Robbie, Son of Evel, Will Attempt to Leap 13 Buses at Coliseum

Times Staff Writer

Remember Evel Knievel, the egocentric motorcycle-riding daredevil who broke records and nearly every bone in his body jumping over cars, vans, snake pits and canyons?

Knievel, 46, he is living the nomadic life of a Western artist and golf hustler, finding a buck here and there with a less flamboyant life style than a decade ago.

Now comes son of Evel.

Robbie Knievel, 23, quieter, less brash and more handsome than his father but no less daring on a motorcycle, will make what he calls his first major jump Saturday night in the Coliseum as part of the USA Motor Spectacular. He will attempt to clear 13 buses--with his hands off the handlebars--while soaring through the air at close to 100 m.p.h.


“My mother thinks I’m nuts,” Robbie said with a wry grin. “She spent years watching Dad crashing and now she’s afraid it’ll happen to me. When I was little, the whole family was terrified when he would jump, including me.

“But Dad was more of a con man. I consider myself more a performer. I have trained years for this and I’m not out to kill myself. I definitely don’t want to break any bones, not even an arm.”

The elder Knievel estimates he broke more than 60 bones and had 14 major operations as a result of jumps that didn’t work just as planned.

The Coliseum jump will be Robbie’s 18th since he went on tour Sept. 13, but all the previous ones were in indoor facilities where space limitations forced the jumps to be shorter. This one will be 50 feet farther from takeoff to landing than he has ever done.

“Mom wanted to know why I had to jump 13 buses, why not 10,” Robbie said. “I wanted 13 because dad always said 13 was unlucky after he crashed in London. If I make it, my next objective is to jump 15 buses, maybe next March in Vancouver at the Expo. That would break Dad’s record.”

Evel missed in an attempt at 13 in 1972 in London’s Wembly Stadium, crushing a vertebra, damaging his lung and breaking his right hand.


“After that, Dad got real paranoid about the number 13,” Robbie said. “He wouldn’t sit in the 13th row in an airplane, he told everyone that 13 was unlucky. But I don’t feel that way. I started my tour on Friday the 13th and I’m going to clear 13 buses Saturday night. A year after he crashed in London, he jumped 14 at King’s Harbor, and that’s the record I want to break.”

The buses are standard Greyhound-type vehicles, each nine feet wide. Lined up side by side, they will create a span of 117 feet that young Knievel must clear to reach the down-ramp at the proper point. As the bike leaves the up-ramp, Robbie plans to take his hands off the handlebars and leave them off until the bike touches down.

“It’s something I’ll have to make a final decision on in the air,” he said. “If the bike is riding true it’s no problem to take my hands off, but if it’s a little off line I might need them for the landing. I’ve been practicing it for years and I’m ready.”

Why no hands?

“I got bored practicing the same way all the time, so one day I took one hand off, and then I took two hands off, and then I started practicing that way.”

Robbie estimated that he did more than 2,000 practice jumps back in Butte, Mont., before he made his first professional jump. As a small boy he was part of his father’s show, riding his bike out on the stage with an American flag in his hand from the time he was 8. By the time he was 11 he was doing wheelies for the crowd, and at 13 he made his first jump, over five vans, at Worcester, Mass. That same night Evel cleared 12.

“When I first started to think about putting an act together in 1979, I talked to Dad about doing a crisscross jump, with him going one way and me the other, but he said he didn’t want to get back into jumping. It got so it was just too nerve wracking for him. We split up five years ago and I’ve gone my own way. But he’ll be here Saturday night. Mom will be saying a few prayers but I know Dad is happy I’m doing it.”


Robbie, who lives in North Hollywood, is like his father in one way. He will wear the same white leathers, decorated with stars and stripes, that made Evel one of sport’s most recognizable figures.

He also wants to make the two jumps his father missed--over the Caesars Palace fountain and across the Snake River canyon in Idaho. Robbie was only 6 and at home in Butte when Evel fell short at Caesars Palace and bounced off the ramp into a concrete wall at 80 m.p.h. But he was there with his mother and brother Kelly for the unsuccessful canyon jump, where Knievel parachuted into the canyon gorge well short of the far side.

“I’ve talked with the man who built the Sky-Cycle and he said the problem occurred right at takeoff, when the thrust yanked the parachute canister out too early,” Robbie said. “When it started to deploy, it cut down all the momentum needed to get across.

“Some people think Dad pulled the chute on purpose, but it would be pretty crazy to want to drop into a canyon when he could have landed on flat ground. I want to go back and prove he had the right idea and show people it can be done.”

Another reason he wants to make the canyon jump is to create a reason to build a new monument to the Knievel family’s effort.

“The one now looks like a tombstone,” he said.