Pop Smear Magazine - 1998 - Part 1
The World According to the American Daredevil
by Don Gilbert, 1998
"Death is the greatest competitor in life. And I beat it for a long time." -Evel Knievel
Everyone's got their own definition of a hero. It doesn't necessarily mean someone we feel compelled to emulate, or even that we admire; but our need for heroes might lead us to wonder what it would be like to be that person for a few hours just so we could feel what he feels, know what he knows, and be able to do what he does. And if there's any truth to that notion, then Evel Knievel, who exists in our collective memory as one of the ballsiest, craziest, most alive sonsabitches to ever walk among us, took the concept to a whole new level. What other mere mortal could handle the intense rushes of pain, the unimaginable jolts of adrenaline overload, and the fearsome visualizations of bone-shattering wipeouts that must have swirled like infernal whirlpools within Knievel's brain? Barnstorming through the late '60s and '70s like Elvis and Col. Tom Parker rolled into one badass package of unassailable arrogance and relentless hype, Evel seemed to crash as often, if not more, than he landed safely-which is precisely why he captured the public's imagination like no one before or since. Each of his increasingly outrageous motorcycle jumps was a stilted 50/50 proposition designed to whet the appetite of a bloodthirsty public. He'd either pull off something no one else could even conceive of doing, or he might die attempting it.
That ain't simply showbiz. The stakes were higher for Evel than they have ever been for any ordinary game-playing athlete or sideshow entertainer. When he triumphed, as he did in cleanly jumping 14 Greyhound buses at King's Island, Ohio-the whole planet went wild with adoration. Every kid wanted to be Evel Knievel-diamond-hard, handsome, and bulletproof. Every woman wanted to sneak out in the family Pacer and make a move on the supercool renegade who laughed in the face of death. And every man who wasn't Evel could only open another Schlitz and shake his head in awe, bafflement and envy.
When Evel ate it, however, like he did at Wembley Stadium in London trying to clear 13 double-decker buses, we could commiserate in empathy and horror-but the pain was his alone. There are, and always have been, a rash of stars, tough guys and entertainers out there. But Evel Knievel is the only true superhero-replete with cape, costume, a lethal looking shillelagh, and a singular skill-that we've ever had in our midst.
Combining considerable athletic prowess, an uncanny flair for self-promotion, a daring innate to the few who are truly inspired, and a public image of the only sort that would make his boasts seem credible, Knievel has few peers among celebrities or sportsmen in this century. Houdini, Babe Ruth, Elvis, Bruce Lee, and Muhammad Ali come to mind. But add to the above qualifications the fact that Knievel was operating within an arena largely of his own invention, comprised of unfathomable risks, and he gains a few inches even on that august company. It certainly didn't hurt that Evel Knievel was the right guy at the time that the motorcycle's ascendancy as a cultural statement was cresting. The "whad'ya got?" rebellion Marlon Brando initiated in The Wild One, just as rock 'n' roll began its invasion into the Leave it to Beaver communities of America, continued to gain momentum and definition throughout the '60s. Capitalizing on the groundswell of biker-mania, American International Pictures' Roger Corman cranked out a series of films with titles such as The Wild Angels and Satan's Sadists. To the public at large, the laconic intensity Peter Fonda brought to his biker roles established him as the counterculture's successor to the coiled threat that lay beneath Brando's heavy-lidded befuddlement. Easy Rider followed, which etched in asphalt for all time the image of outlaw bikers as social pariahs, as well as existential cowboys, and spawned a series of increasingly crass imitations. By the dawn of the '70s, even naughty Superbowl hero Joe Namath showed up on a chopped hog, with Ann Margaret in tow, as the star of C.C. and Company.
A considerably heavier and more controversial definition of intensity came to prominence with the media's relentless pursuit of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, who became counterculture celebrities in their own right following a succession of outlandish newspaper and magazine articles. The Angels found themselves inhabiting ever more elevated plateaus of fame, reaching a pinnacle of sorts as the central figures in Hunter S. Thompson's classic book, Hell's Angels. They starred as themselves in their own Roger Corman bike flick, Hells Angels '69, and were subsequently seen trying to determine what their exact capacity was supposed to be as all hell broke loose during the Rolling Stones' December 1969 free concert at the Altamont Motor Speedway. In the Maysles Brothers' documentary, Gimme Shelter, everyone appears confused and freaked-out in the days leading up to and during the concert, most notably the Stones, the organizational braintrust from the Grateful Dead, and the Stones' advisors like Chip Monck, Woodstock promoter Mike Lang, and the noted palimony attorney, Melvin Belli. Maybe the '60s just proved too difficult an enterprise to maintain. If the Angels came off seeming schizey and out-of-sorts at Altamont, who could blame them? The bummers and bad vibes that the day is remembered for sure didn't emanate exclusively from guys wearing the patch.
For a variety of reasons, Evel Knievel continues to rub many lifestyle bikers the wrong way, playing off his influence as a famous name in motorcycling to display an arrogant outspokenness concerning topics that seem to have little relevance to what Knievel is about. Evel hangs out in Vegas. Evel loves to play golf. Evel glad-hands, signs autographs and acts as a spokesman for his sponsors. Evel says wear a helmet. Evel says consider every aspect of what you're doing; then consider the intangibles. Evel says stay away from drugs and unsavory influences. Evel says a lot of things that seem flat-out contradictory to the life he's reported to have lived. Thus, he's been characterized as a card-carrying asshole, an inveterate bullshitter, insufferably full of himself, a phony, a hypocrite, and a real jerk by racers and outlaw bikers for about as long as he's been in the public eye.
Papa do preach, and after all he's been through, maybe Knievel believes he's earned that right. Playing the geek for a hard-hearted public looking for kicks at the expense of his own hide has made Evel Knievel well-known and wealthy. He's also paid a terrible price for his efforts. Fifty-two broken bones (Knievel claims to have broken every one in his body at least once), perpetually wracked-up joints, the lingering effects of a succession of risky operations, hepatitis C contracted through a blood transfusion, and the pressing need for a liver transplant to replace his worn out one have taken a severe toll on him physically. Death, the only opponent Knievel appears to take seriously, seems eager to hold Evel to one last grudge match, with the odds swinging heavily in the challenger's favor as they always must eventually.
But Evel Knievel has always had the luxury of playing the game by his own rules, primarily since he made up the game and the rules himself. Knowing full well the hazards of believing in your own invincibility, Knievel has gained a certain amount of wisdom in his 59 years. Even so, people find it hard to swallow his message because it often conveys an attitude of, "Do what I say, not what I do."
"Back in the day I had my share, and everybody else's, of beer, Jack and major painkillers, and now it's all catching up to me," Knievel recently told a reporter from Easyriders. There's no hint of self-pity evident when Knievel discusses the life-threatening damage he's inflicted upon himself, yet the concern he expresses for all the little Evels who think that recklessness and daring are virtues in and of themselves seems considered and genuine.
"A kid at 15 or 16, his mind is no more developed than his body," Knievel says, probably remembering the limited options he faced as a youth in Butte, Montana. "And it takes you a while, as you progress through life, to start thinking with all the wisdom and all the experiences you've had, and all the trouble you've gone through, and all the good things you've gone through, to be able to really make the right decisions for yourself in life.
"Kids are easily persuaded to do things, in gangs and in clubs and so on and so forth. They're intimidated by older people in school-older kids. You can get an older kid who's an idiot and he'll persuade a lot of kids who really don't know what they're doing to take drugs and screw themselves up.
"You've got to put things into your body that make you feel great, that make you think great. Then you can have a good life. You can live and you don't abuse yourself." Evel Knievel, whose name is synonymous with balls-to-the-wall daredevil lunacy, believes he always tried to consider the pitfalls and play it safe. The harsh truth is that daredevils don't clear every obstacle cleanly, that's all.
Despite the wear and tear on his body, Evel Knievel still exhibits a clear and precise intelligence, as well as a keen eye for and ability to recall details. He exudes a robust confidence (some might say haughtiness) in his manner of speaking that illustrates every true story or tall tale surrounding him with a leathery Western toughness that's unquestionably genuine. Evel's a straight-shooter, and though he might make inconsistent statements occasionally, it's undeniable that from the point in the arc where he's at, hanging at a critical point in his remarkable trajectory, he tells it like it is.
"I did what I did and I do what I do because I'm Evel Knievel. And I don't question it." Were you one of those kids who, after watching an Evel Knievel jump before his retirement in 1981, stuck a few Catfish Hunter or Vida Blue cards in the spokes of your Stingray and tried to soar off a piece of plywood tilted against a milkbox? Guess you didn't have the right stuff then, because that's how Evel got started, too, after checking out the Joey Chitwood Circus of Thrills auto daredevil show in Montana.
"I used to go and watch them when they'd come to Butte," Evel recalls. "I was a young kid and I remember seeing a guy jump a motorcycle through a hoop of fire. He just made a little jump. His name was Cliff Major, he was the stunt rider with Joey Chitwood. And I used to watch him do that, then I'd go home and take the fenders off my bicycle, and put the cards in the spokes-pin 'em with a clothespin so it'd make a noise like a motorcycle. And I used to ride around and do little stunts on my bike...jump ramps, and I was doing then what the BMX riders are doing now."
During that formative period in the early '50s, 15 year old Robert Craig Knievel gained the singular nickname that would establish him as a legend, largely due to the delinquent influence of his older brother, Nick.
"The first one to call me 'Evil Knievel,' his name was Nate McGrath. He was a baseball umpire, a friend of my family's. My brother and I stole his hubcaps and he called me Evil Knievel. It sort of stuck with me all my life. Later I changed the 'i' to an 'e'."
Growing up with his grandparents in Butte, young Bob's fledgling career as a stunt demon might have been nipped in the bud (or possibly in the emergency room) had it not been for his father, Bob E. Knievel, who came through with an influential present.
"I used to go and visit my Dad quite a bit when I was younger," Evel recalls. "He was in the Volkswagen business in Berkeley, and they lived in El Sabranti, outside of Oakland-he and my stepmother and my sisters.
"My dad gave me my first motorcycle when I was about 15. It was a BSA-125 Bantam, just a little bike. Two-stroke. Looked like a full-size motorcycle, but it was real small." Back in Butte, young Bob pursued a rigorous program of athletics that would uniquely prepare him to become the phenomenon called Evel Knievel. Throughout high school and the proceeding years, Bob Knievel excelled in a variety of sports, building up, if you will, an impressive track record.
"I pole-vaulted when I was in high school," Evel says. "And I ski jumped. I retired the Rocky Mountain senior men's class-A ski jump champion-I won the cup twice. I've got a lot of trophies from cross-country skiing as well as ski jumping and track and field."
With his options in Butte limited to either a life of petty crime or establishing himself permanently in the work force of the city's bread-and-butter industry, copper mining, Knievel saw military service as his most viable way out, and enlisted in the Army.
"I was in the infantry. Carried the B.A.R.-Browning automatic rifle. And I worked with Fandango torpedoes-torpedoes shaped like a big hot dog, about six-feet long. You trip 'em with a wire. I pole-vaulted on the Army track team, I ran the hurdles and the 220."
After his discharge, Knievel pursued a career as a professional athlete, returning in 1959 to one of his high school passions.
"I played junior hockey and senior A and pro hockey for the Charlotte Clippers," he says, referring to the old Eastern Hockey League franchise. He implies that he wasn't crazy about the prospects it afforded, adding, "It's a tough way to make a living. Didn't pay very much."
Knievel the entrepreneur took over when he returned home. He rented the Butte Civic Center and brought in his own semi-pro team, the Butte Bombers, installing himself as owner, general manager, and player-coach.
"We went undefeated for two years. Then the team that beat us was the Czechoslovakian Olympic team. Our team was all Canadian kids from Montana State and the University of Montana."
"It's really a life-risker. But people who have never walked a mile in my shoes don't know."
Following his hockey playing days and echoing his father's work with VW, Knievel invested in a couple of Honda dealerships in Washington state with a partner named Darell Triber. They established their inaugural shop in Spokane at the beginning of the '60s, and soon opened a second in Moses Lake.
Figuring that a Cliff Major-style demonstration was a good way to drum up business, 24 year old Bob Knievel flashed on a publicity brainstorm-one destined to change people's impressions of him forever. Recognizing the old hoop of fire as a thing of the past, Knievel decided that something a little more spectacular might cause enough of a ruckus that all the Hondas he had in stock would be sold by the end of the day.
"They had a racetrack in Moses Lake," Knievel remembers. "And we took boxes that held coffins, that were six and a half feet long, and stapled them together. We put rattlesnakes in there and then had mountain lions at both ends of it."
Either Knievel was going to spearhead one hellacious campground roundup, or he was hoping to borrow whatever mighty strange house pets they keep up in the Northwest. As it turns out, Knievel had an eminently more playable card up his sleeve, as far as acquiring such a menagerie was concerned.
"The guy that ran the zoo up in Cooley City-at the dam-his girlfriend was a friend of mine. She used to come into the store and sit around all the time, and go to lunch with me, and this, that, and the other thing, so she talked him into doing it."
Knievel planned to jump the entire box. Instead, he came down short and landed square in the middle of its squirming, slithering contents.
"The end of it came out and the rattlesnakes got out. All the people ran like hell and I was on a motorcycle, so I just got the hell away from there. The snakes were crawling up the hills under the crowd. The mountain lions were just crouching around there. They grabbed them right away."
After the snakes had been driven from Moses Lake in 1965, Knievel relocated to Orange County and began racing Norton Scramblers on the AMA circuit. In order to capitalize on his publicity- (and income) generating jumping ability, Knievel got together with some like-minded riders and, after a period of rehearsal, Bob Knievel and His Motorcycle Daredevils, out of Hollywood, CA, took to the road.
"I put a whole show together," Evel remembers. I felt the American public would support a motorcycle daredevil show-because of the great job Honda had done creating the slogan, 'You meet the nicest people on a Honda.' And they did, I drew a lot of people to the show. But when I'd get hurt the show would suffer because there was no finale."
The other riders would suffer as well when Knievel was unable to sign their paychecks.
"The first time I was ever hurt I broke my right arm between the elbow and the shoulder right in half, a compound fracture. In Missoula, Montana. Short on the jump.
"So I had to discontinue the show and just go on my own. I'd go to the racetracks and make a deal with the owner of the racetrack to get 50 percent of the gate and help them promote the race and the show and the jump."
Promoting the jump was the easy part. It was the execution that was a little rougher for the daredevil first billed in 1966 as Evel Knievel at a racetrack jump in Indio, California. While Evel became famous for his prodigious motorcycle jumping abilities, he gained an added dimension with thrill-seeking audiences as he became equally well-known for his spectacular crackups at events in cities such as Tacoma and Barstow.
"I got hurt real bad in Tacoma, Washington," Knievel says. "Had a severe brain concussion. Landed short. Hit the ramp, caught it on the rear wheel. I was riding a Triumph then, T-120 Bonneville. Then a 650 Bonneville Triumph.
"Norton was the first sponsor I had. Then I went to Triumph.
Knievel has claimed that the Triumph 650 was far and away the best bike he ever jumped with. As his reputation and fame began to swell, crowds would flock to see the man with the uncanny handle soar his bike over what were, depending on the fee promised him, increasingly more unlikely obstacles.
By 1968 Evel Knievel had become, if not yet the best-known name in motorsports, prominent enough to command national media attention when he announced that he would attempt to jump over the ornate fountains that fronted Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. The jump was thrilling. Knievel soared high over the gushing water spouts, clearing the fountains, but then, as a national audience looked on, something went terribly wrong. Knievel lost control of the bike, and slid down the landing ramp, tumbling end over end across the pavement like a rag doll, breaking his back and his pelvis.
"I got hurt real bad at Caesar's Palace. Landed on my head. That was the most serious of all. I remember the whole thing-every tiny bit of it. There was a little six-foot safety ramp, and I landed right on top of it. It was just a piece of steel sitting on a van.
Knievel is candid, if not particularly expansive, on the topic of the Caesar's jump.
"I just wasn't going fast enough. It was a horrible jump and I was unconscious for 29 days. My wife was there when I came out of it. She was sitting alongside of me, she'd been with me the whole time. I don't remember what she said. Probably something like, 'Finally wakin' up, huh?'"
The Caesar's jump was a harrowing example of how much punishment could be inflicted on a human body, but it also raised Evel Knievel's stock, turning his into a household name even as he lay comatose in a bed at Sunrise Hospital.
When Knievel finally regained consciousness, he heard his name invoked as the punchline in the acts of Vegas comics and during Johnny Carson's monologues. As little as the public knew about Knievel the man, his image was ingrained within their collective psyche as that nut with balls of iron who went by an impossibly unforgettable moniker. As Knievel became more famous than even his wildest imaginings, he began infusing his successive jumps with enough showbiz hokum to satisfy the media circus he courted.
Knievel grew his sideburns into mod chops, added a cape and wide bells to his white, red and blue costumes and carried a bejeweled walking stick with a big gold fob. Knievel basked in the mythos of the daredevil gunfighter who laughed at death for not having what it took to bring him down. Wild rumors swirled around Knievel, who did little to deny or dissuade the stories, perhaps the most audacious of which was that Evel Knievel was planning to jump the Grand Canyon. Hollywood jumped on the bandwagon and released a quickie biopic starring the decidedly un-Evel-like George Hamilton, who at that point would have likely been the despised son-in-law of Lyndon Johnson had it not become known that he had pulled some strings to avoid serving in Vietnam.
"It was my taking off the black leather jacket and putting on the white one. And it was because I'm Evel Knievel, all right? My promotional ability is mine, and there's a secret to it. And I'm gonna keep it that way."
Evel's subsequent jumps were held in packed arenas like Houston's Astrodome and the Ontario Motor Speedway in California, and his fees grew proportionately. After successfully clearing 13, and then 19, cars, he might have begun to believe in his own invincibility a bit too fervently. He crashed in an attempt to clear 13 Pepsi trucks in Yakima, Washington. It's been rumored that Knievel had a premonition that Yakima was going to result in disaster, but Knievel dispels that notion. He claims that it was a jump in Nevada that actually put the nagging doubt in his head, "that I might miss it."
Referring to the Yakima jump, Evel claims, "That wasn't the one. The one that I missed that I knew I was gonna miss was in Reno. It was over some trucks. I didn't have enough room. It was at the Carson City Speedway, a small little racetrack. And I remember it was the first time my mother had ever seen me jump. And Liberace brought his whole musical crew out just to watch me, and really, the grandstand was sold out. I just didn't feel that I could make the jump."
Another collision with the pavement followed a year later at the Bay Area's Cow Palace. After recuperating for the better part of the next year, Knievel returned on February 18, 1973 and cleared a three-tiered stack of 52 flattened cars at the L.A. Coliseum. Eighteen months later he cleared 13 Mack trucks at the Canadian National Exposition, and Knievel seemed firmly back in the saddle, ready to soar to even more rarefied heights of derring-do or die.
He was now jumping with a Harley-Davidson XR-750, a dual carburetor racing bike described as fast and light, which may have been just a bit too aerodynamically unstable for Knievel's purposes. Even so, Knievel's reasons for making the switch seem all too practical, given his hard-won preeminence within a highly-specialized profession.
"Triumph didn't want to pay me anything to ride their motorcycles," Evel explains. "So Harley-Davidson stepped in. I signed with Harley-Davidson for eight years and they treated me wonderfully. They were a first class company. And the Harleys and the Davidsons are wonderful people.
"They had been so good to me all through the years. They kept their word with me, they treated me right, and they stood behind me. Harley-Davidson really didn't build any motorcycles that were competitive in the '70s, so they chose to go with me and we did have a wonderful relationship."
Not everyone who came to see him was enthralled by his perceived showboating, however. As the mass media began to milk headlines out of the motorcycle subculture, Knievel found himself at odds with some of the scene's equally newsworthy-and more maligned-elements. Asked why he chose the white leather jumpsuits Elvis appeared to later adapt for his stage look, Knievel replies, "I just thought that was a classy set of leathers to wear, and I hated black leather."
The reason for Knievel's dislike of what people normally think of as traditional biker gear stemmed from his self-instigated conflict with the outlaw biker/chopper contingent in general, and with the Hells Angels in particular. "I had a real run-in with 'em at the Cow Palace in San Francisco," Knievel says of the Angels. "One of them threw a tire iron at me out of the grandstand when I was ready to make the jump. So I made the jump anyway, but when I came back in he was standing in the middle of the floor giving me the finger, and I knocked him on his ass with my motorcycle."
Hells Angels members who agreed to discuss the incident confirm that Knievel's recollection of the basic scenario is accurate; it's his embellished version that they have a problem with. A leading member of the Oakland chapter who attended the event remembers that Knievel took it upon himself to denounce drugs and outlaw motorcyclists-of course, this was San Francisco in the late '60s-making remarks directly concerning the Hells Angels during the sermon he customarily delivered as he stalled at the top of the ramp prior to his jump. Pissed off at being publicly and personally humiliated by this self-righteous hot dog, one Angel took exception and threw an object, though after 30 years it's hard to determine whether it was actually a tire iron or, just as likely, a beer can. Knievel continues, "Four or five of them jumped on me and the whole crowd came out of the grandstand and just beat the shit out of 'em. Hit 'em with 4x4s, everything-just slaughtered them." The Angels remember it a little differently. The crowd did indeed jump in, but it was the club members who primarily made use of whatever two-by-four studs were available. It's further asserted that once the fracas was underway, any Angel perceived as dogging it, who didn't come to his brothers' aid with absolute full-bore ferocity, would have been subject to a reprimand and sanctions, up to and including the confiscation of his colors. Accordingly, nothing of the kind happened, and members claim that the Angels acquitted themselves proudly and appropriately in the face of such lopsided odds. As for Knievel's claim that the police had to intervene on the Angels' behalf, the response was that yes, the cops did move in to break up the fight, but certainly not for any reasons such as Knievel suggests. It's pretty safe to assume that Hells Angels can take care of themselves.
The upshot of this reciprocal antagonism begs an answer to the question: why does Knievel persist in talking shit about the Angels, particularly when he's a business and entertainment guy with little to gain from and nothing to do with the outlaw biker culture he claims to find abhorrent? His gunslinger's bravado seems to make a case for the popular belief that Evel's got more balls than brains. Is it really necessary to point out that one of the dumbest things you can do in life is to try to enhance your image as a tough guy by underestimating the qualities one must exhibit to become a member of Hells Angels, and to take lightly what it means for those who have demonstrated those characteristics to be a member of Hells Angels? After all, it's a tribute to their dedication to the club's basic tenets that, even in this age of websites and cell phones, these guys are still, purely and unmistakably, the motherfucking Hells Angels.
Some insight as to why Knievel may have persisted in venting his spleen toward outlaw club riders was provided by Steve Bonge, a high-ranking member of the New York City chapter of Hells Angels. In the early '70s Evel was contracted to represent an image of Harley-Davidson that would correspond to the lame slogan, "The Great American Fun Machine" the company found itself saddled with following its acquisition by AMF. Bonge recalls his encounter with Evel with considerable ambivalence, and makes the point that Knievel's provocative interpretation of his role as a Harley spokesman probably had an effect on his opinion.
"I remember Cyclerama '73," Bonge says. "It was in the first year that Nassau Coliseum was open. A friend of mine had put a chopper in the show there. So I went with him all three days and hung out with him at the show. And as one of the attractions they had Evel Knievel there, jumping over a bunch of cars. It was indoors, with kinda low ceilings," Bonge recalls, referring to the bowels of the arena where the elephants are kept when the circus comes to town.
"I just remember seeing the same show all three days. He was traveling with this fuckin' midget. And he'd come out, he had this red, white and blue cape and that whole thing goin'. And he'd come out and introduce himself, and say he was gonna jump over cars and blah, blah, blah.
"And then this fuckin' midget would come out," Bonge laughs. "This little midget would come out dressed the same as him, with the helmet and everything and the red, white and blue leather jumpsuit. And the midget would get on this little Harley-Davidson-a 125 or whatever. And I guess to waste time to make the show longer he'd go zoomin' back and forth and he'd jump over these little fuckin' toy trucks or whatever.
"And then Evel would come back out and get on the bike and make two or three passes and then do the jump. And it was such a short thing he didn't even have time to brake and he'd come down off the landing ramp and get to the bottom and have about maybe 30 feet in which to stop. They had hay bales piled up and he'd plow into them every single show, I guess to make it more dramatic."
Bonge admits that he viewed Knievel's live act as impressively flashy, and that, at the time, he felt Evel's jumping ability was deserving of a certain amount of accolades.
"He was real flamboyant and everything. It was a great show to see, but I wasn't into his pre-jump lectures, his assertion that he was representative of the American motorcyclist, as opposed to the chopper crowd.
"My friends were older, and that's how I knew what was going on in the motorcycle world. I just remember them havin' a little bit of an attitude. For instance, when he was appearing at that show, it was like, 'Evel Knievel's gonna be there?' And they had a little bit of an attitude about it like, 'fuck him' because of the comments he'd made about us and our lifestyle-the chopper crowd. I was into that whole chopper thing at that point.
"Before that I was into what he was doin'. I raced dirt bikes when I was younger-around '70, '71-so I was more into that aspect. That was when I was a teenager, before I was legally able to ride a chopper on the street."
Bonge recalls that the ill will toward Knievel extended throughout the entire spectrum the custom bike/outlaw rider scene. "I remember Easyriders magazine when it first started, in maybe the third or fourth issue, they had a cartoon drawing of a big-ass biker with a chopper, like a grungy lookin' fuckin' dude, and it said something like 'down with Evel Knievel’-a thumbs-down thing in reference to him making a statement that these types of bikers are not socially acceptable, and fuck them and this is America."
More recently, the August 1998, edition of Easyriders featured an article focusing on Knievel's current health crisis, blurbed on the cover as "Evel Knievel's Greatest Challenge." The piece was preceded by a brief disclaimer, which indicated that the only interest the magazine had demonstrated toward Knievel until then was in opposition to his advocacy of helmet laws in California. In part, it read:
Although we do not agree with his political agenda, we do respect his achievements and the skills he has brought to the motorcycle industry. For that reason alone, we submit this article for you to make up your own minds.