You are not going to see a fleet of KRGT-1’s roll into the local bike night. Founded in 2011 by Gard Hollinger and Keanu Reeves, Arch Motorcycle set from the start to build truly custom motorcycles. Originally published in the February 2018 issue of SportBikes Inc Magazine.
American exotic motorcycles… There is something about the manner in which that descriptive phrase rolls off of the tongue. There’s a persuasive and seductive nature to it. The first time that I heard it, I had hoped that I wasn’t being set up for disappointment when I actually had the opportunity to lay eyes upon the Arch Motorcycle KRGT-1. In the simplest sentiment, the machine was definitely a motorcycle, blossoming with exoticism and every bit American. The disappointment was removed from the equation.
Founded in 2011 by Gard Hollinger and Keanu Reeves, discussions of Arch traveled fast amongst motorcycle industry folk in the company’s early days. Partially for obvious reasons. More so for what the bike looked like and rumored performance abilities. Then there was the price tag. Arch Motorcycle was set from the start to build truly custom motorcycles for those looking for their very own, unique riding experience, unlike any other. You are not going to see a fleet of KRGT-1’s roll into the local bike night.
In the last couple of years, Arch Motorcycle has strategically made steps into the industry spotlight. This past fall, Arch introduced its 2018 model lineup, which included two all-new models – the 1s and the Method 143, at EICMA to the global motorcycle industry. With calculated caution, the company slowly began to show its hand beyond the scope of the inner industry. Often, the traditional route for building brand awareness is to distribute apparel and swag bearing the brand’s logo, soliciting across social media platforms and the like. The only Arch apparel that I’ve ever seen is a trucker hat adorn by one of the co-founders. That says a lot about Arch Motorcycle and the breed of company that they are. To fine-tune the distinction, I talked with Gard Hollinger, co-founder of Arch Motorcycle.
Allan: Some have said that Arch was born as a pet project. Some say that Arch was created because… why not? Because you can, so you did. But everything happens for a reason. What happened in the motorcycle world where there was a need for Arch Motorcycle to come into existence?
Gard: There’s always, especially when there’s a celebrity involved, more myth than facts and it circulates. You can’t address all of it except when you get the chance to. It definitely wasn’t a pet project, at least not in my mind. I’m a planner, thoughtful and methodical. I really put Keanu through and through the question mill when he suggested for the third or fourth time, over several years that maybe we should make some more bikes like the one I had built for him.
To the question, to pinpoint the single reason of why… It is because we are going to die. Of course, it’s more complicated than that. Because what that meant to me is that it is an opportunity to do something that is rare. To really have the chance to try to leave a legacy in a world that we both cared about, which is the motorcycle world. For years, I had been a custom motorcycle builder and had done a lot of things in the motorcycle industry. But at least in that last business carnation, I had a custom motorcycle business. It was somewhat known in the twin world but I had had some experience working for some small production motorcycle companies and those experiences were really interesting to me. It opened my eyes to how much more challenging it is to work in that environment without just giving in and not being artistic.
So the idea was that it was more challenging to try to maintain the art and the design you’re doing while you’re executing a production motorcycle that has to meet all these standards and legal requirements. I was already really interested in that and doing more and more work that way. That was the thing that was really interesting to me. I was getting a little bit bored with the one-off thing, which is fun to do. It’s so much easier to do that than it is to do it well in a production environment. And so then the idea of… is there a production motorcycle company that exists that really focuses on building one of a kind motorcycles for the customer that not only means how they look but how they fit the ergonomics and then the personalization aspect?
I couldn’t think of one. There are certainly some other motorcycle companies who build beautiful, really unique motorcycles, but they’re not really geared towards personalizing the fit and finish is to the customer. Nobody needs a seventy thousand plus dollar motorcycle, but the state of the industry at the time and my experience sort of made me feel like it would be nearly impossible to start a production motorcycle company not being focused on a high-end product, a high-end customer, and no compromise. Right?
Allan: That goes back to what you said. Eventually, you’re going to die and it’s an opportunity to make a mark and leave something of yourself. We’re talking about the motorcycle business. It seems like it was a culmination of that sentiment and also other things that were going on in the industry. I think your reasoning is spot on. You make the point of building a custom motorcycle experience for the rider. Is there something beyond that? How does that translate into the goal of Arch, as a company?
Gard: There’s no focused objective beyond that. I never say never. People talk about, “Why don’t you guys build a more affordable motorcycle?” I don’t think we could do what we’re currently doing if we’re focused on a more affordable motorcycle. We’re trying to make a low volume, no compromise motorcycle that’s well-engineered. The idea was always to have three motorcycles in the lineup at any given time. You have to walk before you run or crawl before you walk. Starting with the first one and building the infrastructure for the company. In the background was always this plan to have these other models which, you know, of course, we were able to bring to fruition this year and introduced the 1s and the Method 143. But the goal is really to build a brand that still exists when we’re gone. If that means that we’re lucky enough to be alive another 15 or 20 years or longer, then we become a higher volume motorcycle company. But that’s not the focus right now. One of the things we’ve done, I don’t know if I’d say well, was to stay true to the goal as though we haven’t been. I’m distracted by other things and plenty of opportunities come to our way and ideas come across my desk about branding and licensing. We don’t even know how to sell shirts or hats. We make some that we give to customers and friends. The reason for that isn’t because we couldn’t monetize it. It’s because it’s a distraction from the main purpose, which is to build a legitimate motorcycle company. And until we’re good at that, then we shouldn’t be selling shirts, hats or cigarette lighters.
Allan: There’s an apparent lack of focus across the industry. Arch’s outlook and approach are refreshing because to keep it 8 more than 92 percent with you, the bikes are expensive. Very expensive. Does the price point affect sales? How do you project against that?
Gard: Obviously everything is going to focus back on the bottom line. To me is the commitment to the vision and it’s not an easy commitment to have. The foregoing ideas could generate revenue, but maybe hinder the longevity of the brand. But being patient and knowing that you have to build an understanding of the product and a customer base slowly are all things that are part of the commitment to building a brand. There may be quick ways to build brands in our day and age. But there aren’t quick ways to build a motorcycle brand, you know? And so many of those things that I think you can apply to building a clothing brand or a drink brand or it may be these other consumer products that don’t apply to a motorcycle brand. Motorcycle enthusiasts and customers are hardcore, doubting and passionate about motorcycles.
So you have to be willing to prove yourself. And I think that that’s always been part of the commitment. We’ve slowly built our customer base and it continues to grow. Part of the goal is to be able to make it easy and reach customers worldwide. And that’s another commitment that on the face doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense. But if you’re looking further down the road, it makes a ton of sense. We are doing the Euro 4 homologation, making the process easy for a customer anywhere in the world to buy and register their motorcycle. That’s part of that commitment.
Allan: Is there a standing dealer network? How are maintenance issues handled?
Gard: By design, the company does not have a dealer network. The volume goal of the company didn’t make sense to have a dealer network. So in that sense, we don’t have a traditional dealer network. What we have done is very slowly and strategically included distribution partners in other parts of the world that makes sense. Suter is a good example of a partnership. We’re speaking to a group in the UK right now. And we have a customer who actually helped us get our specialty vehicle approval in Australia and now we’ve spoken to several potential distribution partners in Australia. We’ll continue to do that and set up distribution networks that make sense. It’s almost impossible to have a standalone distribution business with Arch. So they have to have a business plan that adds Arch as an element to it.
Regarding the service… It is a big challenge. A lot of it is direct customer service. The whole idea of purchasing an Arch motorcycle isn’t that you’re just buying a motorcycle. You’re actually buying an experience. You’re buying not just this unique vehicle, but inclusion into a family. So I’ll give you a whacky example. Our customer in Australia who helped us get this specialty vehicle approval had an issue with his bike. He had an early model and had an issue because of the temperatures in Australia. It wasn’t a real complicated issue. We knew what the issue was and if it were here, we could have fixed it in a couple of hours. We tried to help him find and source a local shop or service place but he didn’t feel comfortable with any of them. So we just flew one of our techs there. With the tech, he found a local shop that he felt most comfortable with and now the owner and mechanic of that shop came and spent some time with our tech and now feels comfortable so if there are any issues in the future, even if it’s just servicing the motorcycle there’s a comfort level between the customer and this person and that person and us as a company and the support that he’ll get technically. That’s an extreme example.
But in other cases, I have been in the motorcycle industry a long time and I know a lot of people across the country and even across the world so there’s a good chance I can either connect the customer with somebody I know or somebody that will have answers. There’s also a sort of an expectation that most of our customers are not first-time motorcycle buyers. I’m not sure that’s true this year because we sold several motorcycles to not only first-time motorcycle owners but also female customers, which is quite interesting. At any rate, the expectation initially was that most of our buyers wouldn’t be first-time motorcycle owners. They probably owned other motorcycles and probably had somebody who cared for their motorcycles already and we would just support that person if anything was needed. Our bikes have been super reliable, which is part of the payoff of being patient and spending those three or three and a half years designing and testing and developing the first product which gave us a tremendous amount of confidence in the product. Not to mention a method on how to move forward with future product development.
Allan: What’s the rundown on the current model lineup?
Gard: The KRGT-1 is a refinement of the first motorcycle that I built for Keanu at my old shop and the idea was a custom American V Twin that could not only perform but that you could also ride from LA to San Francisco, without it killing you, in terms of discomfort. It was to have some range and would be fun. We continue to refine it all the time. I mean, it’s part of the beauty of having our own in-house manufacturing. Instead of having to buy parts from a metal shop, 50 or 100 pieces at a time, we can build 10 pieces at a time. And if we want to make a minor tweak that makes it either easier to assemble or a part that works better then we do that. And we’re doing that all the time.
The 1s is more sport influenced with the architecture and powertrain. It’s also probably the motorcycle I would have built out on my own if I weren’t trying to tick some boxes for Keanu on that first motorcycle. And then the Method 143… We were always going to have one of the three bikes in the lineup that every year or every couple of years would be something really over the top. Something really pushing the idea of design and engineering. The 143 is the first motorcycle that I’m aware of that has a carbon mono shell chassis and not just the carbon chassis itself, with the fuel tank and everything else combined into it completely. And then that motorcycle would always be a limited number run. Each time it will use a different kind of powertrain which to base it around. The 143 has a drive shaft system that’s not even the same as the one that we use in our other production motorcycles. And we’re working on a different drivetrain package so the bike when it’s done will be very, very unique and incorporate as much technology as possible. This idea of a concept motorcycle, but a production constant motorcycle that actually 20, in this case, 23 people will be able to own instead of there just being one that a manufacturer owns and nobody else can ever, ever have one. And then the technology that we use in those motorcycles and some of the design will trickle down into production stuff in the future.
Allan: Everybody has critics and you can either acknowledge them or ignore them, or use that energy to fuel you further. Has there been any type of negativity that you guys have had to deal with or overcome?
Gard: There’s always negativity. Obviously, there was more in the beginning when there wasn’t a real understanding of the product that was focused on the price tag. I think now more and more people understand the product more and they say, “We know it’s expensive, but we can understand why it’s expensive and it’s not for everybody.” You obviously don’t need to know how to start a motorcycle company whose main focus is to produce less than a hundred motorcycles a year that are priced in the $80,000 range or more if you’re trying to build a motorcycle for everybody. I think you could argue that we were among the vanguard of the idea of a performance cruiser. If you look at some of the products that the big manufacturers are coming out with now and even some of the ideas of customization, where did those come from? They didn’t exist before. BMW has a whole custom concept now. And I’ve heard more and more motorcycle manufacturers now coming out with a similar product and also similar ideas of focusing the customization on a deeper level. So I have to think no matter what’s being said that they are thinking what bits and pieces can plug into their program that fulfills a need or a desire for different customers.
Allan: In that spirit, would you say that Arch Motorcycle is at this point, America’s only true motorcycle company? Gard: I don’t know if we could say that. We have Harley and Indian.
Allan: I mean in terms of being conceptualized, made, manufactured here in the U.S…
Gard: I know what you’re saying. Where they’re, other companies, are going overseas to make things and I don’t know that I would say that. And even if I don’t feel that way, but even if I did, I don’t know that it would be our place to say it. I certainly think that we are beyond. I mean, forget about the motorcycle, forget about what your attitude is about whether a motorcycle should cost $70,000… And we hear that from a lot of people who of course are our customers, you know, if you forget about all that, I think what we are doing in the first place, manufacturing a product, and not an easy product to manufacture, and doing it in the U.S. And not only in the U.S. but in Los Angeles, California. It doesn’t mean we don’t have parts on the motorcycle that didn’t come from a supplier outside of the U.S. We’re always looking for the best part to use on the motorcycle. But if we have an American choice, we will use it. And that’s part of what dictates the cost. We’re not, but we could have gone overseas and have everything made in China and just assemble in the U.S. then sell the motorcycle for 20 or 30 grand less. But you know, that’s another call.
Allan: Is there anything specific that arch is looking to accomplish in 2018?
Gard: We have a big job ahead of us. In the wake of EICMA and introducing these new models, we need to fully industrialize them and get them manufactured. The other really big daunting thing in front of us this year is homologation. Most people don’t understand how complicated it is unless they have some experience with it, but unlike the U.S., Europe has one standard for all motorcycle manufacturers that want to sell road-registered motorcycles. It doesn’t matter if you’re a company that’s going to try to sell ten motorcycles a year in Europe or you’re somebody selling one hundred fifty thousand cycles a year in Europe. It’s the same standard and much of it isn’t friendly towards a small manufacturer. For example, you don’t have 37 vendors for antilock brake systems and they’re the companies that are used to dealing with volumetric manufacturers. Company’s like Continental and Bosch handle the work and the effort and testing involved to get an acceptable ABS to meet the requirement alone precludes most companies from doing it. It all has to do with the economy of scale. And then you have all the stuff that goes along with it. Those are the two big things.
And we also want to continue to push our design department. Our goal would be to introduce something else next year at one of the big shows. I have some ideas but I don’t want to say too much because there’s no need to put your foot in your mouth. Even if it were just a design exercise and not something we’re looking to produce, I think just the idea to show that we’re always thinking and pushing that way.
Quality things take time and Arch Motorcycle is in no rush. This idea is evident in the manner in which they produce a single motorcycle. From start to finish, the process takes ninety days. What begins with a consultation between a client and Arch to sort out ergonomics, comfort and style progress in about two weeks to a running test bike. The remaining time is spent dialing the motorcycle down to the most minute detail of the customer’s desire. There is much to say about patience, persistence, and timing. Since the company’s inception, the brand has begun to build traction as a proper manufacturer of motorcycles. It is clear that Arch is looking at the long game and the big picture. While an Arch Motorcycle may not be the bike in every rider’s garage, nor are they created to be that… It won’t be long, if not already before they will be the first name in American exotic motorcycles.