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The Flying Irishman

The extraordinary life of The Flying Irishman, Denny Edwards.

| May/June 2015

  • Denny Edwards' Yamaha TX650
    Photo by Courtney Olive
  • Denny Edwards' Yamaha TX650
    Photo by Courtney Olive
  • The hole in the left sidecover of Denny's Yamaha TX650 is from crashing his last jump in 1985.
    Photo by Courtney Olive
  • An advertisement for Denny’s April 8, 1973, jump shows his first jump bike, a 1963 Triumph 650.
    Photo by Courtney Olive
  • This set of photos from Edwards’ last jump in 1985 shows the ramp failing upon his landing.
    Photo by Courtney Olive
  • Edwards sits at the top of his launch ramp in 1983 in Prineville, Oregon, making final preparations for his jump.
    Photo by Courtney Olive
  • Edwards looks down before his final jump in Prineville, Oregon, in 1985.
    Photo by Courtney Olive
  • Edwards today with his Yamaha jump bike.
    Photo by Courtney Olive
  • Denny Edwards, The Flying Irishman, at the 1981 Oregon Airshow in Sheridan, jumping over a logging truck and the band The New Dawn.
    Photo by Courtney Olive

For a guy known as The Flying Irishman, Denny Edwards is pretty humble about his past. “I got my start by reading a magazine article on Evel Knievel. The article listed the dimensions of his ramps, so I decided I’d build a set of my own. I got so caught up in making the ramps that I just had to do a jump.” And just like that, Edwards arranged to jump six cars — at an annual festival in front of most of the population of his small Oregon hometown.

“I was 27 with a pregnant wife and a 2-year-old daughter. What a perfect time to start something like this; it was one of my more mature decisions,” he jokes, adding, “I’d never done a jump until the day before the festival. It was total guesswork. That was 1972.”

Building the ramps turned into a many-month undertaking. That’s not surprising considering their massive size: the launch ramp was 7.5 feet tall by 36 feet long, and the landing ramp was 56 feet long. Edwards explains the need for such big ramps: “The bikes had no suspension, so you had to go faster and flatter to do the same thing they’re doing now with shorter, steeper ramps. Going faster and flatter added to the show. It was like going down the freeway, opening the door and bailing out.”

Edwards finished his ramps just the day before the festival. To try a few practice jumps, he used his mom’s bike, “a ’41 Triumph Tiger 100 motor in a ’56 frame,” he says. The first launch was harrowing. “I had no idea how much of a running start to get. I just set the ramps up in the gravel lot of my dad’s logging shop right off the highway. Then I came winging down the highway to gain speed and, at the last second, veered onto the ramp,” he remembers. He managed to land that first practice jump, and a few more.

The next morning, he set up the ramps at the festival grounds and parked six cars between them, as promised. Soon his ramps were surrounded by a sea of people. “It was solid elbows up either side of the ramps. The high school football announcer was there with his bullhorn, so I recruited him to help me get people off the ramps,” he remembers. The jump itself went off without a hitch, but what Edwards really remembers was the money. “I made $470 in donations, which was more than I was making in a month driving a truck. I was hooked,” he says.

Moving forward

Edwards dropped everything and spent the rest of the year travelling to county fairs performing jumps for donations. He did most of his jumps on a 1963 Triumph 650, reserving his mom’s Tiger 100 for other daredevil feats like crashing through a flaming wall of lumber. Along the way, he made a name for himself in the papers. “He flies into the air on a prayer,” read one headline. But even more than the sensational danger, the real source of Edwards’ success seemed to be his spirit. As one article put it, “If Evel can make it, why not him? After all, he’s got the experience, the dedication.” By the end of the year he picked up a sponsor who paid for a set of custom Langlitz Leathers, designed by Ross Langlitz himself.

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