Erin Fitzgerald: I first moved here when I was seventeen to go to the Art Institute but eventually dropped out and moved to Cleveland. After getting laid off from my job there and losing my apartment, I decided to move back to Pittsburgh in March of 2017. I had a month before the move, so I picked up my first motorcycle and a one-month membership to Skidmark Garage in Cleveland. Skidmark is a co-op motorcycle garage that does classes and has every tool imaginable. You pay a membership to use the tools, workbenches, and bike lifts. My bike was a Honda CB350 that had a hole in the piston and debris in the crankcase, so I used my time at the garage to rebuild the motor and have it running before the move back to Pittsburgh.
EF: I saw it listed for sale in Cleveland on Chopper Swapper a few years ago in its original state with a different exhaust, tank, seat, and so on. I knew that was my bike, but I didn’t have several grand laying around at the time. Eventually, I got a better job, and six months later the bike was posted for sale again. It was owned by Anna and Alex from Strange Cycle, who had a great reputation around the Cleveland area. I mentioned getting a loan for the bike to the owners of the company I worked for, and they were kind enough to offer me a salary advance to avoid a loan. My friend, Shawn, helped drive me to Cleveland to pick it up. Riding a chopper in Pittsburgh is a challenge, but learning to do so creates a sense of accomplishment that I find rewarding.
EF: It was hardtailed. I was told that it was one of the first custom hardtails out of Gasbox in Cleveland and had been passed around the chopper crowd up there for a while.
EF: I decided I wanted a rigid seat, so I chopped the tabs off and made a piece for a seat that I bought to clip into the frame. I added the dual lights by cutting up a bolt-together bracket. The raw tank was purchased from Lowbrow Customs, and I added the paint and decals. The exhaust was changed—I wanted upsweep pipes. There were a lot of little things I changed, like the air cleaner cover. My friend, Andy, did the welding for the sissy bar. We worked together to cut and fit everything for something that was drawn up, then I sat there day after day dremeling it to get it smooth.
EF: When I moved back to Pittsburgh the second time, I didn’t really have many other friends here. I ended up hanging out with a bunch of different bike riders, and they taught me a whole different side of this city. I appreciate that the chopper scene here in Pittsburgh accepts diversity and isn’t into the hate or social exclusion that you might see in other situations. I would be ashamed if anyone in my group was into that.
EF: I had four-wheelers when growing up in upstate New York, and I liked the sense of having my own independent vehicle I could take on trails. That feeling is similar to having a motorcycle. If I looked back at myself as a sad, awkward teenager and compared it to where I am now, I’m one-hundred percent cooler than I had ever hoped to be. I have done things that I never imagined in my life.
EF: I was lucky to have the money and support around me to get this bike, and some days it feels like a miracle that I’m able to keep it moving. I’m also trying to remember that having a bike doesn’t mean motorcycles now define me. There’s no need to feel so much pressure if something takes a while to fix or I can’t afford something it needs. We can’t all be fabricators and master mechanics, but if you’re doing anything with a bike, in any capacity, be proud of it and enjoy it.