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Artisans of Michigan: Voodoo Choppers

This is part of an ongoing series on Stateside called Artisans of Michigan.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio

We are at Voodoo Choppers in Aurburn Hills to talk with Eric Gorges. If that name is familiar to you, you know he’s also host of the weekly national TV show on PBS, A Craftsman’s Legacy. But, we’re here chiefly to talk about his craft: building motorcycles.

When I suggested that he must have apprenticed somewhere. I mean, you don’t just suddenly decide one day you’re going to build motorcycles for a living.

“No. I sorta did do that, really.  You know, honestly, I was in IT before this. I worked for a huge corporation (for 12 years). I got sick and when that happened I had to reevaluate things,” Gorges said.

A friend asked him what he really wanted to do. Gorges said he wanted to build things with his hands. He thought woodworking or building motorcycles. The friend told him, “Then, that’s what you should do.” And he did.  

“So, I took it very literal and said, ‘Okay,’” Gorges said, laughing.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio

That was in 1999.

Gorges started making hand-crafted choppers several years ahead of the attention that mainstream media and television would eventually give motorcycle builders. Since there are now a lot more bike builders, each has to figure out a way to stand apart from the others.

“Custom motorcycles overall are definitely more popular,” Gorges said, but he says his handcrafted bikes are a niche within the craft and that’s made a difference.

Gorges explained a customized bike in most shops is often made from mass produced components and then assembled in a shop.

At Voodoo Chopper, Gorges makes the frames from steel tubing, he cuts the fenders and the tanks out of sheets of metal and forms them in the shop. Everything that can be made by hand, he tries to make it specifically for the person who’s buying the bike.

The shop is full of bikes. One is just being started. Another job is the rehab of a bike Gorges built years ago. It is just about finished. Others wait. Gorges really wants to get to work on them.

Gorges said people who work with their hands will understand when he says, “You sort of get lost in your work a little bit. And you go to that place where time doesn’t exist. You’re just in your own little world,” Gorges explained.

That doesn’t happen as often these days.

The TV show, A Craftsman’s Legacy, demands much of his time. He loves meeting all the craftspeople featured on the show, but he gets a lot less time to work in his own craft, building choppers.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Eric Gorges in his shop, Voodoo Choppers.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Radio from 1998-2010.
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