The day MCN rode an Evel Knievel Harley-Davidson XR750 replica
Motorbike daredevil Evel Knievel would have turned 80 on Wednesday, October 17. He inspired generations of stunt riders and was a hero to many with his intoxicating blend of bravery and showmanship.
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Having broken every bone in his body at least once during a career littered with spectacular accidents, Knievel died in 2007 from a lung condition.
Back in 2006, MCN Senior Road Tester, Adam Child had the opportunity to ride a Harley-Davidson XR750 Evel Knievel replica built and owned by Andrew Collinson, who has also now sadly passed away. Here’s what he said at the time:
In May 1975 Evel Knievel attempted to jump 13 double decker buses on board a modified Harley-Davidson XR750 at the old Wembley stadium. But even before he set off down the ramp, he knew he wasn’t going to make it.
Harley-Davidson, who supplied his modified XR750 dirt tracker bikes, hadn't had time to send the correct transmission parts. Knievel knew he was going to come up short as he didn’t have enough speed. But he went ahead anyway.
That’s the way Knievel was. That was the sort of thing that made him so popular. But imagine it: Lining up for the jump, seeing all those buses and knowing you’re not going to make it. You’re on a heavy Harley and although your leathers look flash they really offer very little protection.
And no, he didn’t make it. In his own words he 'clipped the last bus’. More like collided with it I’d say. Evel was flung from the bike, tumbled down the landing ramp and the following bike did its best to crush him. Yet even with a broken pelvis he was helped to his feet and managed to address the crowd.
A legend was born. That’s why, even today, Evel Knievel is so admired. That's why Andrew Collinson decided to build this replica.
Pictures don’t do this bike justice. Just looking at it makes you break out into a smile and there aren’t many machines that can do that. A standard XR750 is a rare enough beast in the UK, but this one is something else.
Firstly, there's the paint, it's some of the best I’ve ever seen and was painted by the same guy who painted Evel's bikes 30 years ago. See those $100 notes on the tank? They’re real, lacquered in the tank. The seat is a work of art, and the exhausts look amazing, even with silencers fitted they are more than loud enough.
The original Harley flat tracker has been slightly modified for the road, as the original bikes didn't even have a front brake! Apart from the additional front brake almost everything else is near identical to Evel’s bike. The gear change is still on the right, the kick start takes a man's right leg to haul down and the massive exposed carbs suck in everything in a 20m radius.
Sitting on the bike, engine revving, you get a real sense of what Evel’s bike must have been like. The bike feels old, heavy, I wouldn’t even ride over a speed hump too quickly on this, never mind attempt to jump 13 buses. How on earth did he jump this thing? It’s unimaginable.
The old Harley starts on the second kick with a bark and needs to warm up before it runs smoothly. It feels long and heavy. There’s no rev counter, only a four-speed box on the right hand side, but for a bike that’s older than me it has a reasonable amount of grunt.
Every time you dial in a handful of revs the big open, side-exiting carbs suck on the leg of my jeans. Andrew estimates that it’s pushing around 100bhp though the back wheel and once in top gear it’s deceptively quick.
This machine doesn't seem real when you are riding it. The bike belongs in a museum, I shouldn’t be riding it on the road. You avoid puddles as you daren't get it dirty. If l owned it I’d never let it out of my sight, never mind let an MCN road tester thrash it to the max.
It feels so quick for such an old bike. Big wide bars, noisy exhaust, open face lid and limited edition Evel jacket, I’m living my childhood dream.
The bike is stunning, a true dream machine. Collinson has produced something very special, so much so it should be on public show or in a museum. After riding the bike it’s almost unimaginable what Evel achieved on it, or at least what he attempted.
Crazy or brave? The argument will rage on, but you can’t help but have respect for the American legend. As they say, there will never be another.
How and why did Andrew Collinson get hold of this bike?
Towards the end of 2004 I had some spare time on my hands. I’ve always loved American fIat track racing. I use to watch Randy Mamola and Freddie Spencer and all the other greats so I thought I’d treat myself and buy an original XR750. Then I thought why not build an Evel replica? I’m an Evel fan, as I grew up I watched his jumps and crashes.
I bought the bike from www.hi-speedmotorcycles.com in early 2005. I managed to get in contact with George Sedlak who painted Evel’s bikes. We spoke over the phone, sent sketches back and forth and agreed on the design. I received the bike in 2005.
Do you ride the bike on the road?
Yeah, from time to time. Why not? Bikes are there to be ridden. I could have bought a sportsbike, something stupidly fast, but I wouldn't be able to handle that. I wanted something different. I don't take it out too much as I don’t want to damage it.
What is the bike worth?
I wouldn’t like to say and I’m not interested in selling it. I’d like to let Mamola have a quick spin. I’d really love to see him get sideways on it.