Remember when your mom, trying to teach you not to do dumb stuff just because your friends were doing it, would say, “If someone told you to jump off a bridge, would you do it?” You’ve got to feel for Debbie Evans’ mom. Instead of a cautionary warning, Evans seems to have taken the rhetorical question as a challenge.
Evans was a pioneer in Observed Trials competition, a sport that calls for expertise on a narrow, marked, twisty maze of a course. Evans proved adept at the sport, which is a display of strength, concentration and balance. She was the first woman to compete in FIM World Championship Trials and was dubbed the “Queen of Trials” by the motorcycling press. She was also the first woman to successfully ride in the U.S. Trials during the late 1970s and is generally considered the best female trials rider in the history of the sport.
In an amazing testament to her skill, in 1998 Evans, at 40, came out of retirement after 18 years away from the sport to compete in the unofficial Women’s World Trials Championship and finished eighth in a field of 38 competitors from 12 countries. In 1999 she led a U.S. women’s team to third in world championship team trials competition. In addition to her considerable accomplishments in trials, Evans became even better known for her day job as a Hollywood stuntwoman. Evans emerged as one of the leading movie stunt performers in Hollywood and has earned numerous awards for her work in more than 200 movies and television shows.
Remember the scene in The Fast and the Furious where the sports car drives under a speeding semi-truck? That was Debbie.
Evans was born in Lakewood, California. The daughter of an avid motorcyclist, Evans learned to ride when she was just 6 years old. Her father was a trials rider and young Debbie grew up around the sport.
“I think he wanted sons,” Evans told Readers Digest. She added she regularly terrified her mom, Edna, by scaling fences and climbing lampposts around their Los Angeles home.
Not content to simply watch, as a young girl, Evans would ride her mini-bike around and mimic the moves of the older trials riders. One day a fellow competitor was talking to Evans’ dad as he was loading up and pointed to a youngster jumping a small motorcycle and said, “That little kid is pretty good!” It turned out the little kid was Debbie and her dad recognized that she was good enough to start riding trials. She entered her first trials when she was 9 and earned a third-place trophy.
As a youth, Evans competed successfully in trials and enduros, this during a time when there were no classes for girls. Even though her male counterparts did not like being beaten by a girl, over time she earned the respect of her fellow riders. By the 1970s, Evans was recognized as easily the best female rider in trials riding and she earned sponsorship from Yamaha. In addition to trials competition, Evans began giving exhibition shows, at first at fairs and local races, and eventually in front of tens of thousands of fans at AMA Grand National and AMA Supercross events. Her trademark move became a trick in which she would balance her motorcycle with the kickstand up and perform a headstand on the seat.
By the mid-1970s, Evans became the first woman to obtain expert classification in trials. In 1979, she recorded another first when she scored a victory in the sportsman class at the U.S. Trials Nationals. Seeking greater challenges, Evans, at 19, accepted an invitation to race in the grueling Scottish Six Days. Even though that type of racing was not her forte, she trained hard to get into peak fitness. Despite the fact that many thought the Scottish Six Days too difficult for Evans, she proved her skill by not only finishing the event, but placing a very credible fourth in the 175cc division.
Although she was performing well in competition and had Yamaha sponsorship, she was making little money from her efforts. While she was attending college, an unexpected call gave her the opportunity to make her skills on a motorcycle pay off. A friend of her father’s called her to ask if she would be interested in doing stunt work for a movie. The movie called for Evans to stunt ride Yamaha dual-sport bikes clad with 50 pounds of metal panels, sissy bars and other movie props. “Every time you’d turn the thing it would want to take a dive into the ground,” Evans recalls. “They had us doing jumps on them and all kinds of other stunts. In retrospect it was pretty dangerous stuff, but that’s how I got into the Screen Actors Guild.”
Evans proved to be exceptional at stunt riding. Her trials background gave her the perfect background for the trick riding required in movie making. In fact, Evans once said that she treated each stunt like a trials section, studying the stunt intensely before performing it. Evans rapidly became one of the leading stunt actors in Hollywood and it wasn’t long before that line of work gradually became Evans’ full-time profession. Evans became so well respected in the Hollywood community that she became a pioneer in stunt work just as she had in trials riding. Evans began performing stunts that had previously been restricted to male stunt performers. She performed stunts on many of the top movies from the 1980s to present. She has been recognized for her accomplishments by winning numerous awards for her stunts, including a prestigious Taurus World Stunt Award in 2002.
“I enjoy the adrenaline rush of stunts – being able to do something I’m really good at and being paid for it,” Evans said. “It thrills me to no end to have the police blocking off the street and I come down and do my thing – something I’d normally get thrown in jail for.”
On the personal side, Evans married three-time U.S. Trials champ Lane Leavitt. The two collaborated in business ventures, including teaching trials schools and forming a top stunt work agency. Evans’ sister, Donna, is also a leading women’s trials rider in her own right.
Evans was named as Honda’s factory rider for the highly publicized Vetter High-Mileage Contest in 1982. Strong winds coming off the Pacific Ocean knocked over the totally enclosed streamlined 125cc Honda and the damage kept her from finishing in the prescribed time. Even though the motorcycle lost some of its fuel load in the crash Evans was able to squeeze an amazing 276 miles per gallon out of the Honda.
By 1980, Evans had retired from full-time motorcycle competition to concentrate on stunt work and raising a family. She and Lane had three children. But Evans’ stunt work required her to stay in peak physical condition, and when women’s trial competition finally began to take hold, Evans jumped at the chance to return to the sport.
In 1998, Italy hosted the first unofficial Women’s Trials World Championship (formally recognized by the FIM starting in 2000). After 18 years away from the sport, and at 40 years old, Evans still had enough skills to finish eighth. The next season she led a U.S. squad that finished third overall in a Women’s Trials Team competition. In 2002, Sherco/Bultaco signed Evans to compete in the FIM Women’s World Trials Championship. In addition, Evans competed in her first road race at Daytona in February of 2002 as part of an endurance racing team.
Evans has been featured in numerous articles, not only in motorcycle publications, but also in general interest magazines such as Reader’s Digest and Glamour.
Evans was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2003. You can read more about her at her website www.debbieevans.com