Celebrating A Cultural Icon With A Unique Timepiece
“Anybody can jump a motorcycle… The trouble begins when you try to land it.” -Evel Knievel
REC Watches of Denmark has designed and produced the TTT KNIEVEL, a limited edition timepiece made from Evel Knievel’s last stunt bike, a Harley-Davidson XR750 known as the “Shark Jump” bike. The story of this watch, and the icon it pays homage to, is a true #RIDELIFE tale.
But first, a little Evel backstory.
REC Watches commemorative Evel Knievel timepiece
King of the Daredevils
Robert Craig Knievel (1938 – 2007), known professionally as Evel Knievel, was an American motorcycle daredevil who captivated worldwide audiences with his death-defying stunts. Clad in his trademark star-spangled red, white and blue jumpsuits, Knievel made more than 175 jumps during his decade long career, including 75 ramp-to-ramp motorcycle jumps.
Evel’s story began in Butte, Montana where as a boy, he became fascinated with the stunt life after watching race car driver and daredevil Joie Chitwood perform. Evel found work at a local motorcycle shop as a young man and began to hone his own motocross skills and stunts. His first public jump was over a 20-foot long box of rattlesnakes. Forging a partnership with Bob Blair of ZDS Motors to supply the bikes, in 1966 Knievel formed a troupe of stunt riders called “Evel Knievel and his Motorcycle Daredevils”. The troupe soon disbanded, after which he pursued a solo career.
Knievel got his first taste of international fame in 1967 as he jumped 15 cars on the ABC show “Wide World of Sports”. From here he got the idea to jump the fountains of Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. A still somewhat lesser known Knievel managed to convince the hotel owner to allow him to attempt the outlandish stunt through a series of hoax phone calls, posing as journalists looking to request more information about the jump. Needless to say, his sly tactic worked.
The money shot of Knievel’s Caesar’s Palace jump.
Arguably his most famous stunt, the Caesar’s Palace jump was performed on New Years Eve 1967, and the crowd watched as he cleared the fountain but crashed during the landing. Knievel’s injuries left him comatose for a month afterward, but when he regained consciousness, he was a global phenomenon.
For the next decade, Evel Knievel would perform one death-defying stunt after another, including jumping over some 50 cars at the Los Angeles Coliseum (1973), a failed attempt to soar over the Snake River Canyon in Idaho using a rocket-powered motorcycle called the Sky-Cycle (1974), jumping over 13 buses at Wembley Stadium in London (1975), 14 buses at Kings Island, and leaping over a shark-filled tank in Chicago (1977).
Publicity photo for Evel Knievel’s Shark Tank Jump.
Evel’s Last Jump
The 38-year-old Knievel may have been on the latter end of his career, but he was still a major star when CBS approached him about a new live, primetime event to be called “Evel Knievel’s Death Defiers” in January 1977.
The Shark Jump, in which he would attempt to leap over “the world’s largest indoor saltwater pool, filled with man-eating killer sharks” (so the press release read) was to be the main event of the much-hyped pilot episode, and was to take place at the iconic Chicago International Amphitheatre.
Heavily capitalizing on the 1970’s shark paranoia set off by the 1975 blockbuster movie “Jaws”, the Shark Jump seemed like a good compromise after a decade of high-risk stunts and broken bones. If promoted properly, it would keep audiences engaged while being, in theory, a bit less risky.
The distance to clear the tank was only 64 feet, less than half his longest recorded jump, and the “man-eating killer sharks” also posed little threat. Jerry Clay, the shark wrangler in charge, told The New York Times prior to the event: “If he should fall in, he’d spook those animals right out of the pool.”
The ramp’s steep angle and the tight confines of the arena gave Knievel some last-minute trepidation, hence his ill-fated practice jump.
Yet only hours before the live show, Evel made an unscheduled rehearsal leap in the empty arena. Clearing the pool with ease on his trusted Harley-Davidson XR750, Knievel lost control upon landing. He skidded off the ramp’s side, inadvertently crashing through a retaining wall and into a cameraman. Both were rushed to the hospital, marking the only time one of Knievel’s stunts ever injured a bystander. Ever the showman, Evel claimed the cameraman’s eyeball was gouged out, though he was in fact only treated for minor injuries and soon released from care. Knievel wasn’t as fortunate however, fracturing his collarbone and right arm.
Evel never personally returned to the daredevil jumping world, and The Shark Jump ultimately proved to be his final high-profile, nationally broadcast performance. Yet the footage of that crash was so upsetting to Knievel that he refused to show the clip for 19 years until the documentary “Absolute Evel: The Evel Knievel Story”.
To this day the Evel Knievel name remains associated with larger-than-life showmanship, flair and perhaps even a touch of madness. And yet Evel was far more than just the sum of his stunts, as he is credited with inspiring a whole generation of extreme sports enthusiasts. Knievel was immortalized in the Smithsonian Institution as “America’s Legendary Daredevil”, and was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999. He also holds the Guinness World Record for the most broken bones in a lifetime (35) having broken every major bone in his body except his neck. His son Robbie would carry on the legacy, with a career that in many respects surpassed that of his legendary father.
The REC Watches TTT KNIEVEL timepiece, with the prominent star forged from Knievel’s Shark Jump bike.
The Design Challenge
So how does a Danish watch company design a custom piece that captures and reflects the extraordinary life and showmanship of Evel Knievel and his heart-stopping stunts? They reach out to the family of the legend of course, and collaborate with them to honor his memory and achievements with a timeless timepiece.
Evel Knievel’s son Kelly was contacted by representatives of REC Watches in Denmark about helping develop a unique timepiece that would honor the legacy of the “King of the Daredevils”, and Kelly agreed to collaborate. He provided REC with much information about Evel and his stunt life. Kelly also supplied the original handlebar clutch and brake levers from the Harley-Davidson XR750 used by his father during the Shark Jump, which REC reforged for use in the TTT KNIEVEL timepieces.
The watch back, with a recreation of Knievel’s signature.
Using shavings from the handlebar levers, REC created a star to adorn the 12 o’clock of each watch, so every numbered timepiece quite literally holds an element of Evel’s last jump bike, gripped by the legend himself. Other design cues include a recreation of Knievel’s signature and a motorcycle rotor and spoke pattern on the back, Evel’s Harley-Davidson stars & stripes “1” on the front above the 6 o’clock, his costume blue stripes, and the moniker “KING OF THE DAREDEVILS” on either side of the forged star, among others. This is an amazing piece of craftsmanship.
These are apparently a limited run by the company, with only 736 having been manufactured. REC reached out to us about sharing the story of the timepiece created to commemorate the legend, which being the moto history nuts that we are, were more than happy to oblige. REC has two other motorcycle-inspired watches, a Steve McQueen “The Great Escape” bike one, and their ICON1000 piece celebrating the 2013 Triumph Speedmaster drag bike.
For more on the Evel Knievel commemorative “Shark Jump” watch and all the incredible offerings by REC, check them out here-
*photos supplied by REC