Kansas Moto History: The Evel Knievel Museum and Twisted Oz Motorcycle Museum

Kansas motorcycle ride
The Evel Knievel Museum is attached to Historic Harley-Davidson but draws support from the entire Topeka community. The world-class operation is obviously a source of civic pride.

The shot of George Hamilton racing toward the canyon and destiny in the 1971 movie, “Evel Knievel,” had my eyes glued to the screen at our local theater. Like many kids in the ’70s, I wanted to be Evel. A true American icon, I’m glad somebody finally built a museum in his honor. I approached the Evel Knievel Museum in Topeka with cautious optimism, expecting to see one or two bikes and a couple sets of leathers. Man was I surprised. Along with four documented Knievel motorcycles, the centerpiece is his Mack transporter found rotting in a Florida salvage yard. Like the bulk of the exhibits, much of the work on the rig was handled in-house. The overall project was completed in a couple of years.

Kansas motorcycle ride
The 1969 American Eagle by Laverda. A documented jump bike with 13 attempts and six crashes. Acquired in rough condition and restored in-house. Simply too heavy for the task.
Kansas motorcycle ride
Samuel: “I looked down and I was wearing Evel Knievel’s leathers. I looked behind, and there was his cape, flapping in the wind. Cool!”

Along with bikes and memorabilia, the museum includes several interactive exhibits. One provides a virtual reality experience of jumping a Harley XR750 over 16 police cars, accomplished by outfitting rider Doug Danger with multiple cameras and doing an actual jump in downtown Topeka. A separate video game replicates jumping a selection of Knievel’s bikes over various obstacles while choosing parameters such as speed and ramp angle. The museum’s marketing director says the goal was to create an educational experience along with an entertaining one. After our visit, my 7-year-old grandson Samuel asked, “So when are you buying me that motorcycle?” Mission accomplished.

Kansas motorcycle ride
I only got to spend a few minutes at the Twisted Oz Museum. This is the main display room. An annex has already become necessary.

Twisted Oz Motorcycle Museum in Augusta is another recent construction. It was owner Kelly Modlin who answered the phone as I sat at the McDonald’s across the street. Though closed for the day, he offered to give me a quickie tour. He and Jerry Ottaway, who owns half the bikes, and a mostly volunteer crew repurposed the building from an auto body shop. More than 100 machines are displayed, many from the early days of American motorcycling, the majority of which run. Kelly is also an avid vintage rally competitor. His latest effort, a 1927 Indian Chief, was receiving final touches prior to being ridden to Portland, Maine, starting point of the biennial Cannonball Run, which ends in Portland, Oregon.




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