OWOSSO — His custom motorcycles have been featured on the cover of the internationally circulated “The Horse” magazine three times, and now Rob VanGorder has brought his artistry and skills to the city of Owosso.
His custom motorcycle shop, Grease Rag Customs, recently opened at 320 Corunna Ave. If the name sounds familiar, it could be because VanGorder operated Grease Rag Customs on Saginaw Street in Flint for a long time, closing it a few years ago.
“There’s a lot of creativity and craftsmanship here,” Joe Coady, of Vernon Township, said Friday as he checked out the custom bikes on display in the shop’s yard.
“I love to look at them.”
VanGorder, 46, builds his bikes from the ground up, repurposing unusual items to make parts. An air cleaner on one of the bikes was once upon a time an ashtray from Angelo’s Coney Island in Flint. Its hood ornament came off a 1949 Buick. The front of a different bike was crafted from an old hand railing.
“I never had anything growing up, so I had to learn how to make what I wanted with whatever I had,” he said.
Although motorcycles occupy most of VanGorder’s work time, he also creates knives out of railroad spikes, along with ornamental hand railings and sculptures.
Many people have described him as an artist, but VanGorder resists the term.
“I’ve been told a lot of times that I’m an artist, but I don’t draw or paint,” he said. “I guess I’m a different kind of artist. But I’m very humble: I don’t know how to take a compliment.”
Right now, VanGorder is building a flashy, custom motorcycle for a client that will probably cost about $50,000 before it’s complete (the engine alone is worth $8,000).
He is self-taught, picking up the skills he’s needed here and there over the past 20 years.
“The first time, I bought this ragged-ass bike that was bleeding oil. I worked for a welder and fabricator at the time, and I was pretty sure I could do something with the bike,” VanGorder said. “I tore it apart and went from there.”
His wife, Kelly VanGorder, is planning to open a store at the front of the bike shop.
She will sell lamps and purses made from license plates, candles, and custom motorcycle parts and knives made by her husband.
The couple reside in Owosso with their two children, Rylee, 9, and Tarzan, 11.
The children are “completely involved” in the business, their father said.
As much as Rob VanGorder loves bikes, his real passion is being a father, he said
“Bikes were my passion until I held my baby boy in my arms and knew what love was for the first time,” he said.
The VanGorders are hosting a grand opening event at 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24, at the shop.
It’s the same date as the 2019 Owosso Vintage Motorcycle Days.
VanGorder said he expects a number of participants — fellow bike shop owners he knows — to set up their machines outside the shop.
For more information, call Grease Rag Customs at (810) 744-1800 or find the shop on Facebook.