Daredevil Stunts

Discover the history of the motorcycle stuntman, from conquering the Wall of Death to jumping 13 London buses.

David Beckham as The Stranger in Outlaws

It's widely accepted that the Munich firm of Hildebrand & Wolfmüller built the first production motorcycle in 1894 - and it wasn't much later that pioneering bikers decided they wanted to do more on their machines than simply use them for travelling from A to B. Essentially, they wanted to show off on them too. And so the motorcycle stunt was born.

As early as 1915, America saw the arrival of the first 'Silodromes', tall wooden cylinders around which daredevil riders circulated at head-spinning speeds to the delectation of the crowds above, who soon renamed the attraction the 'Wall of Death'.

The macabre title did little to prevent the shows becoming ever more extreme as performers rode around sitting on the handlebars or facing backwards. They even fitted sidecars in which they would carry lions and bears.

But it was an American called Orren 'Putt' Mossman who many regard as the original motorcycle stuntman. He bought his first bike in 1926, aged 20, and immediately seized the chance to impress some local women by riding past them standing on the saddle. It was a move that sowed the seeds of a 40-year stunting career that saw Mossman jump motorcycles over rivers, ride while juggling eggs, crash through sheets of glass and leap into pools of flaming water.

Evel Knievel

The success of Putt Mossman and his American Motorcycle Rodeo Circus and Speedway Aces took the act to 45 countries around the world - but it was the post-war spread of television that helped create arguably the greatest motorcycle stuntman of all time in the form of the legendary Evel Knievel.

The flamboyant Knievel achieved international fame by jumping his bikes across ever-longer lines of vehicles and, in 1967, he even attempted to clear the fountains of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas - a performance that ended in one of the many catastrophic crashes that, ironically, only served to enhance his celebrity.

After subsequently landing short in the rocket-like Skycycle X-2 while trying to jump it across Snake River Canyon in Idaho and badly hurting himself at England's Wembley Stadium in 1975 when his wheel lost control after clearing 13 buses in front of a crowd of 90,000, Knievel performed his last major stunt at the end of the same year. His leap across 14 Greyhound buses in Ohio established a record that stood for 24 years.

His fearlessness inspired a whole new generation of motorcycle stuntmen, including England's Eddie Kidd, who enjoyed a spectacular 20-year career carrying out numerous, record-breaking jumps and even won a much-publicised 'jump off' against Evel Knievel's son, Robbie, staged in Mississippi in 1993. Three years later, however, Kidd sustained serious, long-term injuries after crashing during a relatively minor jump - although his skill and style live on in the stunt scenes he performed for movies such as The Living Daylights and GoldenEye.

Evel Knievel

When it comes to the king of motorcycle movie stuntmen, however, many would argue that the crown belongs to the late, legendary Bud Ekins, whose leap across a barbed-wire fence in the 1963 classic The Great Escape (on behalf of his biking buddy Steve McQueen) has gone down in cinematic history.

But even the achievements of Ekins pale into insignificance compared with the utterly radical moves of today's 'extreme' motorcycle stunt riders. Former European stunt champion AC Farias, for example, thinks nothing of performing a hands-free wheelie while playing the mouth organ, while the stars of crowd-pulling freestyle motocross events simply defy the laws of physics with tricks that frequently involve getting off and back onto a motorcycle mid-jump. Even Putt Mossman would be in awe of that…