When I was 7, I wanted to be Evel Knievel, the motorcycle daredevil in star-spangled jumpsuits. So much so, that I would erect rickety bike ramps at the foot of my driveway and hurtle myself into the street — without, of course, any regard for oncoming traffic. I was largely successful, avoiding permanent injury, only wiping out a handful of times.
Guess I was pretty good.
In a brilliant marketing campaign, Ideal toys capitalized on us kid jumpers and released a series of action figures and motorized vehicles, beginning with the Stunt Cycle.
Oh man, was I delighted to get one of these. For a time, the toy took the place of my real-world jumps. I would try to recreate Evel’s famous jumps, including the ill-conceived shark tank leap. I had no sharks to speak of, but a small container of water did just fine. I remember when Evel crashed up big time at Caesar’s Palace, too.
He broke more than 40 bones and was in a coma for a month. As harrowing as the video was, I spent many a jump recreating the crash, turning and tossing my Evel Knievel to and fro as he’d “just miss” the landing ramp.
My fascination with daredevil antics never waned. I would use my bike to jump off patios and fly over hills, with no helmet, of course, and only a few foam pads on the bike for protection. And then came that fateful day: When Evel attempted to jump the Snake River Canyon. I remember the tense build-up, wondering whether or not this guy was going to die or land successfully on the other side. I remember thinking that, though it was mad to attempt something like this, how cool it would be if he made it. And I remember Evel listlessly drifting in his little rocket ship to the riverbed below and thinking, “Man, that sucked.”
That was it. I was done with motorcycle daredevils. But I recall with fondness that simple toy, much the way I remember the best of my childhood toy collection. And I was touched, in a weird way, when The Simpsons parodied Knievel’s Snake River Canyon attempt with Homer’s leap across Springfield Gorge.
Like most things nostalgic, it’s always better in memory than it was in real life. That certainly applies to Evel Knievel. The stunt cycle, though. Damn I loved that thing.