Evel Knievel is legend – a fearless daredevil as famous for his striking leather jumpsuits as his motorcycle stunts. It’s no wonder Barry and Kenny from Barry’d Treasure are willing to hunt all over Los Angeles for one of the late, great man’s legendary leathers. During his career Robert Craig "Evel" Knievel suffered more than four-hundred and thirty-three bone fractures, earning an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records as the survivor of most bones broken in a lifetime. His death defying stunts didn’t always come off how he’d intended them but they were always spectacular.
1. Box of rattlesnakes, Moses Lake, Washington
In 1965 Knievel was working in a motorcycle repair shop and struggling to support his young family. Remembering the “Joie Chitwood Thrill Show” – a touring stunt show – he had seen as a boy, Knievel decided to concoct his own modest daredevil show. Promoting the event himself, Knievel rented the venue, wrote the press releases, set up the show, sold the tickets and served as his own master of ceremonies. After warming the small crowd up with a few wheelies on his 350cc Honda, Knievel proceeded to jump over a twenty-foot long box of rattlesnakes. Despite landing short and having his back wheel hit the box, Knievel was unharmed. So, just for good measure, he also jumped over two mountain lions!
2. Two pick-up trucks, Indio, California
Realising the potential of having his own stunt show Knievel sought a sponsor and found one in Bob Blair, a distributor for Norton Motorcycles. Blair didn’t like the name Bobby Knievel and His Motorcycle Daredevils Thrill Show; he wanted it changed to Evil Knievel and His Motorcycle Daredevils. Knievel convinced Blair to allow him to use Evel instead of Evil. The Daredevils’ debut was on January 3, 1966, at the National Date Festival in Indio, California. Riding a Norton Atlas motorcycle Evel Knievel successfully cleared two pick-up trucks, jumping a distance of 45 feet (13.5 metres). The crowd went wild.
Evel Knievel stands in the doorway of his official custom built coach he used for touring, circa 1972.
3. Caesar’s Palace fountain, Las Vegas, Nevada
On December 31st, 1967 Evel Knievel attempted the longest jump of his entire carrier – 141 feet (43 metres) – over the ornate fountain outside Caesar’s Palace Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. After performing his usual pre-jump show, followed by a few warm up runs, Knievel began his final approach. On the takeoff ramp, Evel’s Triumph Bonneville T120 motorcycle lost acceleration. This loss of power on takeoff meant that, although he did clear the fountain, Knievel hit the safety ramp on the other side awkwardly. Tumbling from his bike, Evel Knievel rolled over and over, head over heels across the unforgiving pavement. He was in hospital for twenty-nine days, having suffered a crushed pelvis, crushed femur, fractures to his hip, wrist, and both ankles, and concussion. He made his next jump – over thirteen cars – just four months after being discharged, now more famous than ever as the Death Defying Daredevil Evil Knievel.
4. Ten Buses, Wembley Stadium, London
Ninety-thousand people packed into London’s Wembley Stadium May 26th, 1975 to see Evel Knievel jump over ten single-decker buses – a total distance of 12 feet (36.5 metres).
May 26, 1975: Evel Knievel crashes on the landing ramp at Wembley Stadium, London.
Failing to clear the final bus, Knievel crashed his Harley-Davidson XR-750 fracturing his pelvis and breaking his hand. Despite his injuries Knievel refused to be stretchered off and instead walked off the Wembley field stating, "I came in walking, I went out walking!”.
5. Fourteen Greyhound Buses, Kings Island theme park, Ohio
Although Evel had announced his retirement after the failed jump at Wembley, five months later he was back in the saddle of another XR-750. On October 15th, 1975 Evel successfully cleared Fourteen Greyhound buses – a distance of 133 feet (40.5 metres). It was the longest successful jump of his career and he sustained no injuries. It was to be the final big jump of his career.
Evel Knievel on a Harley Davidson motorcycle, circa 1975.
Knievel’s record for jumping the most buses on a Harley-Davidson stood for twenty-four years until 1999 when it was finally broken by Bubba Blackwell.