Chopper revs up for centennial-fest finale

Posted on by az100
By Larry Rodgers, The Republic|

Posted 1/31/2012 04:41:11 AM

Although some might envision a saguaro, howling coyote or cowboy as the official mascot of Arizona’s centennial celebration, state Rep. Jerry Weiers had different ideas.

Copper Chopper appearances:

All appearances are free to spectators.

3 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 31Circle K, 30th Street and Bell Road, Phoenix.

10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb.4 — Peoria Centennial Celebration, 9875 N. 85th Ave.

3 to 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 6 — Circle K, 19th Avenue and Happy Valley Road, Phoenix.

3 to 7 p.m.Tuesday, Feb. 7 — Circle K, Rural and Baseline roads, Tempe.

3 to 7 p.m.Wednesday, Feb. 8 — Circle K, 11th Street and Indian School Road, Phoenix.

11 a.m. to 1 p.m.Thursday, Feb.9 — Heard Museum, 2301 N. Central Ave., Phoenix.

Noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday,Feb.11-12 — Arizona Best Fest, State Capitol Mall, 1700 W. Washington St., Phoenix.

A fan of taking in Arizona’s sights while rolling down the highway on two wheels, the District 12 representative proposed building a mighty motorcycle that would celebrate the state’s untamed beauty as well as a key component of its growth: copper mining.

“I wanted to try to come up with something that not only shows the spirit of Arizona — that free, open-road, desert Southwestern atmosphere — and at the same time (shows) what got us here, our copper,” says Weiers, who rides a Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic.

After winning approval from the state’s Centennial Commission, Weiers enlisted one of Arizona’s top custom-motorcycle builders, and the Copper Chopper was born.

Glistening from wheel to wheel with copper mined in Arizona, the creation of bike designer Paul Yaffe has been touring the state for 16 months in anticipation of a starring role in the Arizona Best Fest, which runs Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 11-12, at the state Capitol Mall in Phoenix.

“The Copper Chopper has become a celebrity,” says Mandi Wimmer, deputy director of the Centennial Commission. “It’s the one piece of the centennial that we are able to take all over the state. Everywhere it goes, people arrive with cameras, wanting to take pictures.”

The Harley-powered motorcycle, which Yaffe says would sell for at least $140,000, will be given away at the Arizona Best Fest to one of the thousands of people who have bought $5 raffle tickets. (Tickets are available through Thursday, Feb. 9, at Valley Circle K stores or

The Phoenix-based Yaffe adds, “I really don’t know how to value this bike, because it has become a piece of Arizona history.”

Yaffe, whose work has been featured on the Discovery Channel’s “The Great Biker Build-off” and Tru TV’s “Full Throttle Saloon,” says, “We were super-excited about doing it.

“Fabricating and creating something from nothing is our forte, so this was a challenge we were totally up to.”

The builder and his crew at Paul Yaffe Originals spent about 18 months building the motorcycle, which includes an engine that has been bored out to 100 cubic inches and produces 100 horsepower, in keeping with the centennial theme.

The gas tank is adorned with emblems inspired by the star and rays of the Arizona flag, and the leather seat is embossed with lettering celebrating the Copper Chopper and the centennial. The tank emblems and leather work were created by Mark Kalen of Texas and Duane Ballard of California, two of Yaffe’s friends.

Phoenix-based Freeport-McMoRan, the world’s largest publicly traded copper company and a centennial sponsor (as is The Arizona Republic), donated the copper for the project.

“The billet pieces, or chunks, that we had to carve things from were a very interesting material to work with,” Yaffe said. “It is very soft and very heavy.

“We didn’t want the bike to weigh 3,000 pounds, so we decided to make the wheels from forged aluminum and then copper-plate them. All the ingots and nameplates, like the centennial seal and great Arizona seal, the logos, and conchos on the seat are all carved out of billet copper, (but) other pieces like the handlebars, wheels and motor parts are copper-plated.”

Even the two headlights of the 500- to 600-pound bike shine through the slits of matching copper covers, and the air cleaner has a copper cover shaped like Arizona.

“The bike is absolutely a work of art,” Weiers says.

One option that will be disconnected before the Copper Chopper is delivered to its lucky owner is equipment that allows the exhaust pipes to throw 30-foot flames.

“I only put that on (some) personal bikes,” says Yaffe, 48, who also has built choppers to celebrate the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 2001 World Series win and the launch of the Tilted Kilt restaurant franchise, as well as for NASCAR stars Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth and the late Dale Earnhardt.

Yaffe will straddle the Copper Chopper on Feb. 11 to help Valley-born country star Dierks Bentley lead the Arizona Centennial Ride, which goes from Mesa Riverview Plaza to the Arizona Best Fest in Phoenix. Organizers say the ride could draw more than 1,000 riders.

Yaffe, who opened his first Phoenix shop in 1991, and Weiers have only slight, good-natured concerns about the Copper Chopper.

“The only real problem with this bike is that I haven’t ridden it,” says Weiers, who plans to take part in the Feb. 11 ride if he is fully recovered from shoulder surgery.

Yaffe says, “Hopefully, I can get it back a few days before the ride so I can check everything out. It rode great on the initial (2010) ride.”

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