First Ride Review
I’m going to be brutally honest. I showed up in Pasadena, where Rider Magazine was being given the opportunity to ride the new Arch KRGT-1, with low expectations. That’s probably not fair, but it’s the truth. I’m jaded and cynical. I’ve ridden a lot of bikes, sat through a lot of technical presentations and talked to a lot of engineers and designers. There’s so much that goes into building a motorcycle from the ground up — one that not only looks good but functions well — that frankly I didn’t expect what I saw as a movie star’s pet project would amount to much of anything. (Keanu Reeves is a co-founder of Arch Motorcycle, along with designer and builder Gard Hollinger.)
Well, I was wrong.
Arch invited us to ride its KRGT-1 for a reason: they wanted it to get the regular treatment, a complete shakedown from a respected industry magazine. Still, Arch is a small company that hand-builds each machine to order, so I’d be surprised if Gard, Keanu and the rest of the crew didn’t harbor at least a little emotional attachment to the bike and our opinion of it. After all, they’ve invested years of blood, sweat, tears and time — in Gard and Keanu’s case, more than a decade — into the KRGT-1. And a couple of skeptical moto-journalists were getting ready to thrash two of the precious machines on one of the most famous (and locally notorious) stretches of curvaceous road in the LA area: the Angeles Crest Highway.
Before we get to that, though, a brief backstory. Arch Motorcycle was born from circumstances that most of us can totally relate to: a guy (Keanu Reeves) had a motorcycle (an ’05 Harley Dyna) whose character (pure Americana) he loved…but he wanted more from it, specifically in the handling department. So he asked respected builder and owner of LA County Choprods, Gard Hollinger, if he could help. The two started making changes and adjustments. Afterwards Keanu would go out and ride the bike in the twisting canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains, then he’d return with feedback and they’d go at it again. By 2012, the ’05 Dyna they’d started with had morphed into the genesis of what would eventually become the KRGT-1. All that remained of the original machine was the engine — everything else, including the frame and swingarm, had been created from scratch. “You know,” they said to each other, “we could make more of these.” And so Arch Motorcycle was born.
So here we are in Pasadena, it’s 7:30 a.m. and one of those Southern California November mornings that elicits a groan of anguished envy from most of the rest of the country. We’d been given no technical presentation or press kit. Instead we were ushered to a corner of the hotel where we were introduced to both Gard and Keanu, slurped a bit of coffee and shown to the bikes. There were three examples sitting outside, red, blue and silver, and we were given our choice for the ride. Each KRGT-1 is unique, curated by the Arch team with the client to create a motorcycle that is ergonomically and aesthetically bespoke. In short, the bike is built to fit your body as well as to look the way you want it. I wondered silently for whom these three had been built, then was provided the answer for one—the blue one was Keanu’s personal bike.
Despite a Harley-Davidson being the genesis of the KRGT-1, the production bike is powered by a massive 124ci (that’s 2,032cc for those of you keeping score at home) S&S mill that Arch modified with its own primary drive, powertrain and clever 45-degree downdraft intake system that does away with the unsightly air filter protruding from one side. The frame is a steel and aluminum hybrid — steel downtubes and backbone, with machined aluminum clutching the rear of the engine and arcing over the rear wheel.
This is actually the second iteration of the KRGT-1 and a direct result of Keanu and Gard’s relentless quest for improvement. Compared to the first version released in 2015, the 2020 KRGT-1 includes more than 20 major changes and 150 new components, including the swingarm, suspension, brakes, bodywork and controls.
The first thing one must understand when looking at a KRGT-1 is that nearly every metal piece you see apart from the engine itself is machined billet aluminum. That includes the sculpted two-piece gas tank, which itself requires more than 33 hours to complete and is ingeniously designed to operate as a stressed member of the frame, the massive but lightweight swingarm, the headlight cowl and the side plates that accommodate the new swingarm pivot, which is attached directly to the engine.
The second thing is that no expense was spared. When you’ve got the support of Keanu Reeves, a true moto-head who owns but one car and goes everywhere on a motorcycle — if not his KRGT-1 then often an old Norton Commando — and a master of metal in Gard Hollinger, sparing no expense is something you can and should do. Fully adjustable front and rear suspension is by Öhlins and was developed in partnership with Arch specifically for this model. A new larger-diameter 48mm fork has a special carrier at the bottom to accommodate 130mm mounts for the massive new six-piston ISR calipers (two-channel Bosch ABS is standard). Clutch and front brake assemblies are by Magura, five-spoke carbon fiber wheels are by South African company BST (Blackstone Tek), exhaust is by Yoshimura and tires are Michelin Commander IIs.
Settled into the deeply scooped saddle, feet on the narrow forward controls, we gradually wicked up the pace as we climbed the mountain, holding the throttle open a bit more and bending a bit deeper with every corner. It might resemble just another custom chopper from a distance, but I was having one of those come-to-Jesus moments where one realizes that one’s prejudgment was quite wrong and one will have to explain this in a (hopefully) well-written review pitched at others likely to have the same prejudgmental opinions.
Now, is this a Panigale or RSV4 or ZX-10R? No, and Arch doesn’t make such ridiculous claims. What it is: an American cruiser, distilled to its essence then fortified with top-quality components and construction techniques designed to bring out the best in performance. Despite the 240-series Michelin rear tire, the KRGT-1 leans willingly and, once there, sticks stubbornly to its line. The long wheelbase helps but so does the stiff chassis and the downright amazing suspension, which was plush yet offered good feel and matched up well with some of the best front brakes of any bike I’ve yet ridden. And with a claimed 122 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheel it pulls like a freight train down low, although it runs out of juice fairly early — remember this is a power cruiser, not a superbike.
By the time we stopped midway through the ride to meet up with Keanu and Gard for a quick Q&A before continuing on, it had become clear this was a machine that had been tested and developed in the canyons and on the mountain roads of the Santa Monicas, not (flat, straight, traffic-choked) Hawthorne Boulevard. “But it also has to work on Hawthorne Boulevard,” responded Keanu matter-of-factly.
And to that end, I was a bit surprised at how docile and easy to handle the fire-breathing monster could be. In hot, stop-and-go city traffic, sure the clutch pull starts to feel a bit heavy and the S&S generates considerable heat, but throttle response is smooth and linear and the low-to-mid powerband feels flat as a pancake (I’d love to get a KRGT-1 onto the Jett Tuning dyno). Vibration from the rubber-mounted engine is readily apparent at stoplights but smoothes right out once underway. It cruises the city boulevards like, well, a cruiser should. In short, Gard, Keanu and team have actually created an American bike worthy of the often over-used term “power cruiser.”
What makes the KRGT-1 special, however — what justifies its $85,000 out-the-door price tag — is not just its performance. It’s the fact that when you buy one you’re getting a machine that is hand-built and made specifically for you. The process is a consultation rather than a “sign here” order taking, with the new owner remaining in close partnership with the Arch team throughout the 90-day build. Since there are no dealerships, any aftersale work is coordinated with local service centers vetted by the Arch team, and in many cases the owner has the direct contact info for R&D Manager Ryan Boyd, in case questions or issues arise.
So while it’s true that the KRGT-1 is a limited-production, hand-built, expensive piece of rolling art it’s also a bike that performs better than it has any right to, and that is a direct result of the vision, passion and talent of Gard Hollinger, Keanu Reeves, Ryan Boyd and the entire Arch team. And they aren’t stopping here — next up is a naked sportbike dubbed the 1S. Here’s to hoping I get invited to ride that one too.