Featuring trials riders from the United States of America.
1 – Kirk Mayfield, Oklahoma – in his own words.
“Scooters, Firearms and Boats”
I started sailing in sixth grade at school. The people across the street had a boat and I went to the lake with them at every opportunity. I especially liked the racing aspect of the sport. I sailed a couple of seasons with that family until the father passed away, taking up shooting Skeet with my father. We got into it so heavily that we had Automated Reloaders for two different gages of shotguns. I would come home from school, do my homework, or not, and load shotgun shells. I remember a tournament that we competed in at the gun club. I hit 87 out of 100 clay pigeons. I even had a straight round, 25 out of 25. I was 13 and I was pumped! My dad shot 90 out of 100. He won his class. They were supposed to have a kid’s class too. But when the other kids saw me shoot, they decided not to compete. I got dumped into my dad’s class and got nothing! I soon became disenchanted with Skeet Shooting and the other kids and moved on to something else!
I started riding motorcycles at 14. In Oklahoma we could get a motorcycle license at 14. I rode to school and off-road every chance I got. A friend had a Suzuki and I thought he was the coolest thing on the planet, until I got my Kawasaki 90. Of course, stock was not an option so I swapped out the stock muffler that hung low for an expansion chamber that came up high and would burn your leg, given the chance. My sister was dating a guy in High School named Joe Logan. He rode a CZ in Motocross and had a Bultaco Sherpa T that he rode in something call ‘Trials’. He tried to explain it to me, but I didn’t understand. He invited me to a local event. I accepted his invitation and rode my trusty Kawasaki 90 to the event and entered. The Kawasaki was not suited for the event. The foot pegs even bent down with the continuous standing on them. I knew then that the Kawasaki had to go. Joe had an OSSA Pioneer for sale that soon became my next ride. I rode a Trial and some enduro’s before replacing it with a new OSSA Pioneer. All the while still being drawn back to trials. Enough was enough! The OSSA was out and in it’s place came a new Bultaco Sherpa T.
A local rider took me under his wing. His name was Mike McCabe. He was the King Daddy in these parts and the first American to compete in the SSDT in 1972. I started traveling with Mike when I was 15. He was 30 as I recall. We terrorized the highways and Byways of Oklahoma and surrounding states. I grew up fast!
It was 1969, I was 15 years old, travelling almost every weekend and being tutored by one of the premier riders in this part of the country. I was very fortunate and didn’t even realize it. On one of our trips we attended a Mick Andrews Trials School and trial in Columbia, Missouri. I think I was in the Amateur Class and won a trophy in the trial. After the trial, we were standing around talking to and taking photos with Mick. At the time I always wore a bandana around my neck. Mick grabbed it and acted like he was choking me and looked at Mike and said, “one day soon you will be wanting to do this”. I still remember it to this day. Mick quickly became my new hero. Once I turned 16 I was able to get a driver’s license for an automobile. Then it was time for Middle America to take cover! I was riding Bultaco at the time. I was on a mission! I progressed through the ranks quickly and was itching for a new ride. Unbeknownst to me, my father had contacted Mike McCabe and had Mike drive to Kansas, one state North of Oklahoma, and pick up a shiny new OSSA MAR for me. Mike made up some story about going to dinner with me and my parents and wanted to have us come to his house beforehand. I thought it was kind of crazy, as it was not on the way to the restaurant. While there, Mike asked me to go get something out of the garage. I went to the garage and what was there but a new scooter, FOR ME!! I was elated. Mike had also been talking to my dad trying to get his permission for me to accompany Mike to the SSDT in 1972. I wasn’t old enough to get an International Competition License from the American Motorcycle Association but could get an International Drivers License, so I was his Gas Man. My councilors at school thought it would be a good learning experience and I agreed with them. Probably the only time I ever agreed with them. Before going to pick up Mike’s scooter from Sammy Miller in Highcliffe, we did our best to find some of the motorcycle shops we had only read about in motorcycle papers. We succeeded at finding several. At one hotel we stayed in, the attendant took us up to show us our room. We deposited our luggage in the room and went to the local pub for dinner. Upon returning to the room we opened the door to find the room full of smoke! We opened the small window and tried to get the smoke out of the room. Upon inspection of the room when the smoke cleared, we discovered that I had placed my suitcase too close to the wall heater. I didn’t realize that the attendant had lit it when he first walked into the room. The smoke was my suitcase almost catching fire!! We drove our rented Hillman Hunter to Highcliffe and got the Bultaco ready for the SSDT at Sammy’s shop. When Mike finished prepping it Sammy took us to his riding grounds to test Mike’s work. Mike Had Sammy ride it to see what he thought. Sammy proceeded to ride it down a very steep incline and dove off a huge rock landing front wheel first. When he did, the handlebars rolled forward several inches. He came to a stop, looked at Mike and said “those need a bit of tightening” or something to that effect. I was 17 years old, from Oklahoma USA, in England, Riding with Sammy Miller! And I thought it was normal. After getting the scooter all sorted out we headed North to Edinburgh, where what I call the “real” SSDT (160 miles on the first and last day) started and finished. We had all our luggage and a Bultaco in the back of lovely Hillman Hunter. It reminded me of a Toyota station wagon. The wheels had to come off the bike and the handlebars had to be rolled backward for it to fit. The plan was to drive through the night and get to Edinburgh the next morning. We had been up all day. Mike drove and I navigated into the night. He was getting tired and asked me to take over driving. I started driving and Mike went to sleep. I don’t know how far I drove but what I do remember is waking up after I had crossed the center median and had headlights coming towards us. Somehow, I was able to get back on the correct side of the road. You notice I said correct side, as I was on the right side when I woke up. And what was Mike doing while all of this was going on you ask?? He was screaming “you fell asleep…you fell asleep…you fell asleep….” at the top of his lungs. He didn’t really have to yell at me. I knew I fell asleep. Mike drove from there and I slept. Upon waking up we were in Scotland. Beautiful country. We met a fellow named Ian Driver that was hilarious. A large fellow he was, who later became the Great Britain ISDT team manager for the ACU. I think he was sponsoring Jeff Chandler that year. The team logo said Team Marlin, like the fish! He had a turquoise sweatshirt that had the black logo on the front and we asked him what are you going to do with that shirt when you’re done with it. His response was “I have to return it I’ve got it rented”. We both stared at him with a puzzled look, he said “I must return it to rent a tent!” The remainder of the SSDT was fairly uneventful, which was a good thing as we had already survived a failed attempt at burning down a hotel and a successful attempt at playing stunt driver on a foreign Motorway!
In 1973 I rode an OSSA MAR that I also got from Sammy Miller and Mike McCabe got his Sherpa T there also. Every time I think of that scooter and that year it brings back memories of Martin Lampkin. I will NEVER forget that voice. It seems like only yesterday that I heard Martin say “Lets make dust baby” in his thick Yorkshire accent as we prepared to take off on a long crossing in the SSDT. We were riding close together that day as it turns out, we were walking a section and he inquired as to where I got the OSSA MAR I was riding. I told him it came from Sammy Miller. He rode the section and hung around as I rode. I nearly got to the top of a long slick slab before losing traction and bouncing all the way to the bottom. He seemed more amused than I was, and said “Poor Sam’s bike” My immediate response was “Aye, but I’m getting me money’s worth”. He laughed hysterically. I got to the end of the section and he was still sitting there. He was waiting on me. He sat there until I had pumped my tires back up for the long crossing ahead. Listening to the video I saw recently of him and Dougie, sends chills up my spine. I can still hear him say “Let’s make dust baby!” And off we went. He was so nice to me. I will never forget it.
At the time I was a Senior in High School. I had become friends with Lane Leavitt and somehow, I ended up staying with him in Northern California that summer. Don’t honestly remember who’s idea it was, but it was the best summer of my life. I still talk about it to this day. He was traveling to Ohio for an ISDT Qualifier while riding for Bultaco. We met In Nebraska as I recall and transferred all of my gear and scooter into his truck. I left my van behind a gas station with the permission of the owner. We went to the event in Ohio and returned to get my van for the trip to Pleasanton, California. While there we rode nearly every day. We rode several events up and down the West Coast. Practiced nearly every other day. The old adage of play golf with someone better than yourself if you want to improve. The same holds true in Trials. I was riding nearly every day for three months with a rider that was better than me. Lane, at the time was the best rider in North America. I couldn’t have picked a better Role Model. And I certainly couldn’t have picked a better rider to push me to get better. We would ride in the day and cruise, in his blue 1962 Chevy Nova with carbs that stuck up through the hood, and try to stay out of trouble at night. I was 18, In Northern California, riding nearly every day for three months with the best rider on the continent, and somehow, I thought this was normal.
Upon returning to Oklahoma I received a call from Yamaha. They were putting together a Trials Team and were looking for the best rider available in the four regions of the country. They chose Don Sweet from the Northeast, Bob Hopkins from the north, Joe Guglielmelli from the West Coast and Myself from the South-Central region. We all had different riding styles and different approaches to setting up our scooters. I altered the top shock mount position. It was moved forward and down like what the later Yamaha Majesty uses, and for that matter Yamaha and several other manufacturers eventually used. I guess I had happened on something that really worked before it became the norm.
We also had what was touted as being a “fuel Injection” system. The system had two distinct parts. One was the section that received fuel from the tank and dispensed it to the engine. It was what a lot of people call a “pumper carburetor”. It had no float bowl. The second section housed a round slide with an adjustable needle and a hose connection below the needle. The main body had three fittings that had hoses on them, two screws and a button. The largest hose was hooked to the fuel tank. One took an impulse from the transfer port in the cylinder on one side of the bellows. On the other side of the bellows was another fitting that supplied fuel to the bottom of the needle. The main body had two screws for adjusting fuel volume to the needle. There were no Jets per se. One would be adjusted so the engine would be crisp off the bottom. Once that was dialed in, you held it wide open and adjusted the other screw to get max revs. There were rubber boots that covered the area where the screws and hose fittings were. There was also a button. This was depressed several times to start the engine. It acted like a choke. It was velvet smooth and super strong down low and revved to the moon! Mick told me that it was never produced due to its high cost. Mick still has a few sets, so I am told. I rode for Yamaha International, the Importer in the USA in 73-74.
I was teamed up on Yamaha with Peter Gaunt and Mick Andrews for 1974. Mick rode the Cantilever scooter, I rode the 250 that Mick had ridden in 1973 and Peter was on a 250 as well. Mick provided me with a scooter due to the fact that Pete Schick, National Racing Manager at Yamaha International (USA Importer), and I didn’t get along well, and he refused to pay for me to come over to the 1974 SSDT.
He also refused to allow me take either of the scooters they had provided me to ride in the States. I called Mick and he called Rod Gould, his boss at Yamaha in the Netherlands, and they agreed to provide me a scooter to ride. Funny I stayed with Bill Stewart, the US Yamaha trials team manager. He let me stay in his room, so it didn’t cost me too much. And that’s how and why I was on the Yamaha Europe Team!!
In 1974 While riding the prototype Yamaha, I had some issues as can be expected from a handmade motorcycle. The engine cases and the hubs were sand cast magnesium. The fuel tank was aluminum. And all nuts and bolts, as I recall, were titanium with dished heads. Transmission parts were also made from titanium as I recall. I got the impression from someone that the scooter was about 172 pounds wet. I experienced an issue with the rear brake. I had arrived at a section and parked the scooter by the entrance while I walked the section. Upon returning to the bike, I fired it up, put it in gear and it would not move at all. The rear wheel had unexplainably locked up. It wouldn’t roll forward or backward. I disconnected the brake cable from the brake arm. It still wouldn’t move. I got my tools out and removed the rear wheel, mind you I was tearing into it directly adjacent to the begins cards of a section. Once the wheel was clear of the bike, I discovered that the brake backing plate wouldn’t even come out of the hub. It took about 10 minutes of trying everything I could come up with to finally get it removed from the hub. Upon the removal, I discovered that a rivet that held the steel liner into the magnesium hub had broken and the head of the rivet was stuck between the brake shoe and the steel liner. The liner still had a rivet holding it in and I didn’t have any further issues with it. I mentioned that the fuel tank was aluminum as well. Mick had one crack on this bike in the 1973 SSDT. They couldn’t come up with any fix but to not put a bolt in the rear mount under the front edge of the seat. Their thinking was that if it wasn’t bolted down, it wouldn’t have stress on it and would therefore not crack. How wrong they were. I was on a road section and noticed that my leg was burning. The crack in the tank would not leak very much if the engine was off, but with the engine running it would spray a small stream onto my upper thigh. Once my Belstaff pants were soaked, the fuel made it’s way through my jeans and onto my bare skin! And did it ever burn. I caught up to Mick at the lunch stop and told him about the crack. He said “happened last year too!” He told me to get a bar of soap out of the bathroom and when I stopped at a section to rub the soap on the crack and it would seal it up temporarily. It worked when the engine was off but soon after I started riding again so came the leak. He told me that they would be ready when I got to the impound area that night. And ready they were. As we had to work on our own bikes, Mick was guiding me through the removal of the tank, then we disappeared into the back of the van and they closed the doors and guarded it from prying eyes. Once inside, the Japanese mechanic guided me to started working on it with a rough rasp to remove all of the paint from the alloy adjacent to the crack and give it a rough finish. He then mixed up epoxy and we applied it over the crack. Within a few minutes, I emerged from the van with a miraculously repaired tank that made it to the finish. The scooter was ultra-light and ultra-trick. When I got to the finish, Mick and Jill were there. I had a big grin on my face when the officials were doing their final inspection on the bike. I would look at the officials, then look at Mick, look at the official, look at Mick. Once when I looked his way he said “NO!”… I looked his way again and again he said “NO!”. After the third NO, I finally said “NO WHAT?”. He said” No, you can’t take it home!”. It was a joy to ride, but I had to leave it there. The scooter I have just completed is not as light as Mick’s prototype, but everything else is better.
I was the regional Trials champion kid. Just thought you went from that to a Factory ride. Then went on to something else with reckless abandon like I started trials. I did that. And now I am getting ready to embark on my second, no third, stint at trials. I need to have my head examined!!
Boats – a different way of life:
I started sailing again when I was in college. I have raced boats as small as 12 feet and as large as 65 feet. Helming a sailboat well takes an abundance of practice and the ability to “feel” the boat and be able to anticipate what actions were needed in advance. I was fortunate enough to have progressed quickly and got to the point that I had boat owners flying me in to race their boats. A “Hired Gun’ so to speak. I was on top of the world. I have raced in the SORC Rally in St. Petersburgh, Florida, the Miami to West Palm Beach Race in Florida, Three TORC’s in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Texas, The Johnny Walker Cup (Miami, Florida to Montego Bay, Jamaica), Key West Race Week in Florida, Fort Lauderdale to Key West Race in Florida, two Chicago to Mackinac races on Lake Michigan, Block Island Race Week in Rhode Island, the All Swan Regatta in Newport, Rhode Island. I have also assisted in deliveries of yachts from Newport, Rhode Island to Bermuda, Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Virginia Beach, Virginia, Fort Lauderdale Florida to St. Thomas USVI and St. Thomas USVI to Virginia Beach, Virginia. One year I crewed on two different J-24’s that qualified to attend the World Championship in Athens, Greece. I campaigned a J-22 in Middle America a couple of seasons with friends. Other sailors hated seeing us show up, and we liked that. I even did a stint as a Captain on a Private Yacht. That’s when my hobby became a job. And the fun ran out quickly, so I quit sailing. I have sailed some since but on my terms. I have had the fortune of sailing with America’s Cup winners, World Champions, Olympic Champions, Regional Champions and National Champions. The greatest compliment I was ever paid was by a competitor was at the Houston yacht club in Houston Texas. We had sailed a regatta and at the party afterwards I was at the keg to get another beer. A guy I didn’t know said “I haven’t seen you out lately”. I told him I’ve been busy at work and that I had not been able to come out for a few weeks. Mind you, that year, I spent 36 weekends of the year racing a boat for a neurologist on Galveston Bay South of Houston, Texas. The guy at the keg asked me what boat I was on. I told him I was on Synapse, and his answer was “can you believe Dr. Bill (the boat owner) hires a guy from Oklahoma to sail his boat?”. I told him,”yes I can believe that”. To that he asked, “where are you living now”? My response was Tulsa, Oklahoma. He said “oh, you’re the guy!” To that I just nodded my head and got another beer! By far the best compliment I’ve ever been paid!
I started riding again in 1988 I think it was. I bought a 86 TY 350 Mono. Had it for a couple of years and rode some regional events and quit again.
I got the bug again recently after a 30 year hiatus. This time it got started with a want to ride again and a call to my old friend Lane Leavitt from California USA while sitting in the parking lot of a Lowe’s Home improvement center one Sunday morning. I told him that I had the bug to start riding again and he immediately suggested that I ditch the idea of a modern bike and return to my roots and get a Yamaha Twin Shock like I had in the 70’s. He and I started scouring the web for a good scooter to start with. I had one located in Western Colorado USA but never could come to terms on a purchase with the owner. I ended up driving 12 hours one-way to Tennessee to look at one.
It looked a lot better than what it really was but I didn’t know it at the time. I ended up buying it and within 2 hours after reaching home, I had it disassembled down to the bare frame. I thought I was getting a respectable motorcycle to start with. But, the more parts I took off of it the more I uncovered the dirty secret it had hidden! I started my laundry list of what I needed to make it right again. The list was immense.
I contacted Bob Ginder at B&J Racing in Dickson, Tennessee USA and gave him my list and Cred Card Number. He and other suppliers around the globe helped in procuring the ever-lengthening list of spares. Suppliers from Canada, The United States, Spain, Japan, England, Scotland, Taiwan and the Netherlands have assisted in helping build a scooter that blows away my Factory Yamaha I had in the 70’s. I have replaced Front & Rear Rims, Stainless Spokes, Wheel Bearings and seals, Brake Shoes, Domino Throttle Assembly, Boysen Two Stage Reeds and Reed Block Spacer, All New Cables, 520 Chain Conversion, MSR Shift Lever, 76-77 Seat & Brackets, Front & Rear Fenders, Modified Clutch Assembly, Electronic Ignition , Alloy Skid Plate , New Domino Lever Assemblies, Fork Seals and Wipers, Footpeg Lowering Kit, 26mm OKO Carburetor with an elongated bore, UNI Air Filter, Stainless Head Pipe, WES Exhaust System , Alloy Shock Mount Kit, Alloy Front Spindle, Alloy Rear Spindle, Alloy Swing Arm Spindle, Front and Rear Alloy Inner Wheel, All Stainless Steel fasteners, Alloy Swinging Arm from Berry Gamelkoorn of AJG in the Netherlands, Frame Shock Mount Mods, Frame Welding Clean Up, Polish Outside of Fork Springs, Polish Inside of Fork Tubes, Endless Polishing and assembly, Still left to do is cylinder and head work.
I can count the bits and pieces on one hand without running out of fingers that haven’t been modified, and or, replaced outright! Canada, The United States, Spain, Japan, England, Scotland, Taiwan and the Netherlands! I have searched websites for many answers that I needed. I asked questions from perfect strangers who were always willing to help! And I have met some old souls around the planet that share the same passion for the sport as I do. It turned out just as I had intended. I wanted to make it superior in every way to the Factory Yamaha I rode as a kid in the 70’s. And needless to say, it is a joy to ride. Hope you enjoy the photos, and feel free to ask questions. I will gladly help, like others did for me.
Some will think I have bastardized the scooter. Some will think I didn’t take it far enough by not building a complete one off frame etc.! I understand both views. And will not criticize either. But I still sit and stare in amazement at what I have. I had two TY 250’s gifted to me at 18 by Yamaha, built my own at 64. Wish they would have let us ride what I just built, back then!
I rode with Bernie Screiber when he was 14 or 15. And he was scary good even back then. I remember him hoping over an empty beer can in the pits. We all thought “ that’s nice but hopping has no place in trials”. Funny, some of us still are saying the same thing 45 years later!
I was rushing the build to ride an event in October. This bit me on the back side. The motorcycle wasn’t ready and I certainly wasn’t ready. I On the second day riding in 30 years I fell backwards off of a rock step on the first section and severed my Achillie’s Tendon in my right leg. This slowed me down severely as I had 8-10 weeks of recovery time after surgery to order the balance of parts and complete the build at a more relaxed pace. The two of us have been getting along much better since and I have not needed the assistance of my Orthopedic Surgeon since. And that is a win for all parties involved.
Jon Stoodley at Muskogee, Oklahoma…
He did his magic on the Yamaha cylinder and head. And even crafted a .003” thick copper head gasket to replace the .039” standard one. The squish clearance is correct now. It is super strong and revs to the moon without hesitation. A true joy to ride now. He had it again for a few weeks when I was in Greece. He rebuilt the pivot on the kickstarter to where it works like new. He corrected the geometry issues that existed in the front brake cable. He corrected clutch adjustment and clutch arm alignment issues by fabricating a spacer made from an old roller bearing. And he addressed slop in the rear brake pedal. I still think the rear brake pedal will require some additional work. Unless you saw the work being done, you would swear it was the same. I told him that, he smiled and said it’s supposed to look like nothing has been done. He’s some guy is Jon Stoodley!
2 – Debbie Evans – Not just a stunt performer
Trials Guru tells the story of a trials rider turned movie stunt performer …
Over the years there have been numerous female riders compete in the annual Scottish Six Days Trial, which had traditionally been a male dominated sport. Times have now changed with female competitors very much the norm.
Before the Second World War, there was Louie McLean, Edyth Foley and Marjorie Cottle. Post-war, the 1950’s had Mollie Briggs, Lesley Blackburn, Olga Kevelos and Gwen Wickham; the 1960’s had Jill Savage and Renee Bennett. They had one thing in common, they were all British, but in the late seventies a female rider emerged who inspired even more women to compete in trials and the ‘Scottish’ than ever before, and she was the first female rider from overseas to compete in the SSDT, an American called Debbie Evans.
Trials Guru was fortunate to catch up with Debbie, now Evans-Leavitt having married her trials riding boyfriend Lane Leavitt, during a hectic schedule in Glasgow city centre, Scotland in September 2012 when filming for ‘The Fast & the Furious 6’ an action-packed movie which was released in May 2013.
Debbie refuses to slow down in an amazingly tight schedule which took her to England, twice, Scotland and Tenerife for filming plus a short break to go home to the United States to see her first grandchild born. I still couldn’t believe that I was talking with a stunt-performing grand-mother!
Born in 1958, Debbie, originally from Lakewood, now resident in Santa Clarita, California has been in the movie business for just over thirty-three years. She has stunt-doubled for some of the world’s best known superstars including Carrie-Ann Moss in ‘Matrix Reloaded’ – 2003; Linda Hamilton in ‘The Terminator: Judgement Day’ – 1991 and many more. Have a look at the credits of some of the world’s most famous action-packed films and you will see the name ‘Debbie Evans’ appear in more than just a few. Her speciality is car and motorcycle stunt performance and she has appeared in over two-hundred movies and TV programmes which included ‘CHiPS’ & ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’.
The Scottish Connection:
Having followed the history of the SSDT and watched Lane in action at the Six Days, I got to know Debbie and her three time AMA National Trials Champion husband back in 2007, when I put together an audio-visual presentation of the SSDT in the February of that year for the Fort William Mountain Film Festival.
Permission was sought to use material from Debbie’s website as part of the presentation, just for a bit of extra interest for the audience, which she willingly gave.
Debbie had entered the 1978 Scottish Six Days Trial on a TY175 Yamaha supplied by Gordon Farley Motorcycles, Aldershot, Hmpshire, England and her airline ticket was paid for by Yamaha USA. Lane had also competed in previous Scottish Six Days his first being 1973, as a supported rider for both the Spanish Bultaco and laterly Montesa factories.
Having discovered that she would be in the UK during filming for the forthcoming ‘Fast 6’ movie, Debbie sent me a message via Lane through facebook which read: “Hi John, I’m sending my wife to Scotland in a few days. Maybe you guys can get together? She may have some cool stuff for you!”
On making contact upon her arrival in England, she suggested that we meet up with her one Sunday afternoon, when she was between filming schedules in Glasgow. Part of the car chase footage was shot late at night in city-centre Glasgow, including the famous George Square area.
After a pleasant lunch in Glasgow’s Princes Square, we all go back to Debbie’s hotel and ‘Skype call’ Lane in the USA, who takes us a virtual tour around the couple’s home. Lane picks out their Scottish Six Days trophies and Debbie’s stunt trophies and awards; culminating in a quick tour of their impressive garage.
Debbie was an accomplished trials rider when she began motion picture stunt performing at the age of twenty. I asked her how she entered into the movie business.
She explained: “I wondered why so many stunts involving women were carried out by male performers dressed to look like females? I thought… hey, I could do that… I researched it further and eventually obtained the necessary regulatory permissions and began training for my new chosen career with established professional stunt performers.”
The rest is history, Evans-Leavitt is a multiple award winner obtaining seven Red Bull Stunt ‘Taurus awards’ and was inducted into the American Motorcycle Association – Motorcyclist Hall of Fame in 2003.
Debbie is probably the only competitor world-wide who can static balance a trials motorcycle upside down with her head on the seat, the bike is not supported in any way and the only extra piece of equipment is a rubber band on the front brake lever! Eric Kitchen was on hand in 1978 to photograph this very stunt, right in the middle of the traffic roundabout at the West End of Fort William, now an iconic SSDT photo.
In movies, she is best known for the 2001 award-winning scene where she doubled for actress Michelle Rodriguez in the Fast & the Furious. Debbie drove a tuned Honda Civic hatch-back under an artic semi-trailer at high speed, ending in a barrel-roll when emerging out the other side.
Debbie says: “I have to keep physically fit and in shape but the real neat part about being a stunt-woman is that you get to ride fast motorcycles and drive real cool cars!”
Back to that Scottish Six Days ride at Fort William in May 1978, it was for Debbie the event of her lifetime. Debbie takes up the story:
“I had harboured a secret wish to ride in the ‘Scottish’ when I was quite young. I got into trials at the age of six with the help of my father Dave Evans, who was already an established trials and enduro rider in the USA and it was he who taught me all I know about bike control. I then read all about the Scottish Six Days in the American motorcycle press. I never really thought it was possible until an Englishman called Bill Emmison of BERM Specialities, a UK company which imported US off-road products. Bill on a visit to source parts asked me what I really wanted to do and on hearing my crazy wish said he could arrange the trip to Scotland and make it all happen. I was overjoyed at the thought of actually competing in the Six Days, for me it was truly a real dream come true. I hadn’t told anyone previously, because I believed it to be too wild to ever come true!
I packed my heavy bags and took a pair of handlebars, grips, foot-pegs and my Bell helmet and spent a few days sight-seeing in London on my own, before heading north to Fort William.
Bill supplied me with some riding suits, my riding number was one-hundred and twelve and so I rode all week in the company of Mick Wilkinson and Rob Shepherd, two of the best riders in Britain at the time and guys who knew their way around Scotland. The whole experience for a nineteen year old girl was really awesome; the Scottish was a great adventure!”
She continued: “Riding over the tracks and moors with Mick as my guide was great fun, Lane told me to ‘stick to this guy like glue’, which I did! However, I probably stuck to him too well and one day when hauling across a moor, Mick suddenly pulled up, I sat and waited for a little while, then he turned around and said, ‘Debbie! Can you sort of disappear for a minute, the call of nature beckons’ – or words to that effect?”
Mick Wilkinson remembers all too well the 1978 event with Debbie Evans in tow!
Mick recounts: “Soon after the trial started, I said to Rob (Shepherd), come on Rob let’s have a bit of fun, let’s leave this American lass on’t moor. We took off at a cracking rate as we knew where we were going and after a few miles we looked round. To our surprise, there she was, slap bang on our back mudguards. We didn’t try to pull that trick again!”
After their marriage Lane and Debbie had planned to ride once more in the 1980 Scottish together, but when they discovered that she was expecting their first child, Steve, this put paid to that idea and she reluctantly but sensibly withdrew her entry. The couple had another son, Daniel born in 1994.
But by then, Evans had already unwittingly captivated a whole new generation of women trials riders, one of which was Lisa Bayley (then Lisa Jones) from Sutton, Surrey who herself was inspired by reading about Debbie’s 1978 ride to compete herself in the 1981 Scottish at the tender age of eighteen on a 200cc SWM modified from a 125cc by her Father, Derek Jones.
Having read and been inspired by Evans, Lisa never actually met Debbie in person, although she did get to know former US National and World Champion, Bernie Schreiber during his time at Comerfords, Thames Ditton in 1979 and later, when on trips to the US riding Fantic.
Fitness coach Lisa commented: “I was truly inspired by Debbie Evans’ 1978 ride at the Scottish which I did twice. For me it is the most brilliant event in the world. I have run in both the New York & London Marathons in 2005 and 2006; they were far easier by a long shot than the 600 miles and 180 Scottish sections of fantastic challenging and on some-days, impossible terrain. In my lifetime I have risen to the challenge of the hardest marathon and finished New York in three hours forty-eight minutes and London in three hours thirty-eight minutes, well within a veterans’ respectable timeframe, but still the SSDT was the hardest ever human achievement and the most enjoyable I have ever undertaken.”
Motorcycle observed trials is in Debbie’s blood, her father, Dave Evans is the guy who wheelies a Bultaco Sherpa for miles near the beginning of the Bruce Brown film ‘On Any Sunday’ the definitive bike-sport movie of all time. Her sister, Donna Evans is also a stunt performer, having worked with Debbie in a number of motion pictures.
Debbie: “Being a trials rider really helped me throughout my stunt career, because you walk the section and memorise in your head many things, like when to go up or down a gear, where to brake, where to make the turn or change direction, which part is slippery and so on. The same thing applies when performing a motion picture stunt; you walk the set and plan everything, very carefully. It’s technical, just like trials. However, I knew that I would never make a living from just riding trials, at that time there were very few who were professional riders world-wide, whereas I could at movie stunt-performing. I grew up with trials riding ‘no-stop’; stop-allowed was alien to me. We do stunts no-stop too!”.
Debbie stayed fairly loyal to the Yamaha brand during her riding years, having gained support from the company via their USA importers and promoted the brand wherever she rode.
After a eighteen years away from the sport, Debbie made a brief return to competitive trials in 1998, when she rode in the Women’s World Trials Championships. She was now forty years of age, but came a creditable eighth place overall, riding a 250cc Gas Gas.
Lane, now a respected stunt technician in the US movie business still has a collection of interesting Bultaco trials machines and some modern road bikes to hand, as the area in which the Leavitts live is ‘canyon country’ and a Sunday afternoon ride out with the family is very much the order of the day.
Leavitt reckons Debbie would still be riding in trials competitively today had she not suffered a very serious accident when stunt doubling for the 2008 movie “Yes Man” starring Jim Carrey in which she was hit by a car when riding a bike during a sequence which went horribly wrong.
British actress Amanda Holden was trained by Debbie and Lane to do stunts for the UK TV series ‘Amanda Holden – Fantasy Lives’ in 2010 in which Debbie and Lane both appeared.
Debbie really enjoyed her film work in Glasgow; she even cultivated a Scots accent during her stay. Both she and Lane are planning a return trip to spectate at the SSDT in a few years time, once their youngest child, daughter Rebecca, graduates from high-school. It will be really nice to have the couple back at the SSDT where they have so many happy memories of competing many years ago.
Both Debbie and Lane felt honoured to be asked to write a few lines each for the one-hundred years celebration book on the SSDT that the Edinburgh Club produced in 2011. Only problem was they didn’t get a copy, as the limited edition book was quickly sold out! However, after a plea, Kinlochleven trials enthusiasts David & Lorna Dougan who had a pristine copy, came to the rescue and gifted their copy to Lane and Debbie. The photo of Debbie in the book was taken by Eric Kitchen on Grey Mare’s Ridge, only half a mile from the Dougan’s home.
Oh yes and finally, the ‘cool stuff’ she gave me as a memento of our Glasgow meeting? A commemorative tee-shirt and poster from the ‘On Any Sunday Re-union’, all signed by some of the all-time greats of USA bike-sport – now that’s what I call neat!
© – Copyright Information:
© – Words: Trials Guru / Moffat Racing, John Moffat – 2015.
© – Photographic Copyrights & acknowledgements:
– Iain Lawrie, Kinlochleven, Scotland.
– Eric Kitchen, Cumbria, England.
– Lane Leavitt, California, USA.
– Michael Vendrel, USA.
– Iain C. Clark, Fort William, Scotland.
– Derek Jones, Sutton, Surrey, England.
– Jimmy Young, Armadale, Scotland.
With special thanks to John Hulme and Trial Magazine, England as part of this article appeared in Issue 41, 2013.
Coming soon: Schreiber; McCabe; Leavitt and more!