THE BIKE THAT KEANU BUILT | FIRST RIDE
New for 2020, the ARCH KRGT-1 wants to be the top dog of power cruisers
Test Adam Child Photography Alessio Barbanti & Arnaud Pui
I don’t normally get nervous before a test, but today is very different. This isn’t like any other production bike; this is a bespoke, handmade machine that takes 90 days to assemble and costs $125,000.
I am one of the first test riders to try the new KRGT-1, which has been significantly updated for 2020. And to add to the pressure, co-founder and designers Keanu Reeves and Gard Hollinger are observing and will be joining me on my ride. Oh, and let’s not forget its engine: a tweaked S&S 2032cc V-twin delivering drive to a huge rear carbon wheel wrapped in 240-section Michelin Commander 2 rubber. This is no ordinary bike on no ordinary day.
ARCH was created by co-founders Keanu and Gard, and the KRGT-1 is their latest machine to roll out of their small factory in Los Angeles. For 2020 there are 20 major upgrades and 150 newly designed and manufactured components.
Some of the changes – like the redesigned rear mudguard, or fender as they say in California – have been forced upon the team to meet Euro-4 homologation. Other components have been changed or tweaked to improve the handling and performance or simply to add aesthetic value. Some do all three. Check out the lovely five-spoke carbon wheels and new ‘race-inspired’ billet aluminium swingarm, which increases rigidity and reduces weight compared to the old arm.
There are noticeable changes throughout the bike. New digital clocks, for example, with more information; updated bodywork; a re-designed billet aluminium fuel tank – yes, billet aluminium fuel tank – that is truly special. The tail section, which is also billet, is all-new, as are the seat, suspension, ABS… the list goes on.
The longer you gaze at the ARCH, the more you notice the changes and appreciate the craftsmanship behind it. There is billet aluminium everywhere – 544kg of aluminium is used to produce one bike. The in-house machined side plates are lovely, equally so are the fork bottoms that accommodate the six-piston ISR Monobloc calipers ($1500 per side, no less). From the tailored seat to the Magura levers, which are $1000 a pop, every detail has been thought about to Rolex level of detail and precision. And everything is CNC machined in-house, with some items requiring more than 15 hours of machine time alone.
The new digital, slightly retro dash illuminates with a turn of the rather large central mounted ignition. One press of the starter button and that huge 2032cc air-cooled V-twin barks into life, along with a bespoke exhaust designed in partnership with Yoshimura.
The vibrations are as apparent as Donald Trump’s wig, and the new clocks shake charismatically as I blip the throttle. Arse perched on the comfortable seat, bar-end mirrors positioned correctly, into a surprisingly slick first gear on the forward-set controls – and we’re away.
As we leave the hotel car park, I’m immediately aware of the taught Öhlins-suspended chassis, which is on the firm and sporty side for a cruiser. Öhlins has been heavily involved in the KRGT-1’s development, and like so much on the bike the rear shock and fork are not off-the-shelf items. The ride isn’t overly harsh though, and the seat is comfortable, but the lack of rear sag certainly takes me by surprise.
Even in LA, where celebrities and supercars are around every corner, the ARCH turns heads at every intersection. The two-into-one Yoshi exhaust has a charismatic bark, while on wide throttle openings you can hear the K&N air-filter gasping for air. The bike’s song is distinctive and soulful without being offensive, popping on the overrun too, but you can still leave home without waking your neighbours.
As I ride through town I notice that the S&S gearbox is far smoother than expected, a far cry from the agricultural American gearboxes of old. The clutch is lighter and easier to use. The dash is clearer than before, though not the full-colour display you might expect on a high-end cruiser. The bar-end mirrors give just enough vision behind and the two heat shields on the exhaust also reduce the amount of heat reaching the rider.
Up onto the freeway and the KRGT-1 is in its element, grunting up to speed without fuss. Acceleration from 1500rpm in any gear is like riding a tidal wave of torque. Without passing 3000rpm I’m already up to 130km/h and breaking the speed limit. Away from the eyes of the law, she’d hit 160km/h with only a tickle of the throttle and continue climbing, but as the police are armed over here, I’m not keen on trying the
ARCH flat out.
Now cruising on the freeway and the ergonomics feel natural. I’m relatively short, yet the bars and feet-forward controls aren’t a stretch. That firm suspension doesn’t jolt me out of the seat on bumps and undulations as I was expecting, in fact the ride quality is impressive. Between 120-130km/h, the motor is ticking over smoothly around 3000rpm, giving a sense of vibration through the bars which is noticeable rather than annoying. With its 19-litre fuel tank you could easily go touring on the new ARCH – the only detail lacking in this respect being a fuel range indicator.
As we leave LA and head for the hills and the famous Angeles Crest, a series of endless curves which goes on for 100-odd kays, I’m salivating with anticipation, waiting to push the sporting potential of the new bike. As you’d imagine with a wide rear tyre, long wheelbase and a lazy raked-out front end, stability was never going to be an issue.
The initial turn is a little slow, but once passed five-degrees of lean the ARCH rolls into corners predictably and gracefully. You can then just keep leaning and leaning. And unlike most sporty cruisers, I’m not dragging foot-pegs and the exhaust on the apex.
I push on a little harder, lean a little further and it’s the same result. The ARCH delivers with almost sportsbike levels of lean, the stuff Harley riders can only dream about. Put some more rear-set pegs on this bike, drop the bars and you’d have a knee down mid-corner cruiser. Ish.
That quality Öhlins holds the heavy chassis extremely well. There is very little sag in the rear shock and because the rear isn’t sitting down as expected, nothing touches the road, even when a few unexpected undulations are thrown into the equation. Despite the lack of squat, you can still dial in fistfuls of torque and feel the grip. Eventually, without any rider aids like traction control, that fat Michelin will break free, but you’d need to be devilish with the throttle or have a cold tyre to do so.
The front 48mm fully-adjustable Öhlins fork is also on the sporty side, while the uprated six-piston ISR calipers are sportsbike-strong and free of fade, which is impressive given they have to haul down 244kg plus rider. (The brake system itself has been updated for the new model with a new reservoir and twin-channel ABS developed in partnership with Bosch.)
In the endless twists and turns of the mountains, what impresses me the most, aside from the class-leading ground clearance, is the bike’s ability to switch from one corner to the next without any dramatic counter steering input or pushing on the pegs. Again, the control of the Öhlins suspension helps – you don’t have to pull the bike upright, lift it over the shock and force it back down the other side – and the ride is far more flowing and effort-free than I’d anticipated.
At the halfway point we’re joined by ARCH co-founders: legendary bike builder Gard Hollinger and Hollywood star Keanu Reeves. It’s rewarding to hear them discuss the bike, the setup and explain the changes they’ve made. Gard is the accomplished bike builder, but Keanu isn’t just there for the publicity, he’s a genuine biker and often used as a test rider. He’s clocked up more than 80,000 test kilometres, and some of the chassis changes, the sporty steering, and increased rigidity from the rear were at his request.
For the remainder of the ride, both Keanu and Gard ride with us down the mountains back to Pasadena in LA. Riding a valuable bespoke bike is daunting enough, doing so under the noses of the men who made it takes things to another level.
Keanu follows my wheel tracks and as we up the pace he’s still there in those bar-end mirrors, following my every move. The pace is brisk and he’s having fun as we push the legality of our riding. Now and then we all give a thumbs up, we’re all enjoying the road, the bike and each other’s company. Amidst a cacophony of noise, I can see LA rising from the smog in the distance and conclude that if ARCH has designed the KRGT-1 to make you feel good then they have succeeded. In California, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Before flying to LA, my assumption was the ARCH KRGT-1 was going to be a soft, vibey, slightly agricultural cruiser. Some power, certainly, but mainly just another custom build with bolted-on parts. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The level of workmanship and the man-hours that have gone into this bike are mind-blowing. The level of the components, the CNC machine work, the creativity and craftsmanship are all first class. The pictures don’t do the bike justice (the CNC-machined billet swingarm and petrol tank have to be seen in the metal).
Producing a bike from scratch and getting it through European and US testing is no easy task. But after years of painstaking testing and re-designing, it’s worked. Looks and appeal are subject to interpretation, of course, but I like the style and the polished look and feel. For a performance cruiser, the KRGT-1 handles, stops and certainly has some go.
The elephant in the room is its price: at 125,000 bucks it’s not realistic or achievable for most, simply a poster bike like a dream sports car such as an Aston Martin or an American muscle car. But thankfully I did get to ride it, and thankfully it blew away my expectations.