ED BECKLEY: NOBODY HAS GONE BIGGER
by Johnny Airtime
We've seen motorcycle jumpers jump all kinds of obstacles, from lions to trains. We've seen jumpers who stood 7 feet tall. We've seen jumpers who weighed less than a hundred pounds, kids, and even a midget who jumped ramps. Jumpers come in all shapes and sizes.
You may take pause to ask the question: who is the biggest man to ever jump ramp to ramp?
Meet Big Ed Beckley.
Big Ed grew up in Scott City, Kansas. He had broad shoulders, a massive build and was 6'2" tall. His large frame belied his agility. His hard work ethic made him a better rider than others his size, and that work ethic is what is required for a ramp to ramp jumper.
During his ramp to ramp jumping career, Ed weighed from about 280 to 375 pounds. Most jumpers are stunned by his accomplishments. No one has ever been able to do what he's done. He never let his immense size hold him back. No excuses would keep him from his goal of being a professional ramp to ramp jumper.
BECKLEY MAKES THE DECISION
He made "the decision" (the decision every rider makes when he decides he will be a ramp to ramp jumper) in 1971 at the Kansas State Fair. Evel Knievel was there jumping 10 Kenworths. He wheelied up and down the track. Ed Beckley watched as his friends said, "Hell, you can do that." Then Knievel jumped and it looked easy. His friends then said, "Hell, Beckley, you can do that!"
Then, that thing every jumper needs…a doubting Thomas. One of the guys who were with them said, "Man, you are too big to do that." Beckley heard all he needed to hear. He went home, got his bike and started practicing by jumping onto and off of railroad platforms.
ED'S BIG BREAK
At the time, Big Ed was an amateur flat track racer, then he went to an MX track and got used to hitting jumps wide open. He was benching 350 at the time. He spent lots of time wheelying around town. People were blown away at his ability and his massive size.
He had a job as a truck driver at a feed yard at the time when his moment of discovery came. He was at a gas station in town with his motorcycle one day and somebody bet him that he couldn't wheelie backwards. He rode out into the street, popped it up in 2nd gear and wheelied backwards halfway down the block, winning the bet.
There was a man at a gas pump named Floyd Reed. He was traveling through town putting on demolition derbies. Floyd handed him a card and asked if he ever thought about jumping cars. Beckley said yes.
Reed described a thrill show he wanted to put together called the Death Riders. Beckley liked the idea. They put a deal together.
He spent almost the entire summer jumping in shows with Floyd Reed.
When Big Ed started jumping, he rode a 1972 Yamaha MX360. The first show he did was in Dighton, Kansas with a demolition derby. He jumped 5 cars. Then he put his friend Dennis Sharpe on the back and they jumped 3 cars.
Ed Beckley and his wife Linda were the first husband and wife team to jump over cars riding double. They eventually jumped 7 cars together in a hockey rink in Austin, Minnesota in 1991. They routinely jumped 60 and 70 feet, riding double!
He wheelied backwards mainly from 1972 to 1974. He had his first minor crash jumping when he overjumped the landing ramp and dislocated his shoulder in Lubbock, Texas jumping with the Death Riders Thrill Show. That shoulder injury sidelined the backwards wheelies.
ED'S FIRST MAJOR CRASH
His first major crash happened in Odessa, Texas. He was working his way out on a new bike and evidently the bike either seized or the front brake cable (mechanical front brake, not hydraulic) snagged the front tire and caused the front brake to come on forcefully on the face of the ramp. This made him come up short on a ramp gap of about 60 feet, with no protective apron.
Sucking ramp at 60 feet is no picnic. His front end stuck into the end of the landing ramp. He hit so hard it blew out both of his eardrums, broke both shoulders, shattered a kneecap and gave him a concussion. But that's not all.
The bars broke off and left a jagged tool jutting out the side of the top triple clamp. This jagged, broken handlebar stuck into his leg and scooped out a hunk of meat about the size of a man's fist. It took four years to heal.
BIG ED JUMPS 15 CARS
Ed jumped 15 Mazdas with a Yamaha MX360 in 1974 at Odessa Dragway in Odessa, Texas. Promoter Monte Coldwell was known for hiring jumpers there, including Gary Davis, Rex Blackwell, Dick Stone, Bob Duffey and Donny Wynn.
Big Ed went long over the Mazdas. His rear wheel landed on the landing ramp 156'4" out, but the front wheel hit flat ground. He landed hard but rode it out, thanks in part to the lethargic compression damping achieved with 30 weight fork oil. Remember, this is one big man, weighing in between 280 and 300 pounds!
Although he never used a protective apron, the landing ramp was on the long side at about 55 to 60 feet. The ramp broke down into two pieces and went on a trailer.
Later, in 1984, he had a Yamaha TT500 with YZ forks and White Brothers valving. By now he had gained size and weighed 330 pounds. He jumped 12 cars and overjumped to 136 feet, getting a little out of shape and then flatlanding hard. It snapped straight again, tweaking his back.
In 1992, he jumped 12 stock cars in Savannah, Georgia and flew his Rotax 600 142 feet. He rode that bike for Harley Owners Group. He got along well with the Rotax - it landed considerably softer than anything he jumped before then.
ED'S FUNNIEST CRASH
He's listed as one of the nominees for the funniest crash. He was jumping at the Capitol Centre in Landover, Maryland. He jumped successfully over 10 cars on Friday, then the same again on Saturday.
On Sunday, the tractor sled was moved and the track was changed, leaving him with 40 feet less stopping room. He jumped and landed, then started braking. The ramp was slick and the front end washed. He swapped and body slammed into the ground with resounding force, bounced off the ground and crashed to a stop. That initial bounce was stunning and high impact – It's hard to bodily bounce at least a foot high. While it broke his thumb and knocked him silly, a fireman ran up ahead of him yelling, "I'll pick it up!" but obviously didn't know about picking up a bike with a stuck throttle. Big Ed crawled as fast as he could, injured, to the bike, which laid on its side with the throttle wide open, engine screaming, rear tire spinning wildly. The kill button had been ripped off of the handlebars. Beckley got ahold of the flailing kill button dangling at the end of the wire and shut it off.
Big Ed stood up and the crowd went wild. Then the crash was played back on the JumboTron and he did a play-by-play, telling the crowd what happened.
ED GOES BIG TIME
He hooked up with SRO Promotions in 1984 and played at some of their huge monster truck shows. He jumped in front of 60,000 spectators at the sold out Silverdome. He did the RFK Stadium for 30,000 and Busch Stadium 30,000, plus Three Rivers Stadium with another 30,000. He's jumped at the Kingdome, the Superdome, Madison Square Garden, the Metrodome and LA Coliseum. He was jumping all these indoor events with a four stroke Yamaha TT500 that had a spool front hub and no front brake!
IMPORTANT CAREER DECISIONS
He met Bob Gill, who taught him that it was okay not to be the record holder. He said, "I just wanted to be able to go to the bank, and not in a wheelchair."
Gill told Beckley in Florida in 1980, "Hey, at your size you should capitalize on your size and the passenger jump – leave the distance jumping to someone who doesn't have the gimmick you've got." He took it to heart and lived by that advice.
He learned that he didn't get paid any more for jumping more obstacles or more distance.
He had a way of talking to the crowd. During his indoor shows, he used a lot of pyro. It was healthier, he discovered, to do what Gill said.
SHORT CAUSES SHORT
Occasionally in every rider's life, a mechanical failure can cause a problem. He was jumping on his Rotax "Harley" (Roley? Harlax? Rotax-Davidson? Harley Davidtax? It was a Rotax painted up Harley style) and the kill button shorted out, slowing it quickly on the launch ramp. He landed on the 5th car, bounced to the 7th, then to the 9th, then went out the door at the other end. With every car he landed on, the bike would briefly fire back to life. It was a wild ride, but he survived without crashing!
Big Ed worked with Doug Malewicki and Bob Gill building and flying a kitecycle. He never jumped it professionally. He jumped with it several times, but it was out of control, so he parked it.
Malewicki was on the design team of Knievel's Sky Cycle, working with Bob Truax, who built it.
BECKLEY'S FINAL JUMP
He performed the final jump of his life in 1995 in Amarillo, Texas. He weighed in at 375 pounds plus! He was 45 years of age.
FROM JUMPER TO PROMOTER
Big Ed says he was always a better promoter than jumper. From 1982 to 1991 he ran a sprint car track in Dodge City, Kansas and jumped in the wintertime. Then he started his own monster truck shows in 1989. The monster truck shows went so well that he sold the race track. He's been promoting monster truck events ever since.
Now he promotes events by the name Checkered Flag Promotions. You can find his web site at www.cfpracing.com. He's still got his Rotax jumper and his TT500 jumper in his office!
Checkered Flag Promotions promotes amateur AMA motocross races and has freestyle exhibitions with riders like pro freestyle contest winner Kenny Bartram, who traveled with them for two years, sleeping in a Pro-Trac and eating out of a cooler. Beckley calls his events XMX.
Beckley has a son named Scott who has been racing flat track for three years. He has a web site at www.scottbeckley.com.
Big Ed Beckley is still in the business after all these years. He had a career where he sometimes did 50 shows in one summer at racetracks, speedways and dragstrips. He is giving back by promoting extreme sports.
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