Eric Gorges has seen some ups and downs. In the early 2000s, customers waited two years for the craftsman to create them a custom bike out of his Auburn Hills shop, Voodoo Choppers. He was making so many media appearances, he had to tell his publicist to stop booking him. He wanted to take some time off from traveling and enjoy just making bikes. But after 2008, all that changed. Business took a turn for the worse while the economy crumbled, thanks to the housing market crash. Gorges even sold his own bike to ensure his family would continue to have a home.
Now in business for 15 years, Gorges has weathered the storm, though he says he still doesn't have a bike of his own. Business is on the upswing again, and making bikes isn't the only think he's doing. His show, A Craftsman's Legacy, made its debut on PBS in September and he's already in talks to do a second season. In the show, Gorges travels the country, apprenticing other craftspeople and learning all sorts of trades, from leatherworking to basket weaving.
Last week we chatted with Gorges about the show, the shop, and what it's like to work with your hands when everything else is mass-produced.
Metro Times: You just traveled the country working with craftspeople of a lot of different trades. Are you looking to implement any of the new skills you learned during this season into what you do in the shop?
Eric Gorges: Not directly. I went and worked with a saddlemaker, and I learned some metalworking, but I'm not at the point where I want to start making my own leather seats for my bikes, you know, because my skills with leatherworking aren't there. But a lot of that stuff sparked interest, so I will continue building my skill set and eventually it might end up happening. But overall, the commitment to craftsmanship and quality is the one thing that I bring back.
MT: Tell us what it's been like running the shop for 15 years?
Gorges: It's like any small business: You open it up and you sort of find your way, and you continuously try to build the company. We opened in '99, and in the early to mid-2000s things were just crazy. It was nuts; we were backlogged for two years. I was quoting so many custom bikes, it was ridiculous.
MT: How was your business affected by the recession?
Gorges: We had a lot of work throughout the U.S., so we still had work and stayed busy, but it was like cutting the workload in half. Everything happens for a reason, though, you know.
MT: Have you seen a recent uptick, though?
Gorges: We're really specialized in who we do and selective with what we do and who we work with. I'm not for everybody, you know, and I know that and I tell people that upfront. I'm very methodical; I don't like being rushed. I'm not a "I want it now" type of guy. Those people can go somewhere else.
MT: Isn't it odd how turning away business can actually strengthen your brand?
Gorges: We take a lot of pride in what we do. And I don't settle for anything. If I'm not happy with it, we do it over — done. I don't get mixed up in money and all the other bullshit. What I do, who I am, and what I make is more important to me than anything else, so I'm not too worried about it if it takes me 10 hours instead of five. It is what it is. If you're going to do something, you've got to do it right.
MT: How did you become so involved with crafting things by hand? Why is it so important to you?
Gorges: I grew up that way. When I was a boy, my dad did everything. I mean, everything and anything. We never hired out anything to anybody, never hired anybody to do stuff. So whether it was cement work, brickwork, electrical, plumbing, drywall, you name it, we did it. And my grandfather was a master cabinetmaker, so I was surrounded by people who worked with their hands all the time. They were very mechanical and very how-to kind of guys, so that's just how I was raised. Honestly, when I was a kid, I thought everybody was like that.
MT: You worked for some time in a corporate job. How'd you make the transition from cubicle to craftsman?
Gorges: I got sick and I realized that's what I had to do. I've always loved working with my hands and making things. I need to make things; that's what I really enjoy doing. That's what brings me peace in my mind and soul and happiness. I dig motorcycles, but if I had to give up riding bikes or making bikes, I would give up riding any day of the week. I love building them; I love making stuff.
MT: Are there any other trades you've become really interested in thanks to the show?
Gorges: There wasn't a thing [I did] filming that I didn't thoroughly enjoy. ... I did basket weaving, you know, with this wonderful Native American up north, and that was cool as hell. We sat out in his backyard in the woods and weaved baskets, and it was so just calming and so cool.
MT: What's next for the show? And as this season comes to an end, where can people go to see it?
Gorges: Online, one of the things we're going to launch in December is a membership section on our website, so you'll be able to watch full episodes for free. There will be some other cool things too, like a road journal, so when I'm traveling you can see what's going on behind the scenes. — mt
A Craftsman's Legacy airs on WTVS Saturday mornings at 11:30 a.m. For more info on Gorges' bikes, check out voodoochoppers.com.