Wheels up: Moses Lake native aims to jump his way into the record book
Moses Lake native Alex Harvill shows off a short jump at the Soap Lake Sandpits as he gets ready to make a world record jump of 351 feet at the Moses Lake Airshow in June.
Charles H. Featherstone/Columbia Basin Herald
Moses Lake native Alex Harvill starts a short jump at the Soap Lake Sandpits.
Alex Harvill rides across the Soap Lake Sandpits as he gets ready to demonstrate a few practice jumps.
Alex Harvill with his Suzuki bike, which he said he’s going to have to replace soon. With rapidly changing technology, Harvill said motocross equipment ages quickly. “I’m very hard on equipment,” he added.
Staff Writer | May 27, 2021 1:00 AM
SOAP LAKE — If you look up Alex Harvill on the Guinness World Records website — what used to be known as the Guinness Book of World Records — you will find him. Right there.
On July 6, 2013, in West Richland, Washington, Harvill made a dirt-to-dirt ramp motorcycle jump of 297 feet, 6-and-two-thirds inches.
It’s a record that still stands.
“I’m 28, and I just love dirt bikes,” Harvill said as he stands in the midst of the Soap Lake Sandpits, west of town.
“I’ve been riding since I was 4, but before that, I would ride on the front of my dad’s bike,” he said. “My entire life I’ve ridden dirt bikes and looked up to everyone that races dirt bikes and think of those guys as heroes.”
He’s like Evel Knievel, the Butte, Montana native who spent some time in Moses Lake in the 1960s as he worked to perfect the daredevil motorcycle riding he did so much to popularize.
“Just watching them on TV made them seem almost larger than life,” Harvill said. “I never dreamed of being one of them.”
As Harvill starts suiting up — to prepare to show off a bit of his stunt riding skills — he’s hoping to set another record next month at the Moses Lake Airshow, jumping at least 351 feet from a pre-built ramp onto a dirt ramp. It’s a record currently held by Australian Robbie Madison and set back in 2008.
In fact, Harvill points out, not far from where he is standing, at the now-defunct Soap Lake Speedway, Knievel staged his second jump.
“It’s so awesome that I can follow in his footsteps and have some local ties to him and just live on the daredevil motorcycle legacy of pushing the limits,” he said of Knievel, who died in 2007 at the age of 69.
Harvill has been racing and jumping and pushing those limits professionally for nearly a decade. He said he doesn’t make a living at it — he works a day job at a farm in Othello to pay the bills — but on a good weekend of competition, he can cover his expenses and bring a little home.
And he points to his bike, a battered yellow Suzuki designed for dirt riding and jumping. It’s showing its age, and some of the plastic panels covering hot pipes and moving parts are cracked and held together by zip ties.
Harvill said even this old bike is better than anything Knievel did stunts with in the ’60s and ’70s.
“It’s amazing what he was able to do with the equipment he had. It wasn’t meant to be jumped at all. And he knew that it probably wasn’t going to end well,” he said.
Harvill said he practices just about every day — the Moses Lake Sand Dunes are usable even in the winter — and it takes a great deal of physical coordination and strength to control a bike not just on the ground, but in the air, as well.
“You just squeeze the bike really hard with your legs, with a rocking motion,” he said. “It’s almost like you’re a jockey on a horse. It takes everything to hold on.”
He shows it, too, as he makes a couple of short demonstration jumps in the sandpits, twisting his body just right to make sure the bike will land on both wheels.
Harvill has learned the hard way just how bad landings can get. In Talladega in 2017, he overestimated the length of a jump, took it too fast, and landed hard enough his front tire exploded, sending him flying over his handlebars and shattering one of his heels when he finally hit the ground.
“I hit the ramp and it felt amazing. I just launched right off, and I was like, ‘Wow, just awesome,’” Harvill said. “And then all the sudden I just saw I was going too far. And at that point, there’s nothing you can do.”
He managed to get his rear wheel down first, but when his front tire exploded and sent him flying, he said he came up on his feet after rolling.
“I came out on my feet and it was like, ‘Oh man, I’m okay,’ but then I could feel my foot was broken,” Harvill said. “That was the greatest moment in my career at that point and I totally, totally ruined it.”
Because of the accident, Harvill said he wasn’t sure he was ever going to be able to race again. However, he’s said he’s mostly recovered and started riding motocross again.
In fact, Harvill said he’s been winning.
“My goal is to get a championship,” Harvill said. “It’s been quite a few years since I’ve won.”
“It felt really good,” he grinned.
Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.