When Evel Knievel was a teenager, he was among onlookers when the touring Joie Chitwood Thrill Show made a stop in his hometown of Butte, Mont. The car and motorcycle stunts featuring jumps and fire thrilled the teenager.
“The thing that impressed my 15-year-old mind the most was his intoxicating spirit and incredible showmanship,” Knievel said of Chitwood, who built his first race car while working at a Topeka welding shop in 1934. “It was then that I knew this business was for me.”
After the show, Knievel went home and removed a garage door to construct a take-off ramp. He pedaled his bicycle up the ramp and jumped as far as he could. He marked the ground where he landed, returned to the ramp with his bicycle and tried to out-best his performance.
Knievel went on to pilot several models of motorcycles during his daredevil career, using Harley-Davidsons exclusively from 1970 from 1977. Here are the motorcycles you can see at the Evel Knievel Museum. Some are the actual bikes, while others are replicas.
— Honda CL 305 Scrambler
In the summer of 1965, Knievel rode a Scrambler to promote his Honda motorcycle dealership in Moses Lake, Wash. He rode it in parades and for his first stunt jump over a crate of rattlesnakes and a tethered mountain lion.
— Triumph T120 TT Special 650cc
Knievel performed wheelies on the Triumph during his show on Dec. 31, 1967, at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. He normally used two bikes at his show, one for wheelies and one for jumps.
—Laverda American Eagle S Model 750cc
To introduce the brand to Americans, Knievel was given two Laverda American Eagles. He used this model, which was restored by Historic Harley-Davidson, for 13 jumps in 1969-70, crashing six times. The 500-pound bike was the most dangerous jump bike he used because its great weight was more likely to cause him injury in a crash.
— Harley-Davidson XR-750 Iron Head
This is the actual motorcycle used by Knievel for his jumps in 1971-72. He rode this bike for his world-record jump over 19 cars at Ontario, Calif., which was featured in the 1971 movie “Evel Knievel,” starring George Hamilton.
—Harley-Davidson XR-750 Alloy Head “LA XR”
In 1972, Harley-Davidson upgraded its XR-750 engine with a new alloy head, making it lighter and increasing its performance. Knievel had the tank and tail painted red, white and blue — a color scheme he would use throughout the rest of his career. The tail section and seat are from the original bike, which he used for many jumps.
— Harley-Davidson XR-750 Alloy Head “Wembley XR”
Knievel unveiled this new paint scheme in 1974 on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.” The motorcycle was painted by George Sedlak, who became the official painter for all of Knievel’s helmets, tanks and tail sections. The painted tank on this bike was the actual one used for Knievel’s failed jump over 13 double-decker buses in 1975 at Wembley Stadium in London.
— Harley-Davidson XR-750 Alloy Head “Kings Island XR”
This motorcycle was restored using parts from Knievel’s bin and the collection of Lathan McKay, film producer and former professional skateboarder. The bike features a Sedlak-painted tank and tail section. Daredevil Doug Danger used this bike to jump 15 police cars in August 2016 in downtown Topeka while shooting footage for the 4-D Jump Experience at the museum.
Source: Evel Knievel Museum
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The statistics wall at the Evel Knievel Museum all of Knievel’s jumps. Crashes are highlighted, and a color-coded bar reveals which motorcycle he rode for each jump.