New bikers' destination? Evel Knievel Museum with virtual reality jump

A Kansas Harley-Davidson dealership plans to expand to include a 16,000-square-foot Evel Knievel Museum. 

(PRNewsFoto/Madame Tussauds Las Vegas)
Evel Knievel lifelike wax figure with wife Krystal Knievel at Madame Tussauds Las Vegas unveiling in 2008.

A new museum honoring daredevil Evel Knievel will allow visitors to take virtual reality jumps and to understand the physics behind some of his stunts.

Mike Patterson owns a Topeka Harley-Davidson dealership that is being expanded to include a 16,000-square-foot area to house the Evel Knievel Museum, which he expects to open this year. Patterson estimates it'll draw 100,000 people a year, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

Knievel became famous for defying death with several jumps and stunts on his motorcycle, including jumping over 10 trucks at the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson in 1971. He died in November 2007.

Patterson said he talked with museum leaders across the country and decided to create a separate museum after hearing enthusiasm for the project. He said a two-month Knievel exhibit in Milwaukee drew 50,000 people from around the world.

"It started out as a display," Patterson said while showing off construction this week to the Shawnee County Commission. "Then we saw the excitement people have around Evel Knievel and the reach."

Several planned exhibits will incorporate lessons in science, technology, engineering and math, he said. One exhibit will detail the physics of planning a jump, such as determining the angle, speed, wind resistance and other factors. Museum visitors will input data into an interactive exhibit to see if their jump would be successful. Visitors also will be able to sit on a bike and experience a virtual reality jump.

Visitors also will see the results of some of Knievel's failed jumps, which caused more than 433 broken bones.

Event space for companies and individuals also will be available, and Patterson said he hopes to partner with the nearby Expocentre to provide festivals.

When he announced the museum last year, Patterson said it would house the largest collection of Knievel memorabilia in the world.

Hundreds of items, including six of Knievel's bikes, more than a dozen costumes, helmets, photos, pinball and slot machines, are ready for display. Patterson also will display Knievel's custom-built 1975 Mack Truck, which he used to haul his bikes around the country.

Butte, Mont., the hometown of Robert Craig Knievel, holds an annual festival each summer in his honor. It draws tens of thousands of motorcyclists and tourists. 

As The Christian Science Monitor reported in 2002, when Butte launched the festival:

For decades, the favorite son of this depressed copper-mining mecca cloaked himself in a red, white, and blue leather jumpsuit and then throttled toward the sky on the back of a hog, like Icarus tempting fate.

Wherever he jumped, Robert Craig Knievel – known to the world by his stage name, "Evel" – performed daredevil stunts with the words "Butte, Montana – Home of the Richest Hill on Earth" proudly scrawled in bold letters beneath his vehicle.

... Knievel's feats, such as jumping over a line of buses in the parking lot of Ceasar's Palace in Las Vegas or rocketing across the chasm of Idaho's Snake River Canyon, were gonzo carnival acts of the television age. The American original is one of the godfathers of the brand of extreme sports premised on the notion that unless an "athlete" takes life-ending mortal risks, then the competitor hasn't lived. You can even see his imprint on NBC's "Fear Factor" or MTV's stunt extravaganza, "Jackass." Jumping over shark tanks on a Harley? He did it first.

During his heyday, Knievel attracted TV audiences that rivaled those on Super Bowl Sunday and, as a lucrative brand name, products with his likeness, including pinball machines, Halloween costumes, and toys, generated an estimated $300 million in sales.

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