Ed Beckley’s father, Gerald, was a well-known stunt rider and the son followed in his dad’s steps. Ed could often be seen riding wheelies down Scott City’s Main Street as a youngster.
It wasn’t until he saw the famous daredevil Evel Knievel perform at the Kansas State Fair in 1971 that Beckley decided that was something he wanted to do. He started out making a fairly simple takeoff ramp for his first jumps and soon constructed a bigger ramp that allowed him to jump 110 to 120 feet behind the rodeo arena at the county fairgrounds.
“And that was without a landing ramp,” says Beckley, who was 23-years-old at the time.
Some of his lifelong friends helped him set up the ramp and “made sure I didn’t kill myself.”
His first professional jump was during a demolition derby at Dighton where he jumped four times – starting with three cars and eventually increasing it to six. On the final jump, he talked a friend, Dennis Sharpe, into jumping as a passenger.
“I got paid $350 and the people went nuts. I knew I had to do it again,” he says.
He later joined up with the Death Riders, a group of daredevils who traveled throughout the Midwest.
“I got hurt two or three times really bad and there was one time I got burned really bad while doing a fire act,” he says. “It was a grim lesson. I learned that I shouldn’t do so much stupid stuff until I knew what I was doing.”
That didn’t prevent Beckley from experiencing the first of several major mishaps while practicing for a record jump in Odessa, Tex., in 1974. Just as the bike left the takeoff ramp, the motor locked up and he stuck a landing directly into the ramp “which nearly killed me.”
“It literally knocked my eyeballs out of my head and onto my cheeks, it blew out my eardrums, my kneecaps were destroyed, both shoulders were broken and an injury to my left leg has never healed right,” he says.
Three Months later he was jumping again.
Numerous broken bones, concussions and two destroyed discs in his back are just part of the price that Beckley has paid for choosing this career.
“The third day after a crash is when everything always hurts the worst,” he says.
From 1978-82, Beckley was on the daredevil circuit full-time, doing 52-56 events a year. That put him on the road from January-October and during the off-season he was healing, booking dates and rebuilding his motorcycles.
By 1984, he had established himself as one of the premier daredevils in the country and Beckley began performing at some of the most famous and largest venues in the U.S. He jumped in front of a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden and before 71,000 people at the Silverdome in Detroit.
He’s also performed at the Superdome, Kingdome, LA Coliseum and JFK Stadium, just to name a few.
“I’d never dreamed that something like that would be possible for a kid who got his start jumping at the Scott County Fairgrounds,” Beckley says.
“Big” Ed Beckley
To say that Beckley has enjoyed a career that’s bigger than life takes on added meaning from a man who bills himself as “Big Ed” – “The World’s Largest Motorcycle Daredevil.”
There were times during his career when he weighed between 350 and 389 pounds. Today, he’s slimmed down to about 305.
“We kind of defy the law of physics, putting a big guy like me on a motorcycle and jumping 140 or 150 feet,” he says with a laugh. “It’s a wonder the motorcycle doesn’t destroy itself on the landing – or my back. I’m like having two people on a motorcycle and then when you add a passenger that’s quite a sight.”
It was during a performance in Dover, Ohio, that jumping with a passenger became a regular part of Beckley’s routine. The show’s organizers were looking for “something spectacular” and when Beckley suggested taking a passenger on a jump the sponsors were thrilled.
That couldn’t be said for Linda, his wife at the time, who had just “volunteered” to be his passenger.
“The day or two leading up to the jump we had all these media stops and other things that had to get done and Linda kept asking, ‘When are we going to practice?’” Beckley remembers. “I finally told her on the day of the jump there won’t be a practice. I said if we’re going to crash we’re going to get paid for it.
“The passenger jump was a real shot in the arm and it set us apart from everyone else. The people loved it.”
Beckley cut back on his performances for about 12 years while operating the race track in Dodge City from 1982-94. He hit the circuit again from 1990-94 after moving to Texas; Big Ed stepped away for a few years and resumed jumping again in 2012.
Today, Beckley is one of only a very few daredevils who are still performing around the U.S.
“Myself and only a few other guys are even doing this and I’m the guy who’s jumping more than anyone right now,” says Beckley. “Freestyle jumping is pretty popular, but when it comes to jumping for distance, I’m about it.”
Snake River Jump
Like Knievel, Beckley had plans to jump the Snake River Canyon in Idaho in 2014. In fact, the jump was scheduled for Sept. 7, 2014, and Beckley had a $10 million agreement with Fox Sports.
However, just prior to the jump there was a major shakeup in the Fox Sports top brass and several events were cancelled by the new team, including Beckley’s jump. Beckley says the people of Twin Falls also had a “bad taste” left by Knievel and his team when they were preparing to make the original jump which never took place.
“Knievel’s jump was going to be made with a steam-powered rocket. It wasn’t even a cycle,” adds Beckley. “It was like throwing a lawn dart to the other side of the canyon. He couldn’t steer it.”
“I was going to actually jump over then Canyon where is was going to take a jump of 2500 feet at a speed of more than 300 miles per hour I was going to be over 500 feet high in the apex of the jump and then land it like a real motorcycle with a steerable parachute ,” he says. “It was going to be a real jump with an actual cycle.”
Beckley is still fighting through the courts to recover more than $1 million that was spent to bid on the jump and to rent the takeoff and landing sites.
Beckley, who turned 66 on July 6, knows that his days as a daredevil will soon come to an end.
“After the last couple of crashes, I’ve taken a pretty good ass whuppin’,” he says.
But he has no regrets.
“What drew me to this career were the fame and the fortune . . . and a chance to see a little bit of the world. I’ve accomplished that,” he says. “I guess you could call this my farewell tour, he adds. “It’s been one heck of a career and it’s going to be hard to walk away from it,” Beckley has no certain plans for retirement just that he does not want to crash again.