Evel Knievel was the definition of a daredevil. Over the course of his 10-year career as a stunt performer and entertainer, he attempted more than 75 ramp-to-ramp motorcycle jumps and even landed in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999.
Knievel was an American icon who was likely riding a motorcycle out of the womb when he was born in Butte, Montana in 1938. He sold out stadiums performing his death-defying feats and became a hero to young kids all over the world. People flocked to see not only if Knievel would pull off his stunts but whether he would survive them. Many motorcycle daredevils have tried, but none could put on quite the show that Robert Craig Knievel could. Even if he broke bones over and over again.
Knievel’s first televised jump was a classic. The 28-year-old stuntman flew over 15 cars in his Triumph Bonneville T120 as viewers “oohed” and “aahed” watching ABC’s Wide World of Sports, which should’ve been changed to the Wild World of Sports.
Before dying in 2007, he nearly jumped the fountains at Las Vegas’ Caesars Palace and wanted to clear the Grand Canyon but couldn’t get clearance from the government. Crashes, of course, were all too common.
If you ask me, though, nothing compares to the Snake River Canyon jump.
The Snake River Canyon Jump
Evel Knievel had already attempted numerous jumps by the time September 14, 1974 rolled around. That was the day the motorcyclist decided he’d jump over the Snake River Canyon in Twin Falls, Idaho.
ABC’s Wide World of Sports didn’t want to pay Knievel’s price to air the jump, so the daredevil turned to boxing promoter Bob Arum. He broadcasted it in movie theaters, but investors such as Vince McMahon took losses on the event.
Knievel turned to aeronautical engineer Doug Malewicki to build him what was called the Skycycle, a rocket powered by a steam engine built by engineer Robert Truax. After they launched the first Skycycle in 1972 as a test, Truax built the Skycycle X-2.
This was no ordinary jump. Knievel ditched the motorcycle for the Skycycle X-2. Wearing his signature starry, red-white-and-blue jumpsuit, Knievel and his rocket blasted off the launch ramp located at the canyon rim and into the sky.
It was a failure.
Some 30,000 fans watched as the skycycle’s parachute deployed prematurely. Knievel crashed into the canyon wall on the side he launched from and had to be pulled from the bottom of the canyon.
The jump site still lies there, though it reportedly is now used as a backstop for a police department’s shooting range.
Knievel would go on to attempt many more jumps. In 1975, he tried to clear 13 double-decker buses in Wembley Stadium in London, but fell off his bike and was tossed like a rag doll. Still, Knievel’s Snake River jump won’t ever be forgotten.
Daredevil Evel Knievel’s Jump Inspired Others
Many daredevils and stuntmen have vowed to recreate this iconic jump since. Knievel’s two sons, Robbie and Kelly, both said they would.
It wasn’t until 2016 that Hollywood stuntman Eddie Braun successfully jumped the canyon. Braun hurdled the entire river in a rocket motorcycle designed by the Truax’s son, Scott Truax. The bike, dubbed “Evel Spirit,” was a replica of the Skycycle X-2.
Rest in peace, Evel.