As I type this, the great Travis Pastrana and his Nitro Circus crew are at an undisclosed location in Southern California. They are running practice drills and jumps for his live three hour TV special coming up on July 8th from Vegas called “Evel Live“. Pastrana will recreate three of the iconic jumps that Evel Knievel did in his prime, including one that nearly killed him. A few of these stunts have been recreated before, but never on a heavy flat track bike like the one Evel originally rode.
Pastrana has just the bike, The Indian Scout based FTR750 which is similar in many respects to the Harley-Davidson Sportster based XR750 that Knievel did most of his jumps on, including weight and (limited) suspension travel. This one was built by Roland Sands from the shell of the bikes being raced by the Indian Wrecking Crew at American Flat Track races. Modifications include better gearing and suspension for the jump, as well as different handlebars and a speedometer so Pastrana can be sure he is hitting the right speed for the jump.
The entire broadcast will happen live on History Channel and will last a total of three hours, giving Pastrana time to jump and recover in between them. There will be three jumps, the located behind Planet Hollywood in the parking lot, and one in front of Caesar’s Palace. Pastrana will first jump 18 cars, which is about 145 feet. After that, he will jump 16 greyhound buses, two more than Knievel’s 14 bus record, which is 155 feet. The live broadcast will then continue with a police escorted ride through Vegas to the final jump at Caesar’s Palace.
In 1967, Knievel jumped the fountains at Caesar’s in one of his most picturesque, and historically failed jumps. Using a Triumph Bonneville this time, Knievel barely made the 140 feet distance, catching the rear wheel on the edge of the landing ramp and throwing him over the bars at 100 mph. The jump and resulting crash was broadcast on Wide World of Sports and made Evel Knievel a household name, but broke 40 bones in his body and put him in a coma for a month. Pastrana will jump the fountain on his Indian, but this time he is being forced to jump in the opposite direction because of construction that has happened over the last decades.
Unlike with jumping a dirt bike, with over a foot of suspension travel at both ends, the key to jumping a flat track bike or street bike is high speed. Since the bike cannot handle the extreme deceleration that comes from landing the more parabolic path taken by motocross bikes, the jump must be flatter and faster. Luckily the Indian FTR750 has well over 100 horsepower, and plenty of torque, so getting to speed in the very limited space should not be a problem. Stopping at the other end before you run out of room, or overshooting the landing ramp with too much speed are much bigger issues.
If anything, the live broadcast promises to be entertaining, like everything Pastrana and Nitro Circus are involved in. Pastrana has a full-on period-correct Evel Knievel, stars, and bars suit that he will be performing the jumps in, which will be even more epic than his awesome warm-up leathers seen in these pictures. The level of attention to detail in Pastrana’s costume shows that this broadcast will be a very well thought out true spectacle of showmanship in the grand tradition of Evel Knievel himself.