The custom motorcycle business is alive and well! Just don’t expect to make any money at it. And it is not really about motorcycles. Consider, to start, the Arch KRGT-1.
The Arch, pictured above, weighs 538 pounds dry and is powered by a 124 cubic inch S&S Cycles, Twin Cam, V-Twin engine that makes about 121 horsepower. It looks fast. The foot controls are nicely kicked out. The seat looks comfortable. The rear view mirrors are fashionably tiny. It features a Baker six speed transmission, dual front brakes and a five gallon gas tank that is probably good for 200 miles between fill ups. According to the manufacturer, the gas tanks are hand made and each one takes 60 hours to construct.
Not that the size of the tank matters. It is purely a bar hopper. There is no place to put a woman or hang saddlebags.
Blah, Blah, Blah
That is because, “An Arch provides strength, connection and passage. Strength that comes from meticulous design and engineering. Connection between modern and classic, style and performance, custom and production. Passage from canyons to cities, down freeways to destinations bound only by the rider’s desire.” You’re guess is as good as mine about what that last passage of corporate double talk means. I think it means, “You’re not going to ride this thing to Sturgis.” Maybe it means, “If you can afford this you can afford to fly it to Sturgis.”
Because the Arch costs $78,000. There is a wait to get one and the bike is the dream of actor Keanu Reeves. Reeves, who may be most famous for playing a good natured moron named Ted, describes himself as “the voice of the long-time everyday rider.” Reeves first motorcycle “was a Kawasaki 600 Enduro, followed by the beginning of his Norton affair and the first of many he’d own over the years. Often away from home and his Norton’s, he got in the habit of buying a bike when filming on location and selling when the shoot was done. He’s owned a Suzuki GS1100E, Suzuki GSX-R750, 1974 BMW 750, a Kawasaki KZ 900, an ‘84 Harley Shovelhead, and a Moto Guzzi among others.”
The KRGT-1 has been on the market since September. It remains a mystery how many people have actually bought one. Some people are probably mystified about who might buy one. But Arch is worth mentioning now because it epitomizes the idea of motorcycles as symbols of brands.
Reeves collaborator in his motorcycle company is Gard Hollinger who is described by Arch as having grown up, “up in Los Angeles during the tail end of the mid-century modern movement, bombing around the Hollywood Hills on dirt bikes past buildings seemingly dropped from outer space. In fact he spent his formative years living in such a structure; a Lautner-designed piece up on Mullholland known as the Garcia House.”
What these guys are really about and the reason they talk like that is because they are building a brand.
The idea of motorcycles as art, as something entirely symbolic, began at the peak of the Harley boom in 1998 when the Guggenheim Museum in New York opened an exhibition called Art of the Motorcycle. Now, uniquely beautiful motorcycles are being used to publicize high end brands.
A Danish bike builder named Lauge Jensen has been building art bikes for years. Last month he announced a V-Twin production motorcycle called the Viking Concept which sells for about $50,000 depending on the relative value of the dollar and the euro. Jensen probably won’t sell many of them and it doesn’t matter. He is one of the heirs to the Lego fortune. What he seems to be doing is enhancing his own personal brand.
The Los Angeles Times recently reported that a Los Angeles custom bike company and “lifestyle brand” named Deus Ex Machina has lost money on custom bikes built for celebrities Orlando Bloom, Ryan Reynolds, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and Jason Mraz. Deus Ex Machina (which is an ironic Latin term from classical drama that means “God from the machine’) was founded by an Australian millionaire named Dare Jennings.
Jennings doesn’t expect to make money from his motorcycles. “That’s why we make clothing,” he said. “Otherwise, we’d go broke.”
The motorcycles are mostly symbolic – a component of Deus “branding.” In Los Angeles, Deus sells jeans for $259 and hoodies for $220. The same shop sells surfboards, wet suits, motorcycle helmets, boots and gloves. The shop calls itself an Emporium of Post Modern Activities,
“It’s a lifestyle experience,” a Deus executive told the Times. “If we build a strong community, sales will come with that.”
It doesn’t seem to be much different than what Harley-Davidson has been doing for decades; using the symbolic value of overpriced motorcycles to sell clothing. You can decide for yourself what it all means.