Once, in one of those "what if" conversations at the the bike shop, someone asked me which I would give up first; bicycles or motorcycles.
I think I shocked the whole crowd when, without hesitation, I said, "Bicycles."
Motorcycles have fascinated me for as long as I can remember. My uncles, Ronnie and Ed, both had motorbikes when I was a kid (and Ed still does). Plus, motorbikes had a high profile in popular culture as I grew up.
James Brolin rode a Triumph on Marcus Welby, M.D, Michael Parks rode a Sportster on Then Came Bronson. Steve McQueen made the Great Escape on another Triumph. Hell's Angels... Easy Rider... On Any Sunday...
And, on ABC's Wide World of Sports, Evel Knievel flew across the screen (and rag-dolled across the pavement) with regularity. I couldn't then, and can't now, think of anything cooler than a motorbike at full throttle.
The annual bicycle trade show moved to Las Vegas in the mid-nineties, and I attended it as a bike shop employee every year from 1994 to 2001, with the exception of 1997.
In 1998, Hoffman Bicycles introduced an Evel Knievel bmx jumping bike, and they brought both the bike and the real, live, Evel to the show for the model intro. There was a daily autograph session, during which you could stand in line to meet Evel and get him to sign whatever.
I've never been one for standing in line for an autograph, so I was pretty thrilled when, as I was walking through the show, I happened to intersect Evel and his handlers on their way to the autograph session. I introduced myself to Evel, told him what a thrill it was to meet him, and shook his had. Then, we went our separate ways.
It was, to say the least, a bittersweet experience. My macho boyhood hero, the swaggering cock-o-the-walk, was a little old man... As a recent liver translant recipient, he was frail and shaky, walking with a cane.
"At least," I thought to myself,"I got to see him before he died."
At the end of the day, I walked out of the exhibition hall on my way back to the hotel. As I walked into the parking lot, I noticed a crowd down at the far end of the lot.
Often, at the expo, there will be some sort of exhibition in the parking lot. It might be bmx freestyle, or a trials rider, or...who knows.
Anyway, I walked down, to see what was going on.
What was going on was magic. There, live and in person, was Evel Knievel, the frail old liver transplant recipient, on a 1200cc Harley, his walking stick jammed between his leg and the gas tank of the bike. He was popping wheelies on the big Hog, one-handed, waving at the crowd. He would ride on one wheel from one side of the lot to the other, drop the front wheel down, turn the bike around and do it again.
Suddenly, I was 12 again. And Evel was the virile, cocky, sonuvabitch showman I remembered.
I don't remember any of the "new and improved" bike products at the show, that year, but I damn sure remember seeing Evel Knievel being a badass in the parking lot of the Sands Convention Center.