I WAS ONE of the first people asked to be involved in the Australian Biker Build-Off—I’m sure they had certain candidates they wanted—at the previous Gold Coast Bike Week. Anyway, I was involved with the Croc Bike during the year which took a lot of my time, and when it was over, they told me, “Hey, you’ve got to be in Sydney in five days for the start of the Chopper Build-Off.” I didn’t know it was still going on…
I started with my full size tech drawing, worked out the geometries of the frame, but I quickly realised I was not going to be able to finish it on time. So I rang my brother Eric in America. “Hey, I have problems with this,” I said.
“Well I guess I’ll have to quit my job and come over to help out,” he said.
A week and a half later he arrived and stayed for the duration of the build.
My sister and her boyfriend helped finance this thing from America too because… it’s like a family project. The whole thing went crazy—my daughter, my wife, my brother, and now my sister and her boyfriend were involved. I had to raise $80,000 to build Choppazilla and I couldn’t have done it without the family backing.
The whole design of Choppazilla is a combination of lots of ideas I’ve had over the years. More importantly, the design is centered on the drag racing requirement of the competition. If you understand the dynamics of drag racing geometry, then you understand the surging and weight distribution on the structure. Everything on this bike was designed to accommodate the function of getting down the track quickly—and then we turned it into a real kick-ass chopper.
The four bikes in the Chopper Build-Off have identical S&S 124 cubic inch motors but that doesn’t mean they’ll produce the same times on the drag strip. It depends on how you put the bike together, how you get that power to the ground, the choice of gearing, the exhaust system, etc.
For the exhaust, Jeff at Chopper Works contacted RB Racing in the States who’d had a lot of success with the 124 motor and the land speed record. They sent over a set of pipes but they didn’t fit Choppazilla at all. I analysed the land speed record pipes, measured the intake track lengths, and tested the venturi effect as far as the scavenging on the exhaust goes; then I had Les from Fat Pipes come to the shop to have a look and, cutting the pipes and using certain parts, we fabricated a fully engineered set that fit.
We built the Choppazilla drag bike in seven weeks straight. My wife was bringing us food because we couldn’t even stop to sleep. I had people problems, people who screwed me with parts delivery—but I also had a lot of help from East Coast Custom, Ozbike, and a couple of shops that really shined—Scotty and Grant from Scotty Choppers and Jeff from Chopper Works in Stafford. This guy Geoff actually came to my shop and helped me out on three occasions. He donated the wheels because I couldn’t get mine on time; he sourced a fuel pump; he even sent one of his staff, Nathan, to help out.
My friend John and his dad Gino own the factory upstairs. They were always there to help out.
Skafty from Ozbike was fantastic too. He was supposed to come and take pictures but he ended up helping where ever he could. Mt brother Eric reckons he’s like Tom Sellick in Magnum PR with his legs cut off at the knees. We weren’t getting much sleep so it was great to have Skafty here because he was always enthusiastic about everything we were doing.
Getting to the actual competition at the Gold Coast Bike Week—being late for various reasons—was a psychological disaster. No-one had ever given me a schedule and I didn’t realise there was a penalty for turning up late. I could have turned up on the Tuesday but decided to keep working on Choppazilla; I turned up on Wednesday instead. This meant Choppazilla was on public display at three bike shows whereas the other entrants were on display for four. Even so, the people loved my bike—Choppazilla received more People’s Choice votes in three showings than the others did in four—until the organisers penalised me another 25 percent of my votes for missing the Tuesday. And there I was thinking People’s Choice was about what bike the people wanted to win, not some arbitrary decision made by the event organisers. As a result, I wasn’t eligible to go to America for the competition over there.
Next, we had to decide who was going to ride the bike down the drag strip. The skill of the rider is a factor here and we chose Daniel Brushfire. Daniel has been on my team the whole time. He is not a bike builder per se; he is a person with a vision. He also knows a lot of people so when I needed something—bang! He either got it or he put me in contact with someone else—fantastic. Our first criteria for the rider was that he had to be crazy—that’s why we chose Daniel—the man’s super crazy.
I loved this project. Sure, the organisation wasn’t perfect but, still, I’m happy with what I’ve achieved. It’s very rare to get goose bumps when you start work every day; that’s what happened to me with the Choppazilla drag bike. Even when I was near the end of the project, you’d think I’d hate it but, no, I still loved it. I was psyched from day one; I’m still psyched…
Last Man Standing…
With no time left for a warm-up, Choppazilla’s bike is pushed to the start line at Western Sydney International Dragway. Anxious faces watch as a bike that has only been started in the workshop is about to be sent down the drag strip at a frightening pace. For Andrew Erwin, this moment signifies the culmination of two of the most gruelling months of his life. The other, Lappo from the Chopper Shop, whose bike is now having clutch problems, just wants to beat Choppazilla! The bikes go head to head making three passes—there’s barely a fraction of a second between them—before the Chopper Shop takes the race win and is crowned the Australian Biker Build-Off Champion. Lappo and his team will now go on to the USA in March to compete against America’s best.
pics by Walter Wall; words by Andrew at Choppazilla
You’ll see more of Belinda Rose here..