Las Vegas, Nevada - Evel Knievel, the first great motorcycle jumper, is better known for his spectacular failures than his hundreds of successful jumps. It was an inevitable consequence of being a pioneer that every one of his stunts was quite literally a leap into the unknown.
Other than the abortive Snake River Canyon jump - which doesn’t count because the Idaho state authorities classed the Skycycle X2 as an aircraft rather than a vehicle - Knievel’s most notorious fail was his attempt to jump the fountains in front of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
Knievel came down short (he said his Triumph 650 suddenly lost power on the take-off) hit the edge of the landing ramp and tumbled into the Dunes carpark, breaking his pelvis, femur, hip, wrist, and both ankles.
The Caesars fountain jump has been done since - notably by Knievel’s son Robbie in 1989 - but all the successful attempts have been with lightweight motocross bikes, rather than the big, heavy Triumph and later, Harley-Davidson XR750 flat-trackers Knievel rode because they were what he could get for free.
Which brings us to one of today’s top stunters, Travis Pastrana, who set himself the goal of successfully jumping the fountains on an equivalent bike to those ridden by Knievel - in this case an Indian Scout FTR750, which weighs about 154kg, 17kg more than Knievel’s customised XR750.
But before that, on the same day, Pastrana took on the legend’s two most successful jumps: his 1973 leap over 50 stacked cars at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and his 1975 jump over 14 Greyhound buses at King’s Island near Cincinnati, Ohio.
He set up the car and bus jumps in the huge service area behind the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino - and did all his practice jumps on his usual dirtbike because the big Indian street-bike was completely unsuitable as a jumper.
On the day, however, with the luxury of a long run-up, he successfully jumped 52 crushed cars on the Indian - a distance of 43.58 metres - and followed that up with a 58 metre leap over 16 buses.
Then he rode the jump bike, with a police escort, down the Strip to Caesars Palace, pulling burnouts and wheelies along the way and even stopping to exchange high-fives with fans.
The fountains jump was actually the lowest and shortest of the three, but by far the most difficult and dangerous because the run-up was less than 61 metres. After just one speed run, he revved the 750cc Indian up to 10 000rpm and dumped the clutch in second gear.
The jump was perfect, the landing tight but successful, and Pastrana had done what he had set out to do - fulfill Evel Knievel’s promise never to leave a jump unfinished, albeit 50 years later.