Motorcycle Maker Paul Yaffe

Posted on by az100

Author: Susie Steckner

Issue: February, 2011, Page 58

Phoenix Magazine

If “Arizona centennial celebration” conjures up images of boring re-enactments or cheesy parades, think again. Paul Yaffe, a Phoenix-based builder of custom motorcycles, is roaring into the 2012 festivities with a fire-breathing, look-this-way Copper Chopper. That’s right: The state’s official centennial mascot may well be a bad-ass bike.

Yaffe, 48, is an internationally renowned designer of custom motorcycles. From his central Phoenix shop, Yaffe creates custom bikes from the ground up as well as custom parts for touring bikes. His “who’s who” list of clients includes celebrities, corporate CEOs, racecar drivers and others from around the world. Locally, his work includes a custom Arizona Diamondbacks bike – the same one that was on display at the 2001 World Series – and a human heart-themed bike for Arizona’s pioneering cardiovascular surgeon Edward Diethrich.

For the centennial bike, however, Yaffe pulled out all the stops. The chopper is made of copper (one of the state’s “Five Cs”) from wheel-to-wheel and boasts features like an artist-made leather seat, a miniature Arizona state map and a few iconic star-and-sun ray embellishments à la the state flag. To up the wow factor, the bike will also shoot flames out of its tailpipes.

The motorcycle was unveiled at the Arizona State Fair in October as a historic nod to another creation: a steam-powered bicycle, put on display at the 1884 Maricopa County Fair by Arizonan Lucius Day Copeland. Yaffe studied up on Copeland and channeled the famed inventor’s passion for his own project.

Yaffe’s chopper, built with private funds at an estimated cost of $140,000, is now on a statewide tour. The Arizona Centennial Commission ( will raffle it off in 2012.

“It’s probably the biggest honor I’ve had and I’ve had a lot of honors,” Yaffe says. “This one just feels bigger, feels more important.”

Why motorcycles?
I’ve always been into mechanical things. My mechanical aptitude, my engineering mind is just a natural gift…. Motor vehicles as a whole always inspired me as a kid. Somebody had a go-kart made with a lawnmower engine, and I went crazy.

But your design eye led you somewhere else first.
I actually designed women’s shoes. True story.

You eventually enrolled in Harley Davidson’s training program in Phoenix. Describe the early years.
I was very focused in school. I would drive all night to L.A., show up at 5 in the morning for a police auction, get a couple of bikes, come back here and then I would customize them as fast as I could in my garage. Then I’d sell them in the paper.

Fast-forward, and your fame lands you the centennial commission. What was your reaction to the idea?
I was blown away. The ideas [the organizers] were talking about… having rides from all over the state, soliciting surrounding states to come celebrate with motorcycle rides. In my humble eyes, it was like, “Arizona’s throwing a biker party?” It’s not a biker party, but it certainly will capture the hearts of all two-wheeled fans around the country.

What was the biggest design challenge?
Designing a bike that in my eyes was sexy and looked really cool and also honors its [copper] heritage and its inspiration in Lucius Day Copeland.

Is there life after motorcycles?
If I have the chance to do anything else I’ll probably cook. It’s very fun to go home and play with stuff and then, of course, it’s like a bike: You lay the dishes down and you hope they like it.

Celebrate Arizona

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