If you were a kid in the ‘70s like I was, and you had a bike, you did what every kid on the block did — you made a ramp, and you jumped — just like Evel Knievel.
Of course, not all bikes are built for jumping. A good motorcross bike was about $200 in the ‘70s, so most of us — including me — had to settle for pseudo-cross bikes from JC Penney’s or Mervyn’s. I had the 1976 model of the Huffy Wild Fire — replete with a warning sticker that read: DO NOT USE THIS BIKE FOR STUNTS. Thankfully, ‘70’s parents didn’t pay attention to stickers, and neither did we.
We jumped, crashed, and sometimes cried. But whatever the outcome, we did it again and again and again. We didn’t have helmets, elbow- or knee-pads, or adult supervision. If you got scraped-up, there was no iodine or first-aid kit; instead you’d grab someone’s water hose, wash your scrape, take a sip, and saddle up.
I don’t know if Evel Knievel was the catalyst for all the ramp-jumping that took place on our street, and across America, but he certainly made it cool.
Knievel’s life as a daredevil got off to a slow start. Before his stunts reached a mass audience, he was promoting shows himself. He rented venues, wrote press releases, set up shows, sold tickets, and even served as his own master of ceremonies. (Incidentally, he chose to spell Evel with an e so as not to be considered evil.)
Following several stunts and modest success, the jump that put him on the map was a failed attempt to soar over the fountains at Caesar’s Palace on December 13, 1967. As a result of the crash, Knievel was carried away with a crushed pelvis and femur, fractured hips and wrists, broken ankles, and a concussion. But despite the failed landing and injuries, Knievel achieved what he sought: fame. Fortune, and widely televised stunts, would follow — including appearances on the premier sports show of the time, ABC’s Wide World of Sports.
Nine years after Knievel’s Caesar’s Palace jump, we were doing our best to emulate him in the street.
Evel was everywhere. In 1973 the Ideal Toy Company released the Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle. It’s the only toy my brother and I wanted for Christmas that year, and it remains my favorite toy of all time. As much as we loved to send the toy motorcycle racing down our hallway at home, what we enjoyed most was making it crash. Boys love crashes.
In 1976 I wore an Evel Knievel costume for Halloween. Although it became a little frustrating because every time I knocked on a door adults kept calling me an astronaut. After continuously repeating that I was “Evel Knievel,” I grew tired of correcting them, and I took off my mask.
During his career, Knievel is reported to have broken or fractured 400 bones. His son, however, claims that it’s closer to 35.
Of the hundreds of jumps we did as kids, the only thing broken or bruised was an occasional ego. There were never any serious injuries, and nothing occurred that the next jump couldn’t fix.by