FTR Bio: Freddie Spencer
Nickname: Fast Freddie
Team(s) : Honda, Yamaha
Active Years: 1980 - 1993
Look into the eyes of most sporting greats and behind the easy confident smile that comes with success you’ll notice a steely determination.
Leaders in their fields have all spent countless hours perfecting and honing their gift, with a single aim always at the front of their mind… to be the very best. That’s not the case with ‘Fast Freddie’ Spencer. His rise to the top of the world sportsbike scene was built on pure passion, natural talent and an unending joy of riding.
“I raced for 29 years and you win but you lose more than you win. It was never about winning or losing. For me it was all about what I experienced riding,” he said. Which makes his place in history all the sweeter for his army of fans who still flock to hear him talk in his role as a motorcycling ambassador at classic events and showrooms around the world.
Freddie is, and always will be, courtesy of class changes, the only man ever to have won the 250cc and 500cc Grand Prix World Championships in the same year. That was 1985, two years after the precocious 21-year-old from Louisiana in America’s Deep South became the youngest rider to win the 500cc – a record that stood until two years ago.
And that makes his unbridled joy at the thrill of being connected with the Honda NS500 Triple that he rode to 14 Grand Prix successes seem like it happened last week.
It was never just about winning World Championships. It was much more important than that. For me it’s always been about the connection with the bikeFreddie Spencer
Fast Freddie, as he was soon dubbed following his meteoric rise to the top of the superbike tree, beams as he describes ‘that feeling’ that warms him every time he sits on a bike. “It was never just about winning World Championships. It was much more important than that. For me it’s always been about the connection with the bike,” he said.
That powerful bond and the emotions it created stretch right back to the first time Freddie was placed firmly on a bike by his dad at the age of four. He said: “I knew from then that it just felt right on a bike. The connection between my movements and the way the bike behaved is something only a rider can understand.”
Although his entry into competitive riding was far from auspicious, he knew from then on that a career on the track would follow. “I finished last in my first race. The chain came off in the right hand corner every lap because it was too big but it just made me want to do better, so for the next 10 years I rode around my yard for four hours a day, five days a week.” Freddie’s achievement owed everything to the rider, who made the most of the Honda’s light weight and maneuverability, despite a relative lack of power.
Softly spoken and brimming with enthusiasm, his zeal for the sport, and motorcycling in general, shows no sign of diminishing almost as if his enforced retirement through wrist injury in 1986 has left him with unfinished business. He’s also well aware of how luck played a major part in his rapid rise to prodigy status: “When I was 15, I was in a race in Ohio and beat Gary Nixon, who used to race for Triumph. “I was standing with my Triumph-riding dad at the end when this guy came over to congratulate me – he was Erv Kanemoto, the former world champion motorcycle mechanic and motorcycle race team owner.”
The rest is history, the pair joining forces in 1979 to win the 250cc Road Racing National Championship on a Yamaha, before going on to greater success several years later. “Oh yeah, you need a bit of luck, but if you have the passion like I did – and I guess some ability – then you’ve got a chance,” said Freddie as he settled in for a cup of tea after a tour of Triumph’s factory in Hinckley. “Triumph has a special place in my heart. I raced on a 750cc Bonneville engine as a kid doing the dirt track scene, but when American Honda started their superbike programme in 1980 I got the call and I knew that was where I was supposed to go,” he said.
“I think it’s fantastic that kids the age I was when I won the two series can still have a heritage bike like the Bonneville T120, which blends retro and new technology you can barely see. The young people I meet really appreciate bikes with character – it doesn’t have to be a generational thing.”
Freddie, who rode in the World GP Legends race in Jerez, Spain, in June, added: “The factory tour has reinforced my opinion that Triumph is all about care and an exhaustive passion for detail. “I could always tell when riding down to the pits who had assembled my bike just by the feel of it. It’s all about having a care for the job you do and the guys at Triumph have it in bucket-loads.” His passion for perfection, weight adjustment and seamless transitions saw him become a student of bike geometry in a quest for the perfect lap, but only for the joy that brought.
“It was never about adrenaline or winning for me,” he insisted. “It was about that incredible emotion of being one with the bike. I still feel it now even if I’m out on a ride near my home with friends, and that’s the beauty of motorcycling.”