STEP 1 Cover the seats: Stingray Seat Covers (About R450)
The seats look like they tried to break up a fight between two rabid wolverines, too far gone for any leather spray to save. Time for seat covers. Options included Hawaiian motifs, wetsuit neoprene, or that old standby of retired academics given to wearing tweedy garments and hats, sheepskin. Cabbies: you're on to something with those acupressure beads. Aiming to match the factory interior rather than make a statement, I bought a pair of tweedy-tasteful equivalents. Turns out, this is one of the best bang-for-the-buck upgrades you can make. Mine will shroud the Bronco's upholstery until I find a pair of decent seat replacements.
The three of us line up at a red light on Ventura Boulevard in Los Angeles. Eddie Van Halen is on my right and Heath Cofran of Alpinestars on my left. We rev our engines hard, the giant V-twins beneath us shaking our skulls while we wait for the light to go green. Blaaaaahhhhh!!!!!! Eddie flies off the line so fast I'm surprised the helmet doesn't pop off his head. Heath is right with him, tucked forward so his front tyre stays on the tar. I'm white-knuckled and cranking on the throttle. My heart pounds and I'm giggling because the power doesn't slow until we stop at the next light. I manage to pull off a controlled skid behind them before offering a thumbs-up and a smile.
With massive power and the riding position of a high-performance cruiser, the handling and response of a super-sport, and a completely different look that comes with being hand-built in America, these bikes don't come cheap. Heath and I are on KRGT-1S (about R1 million) from Arch, a company started by Keanu Reeves – who's actually a big motorhead – and master builder Gard Hollinger. “I had this HarleyDavidson Dyna that I was looking to customise and what I was doing was horrible,” Keanu told me. “I wanted a sissy bar and Hollinger looked at me and said, ‘I don't make sissy bars, but why don't you come inside and see what we do here?' ” With Hollinger's guidance, Keanu built what would become the KRGT-1 and the two men launched Arch. Eddie, whom I've known for a little while now, is on the strange and beautiful Confederate Wraith B120 (R1,2 million) one of only 50 ever built. Confederate was founded in 1991 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, by Matt Chambers. After Hurricane Katrina destroyed his New Orleans facility in 2005, he moved to Birmingham, Alabama, where the Wraith was the first of many bespoke bikes to roll out of the new facility. Van Halen is riding serial No. 1.
If the Silver Surfer gave up surfing, he'd ride the bike I'm on. It's chrome, with a big 20-litre solid polished-aluminium fuel tank. Heath's Arch has a red-and- whitepaint scheme and gold forks, and a completely different riding position. Even though these are production bikes with more than 200 hand-assembled parts, each one is customised specifically for its owner. I clunk the six-speed gearbox into first and rev the engine until it vibrates my teeth. Green light. If you think Eddie is fast on the guitar, he rides even faster. The Wraith set the world land speed record in its class at just shy of 268 km/h in 2008 and Eddie seems as if he's trying to beat that now. “The whole thing is carbon fibre, including the winged backbone frame, wheels and backward-looking forks,” he says. “The rest is aircraft-grade billet aluminium, so it's nimble, manoeuvrable and very, very fast.” The pedestrians he roars past must think something from the future just arrived or that a fighter jet flew over their heads.
Heath leads us to a great restaurant called Gasolina Café, where we sit drinking iced teas with these beautiful, expensive machines parked in front of us. It's hard not to think about how much love, passion and engineering goes into every bike. Even if you never have the chance to ride one, it's good to know that people are always pushing the limits of what's possible.
Eddie realises the owner of the restaurant speaks Dutch and strikes up a conversation in his native language. He emigrated from Holland when he was a kid, and look how far he's come. America really is great.
The Arch KRGT-1 has a massive 2 032-cm3 91 kw V-twin engine.