
While Reeves keeps his acting career separate from his cycles, riding and acting have many things in common, he said.
"When you come to that moment when you're on the bike and you're riding, or when you come to a moment and the director says, 'Action,' it's almost like everything that you are, everything that you feel or think, is alive after that," he said. "You're completely present and you disappear. And yet you're fully there. Which is a wonderful sensation. I guess they call that being alive."