THE REAL FRED­DIE SPENCER

The last man to win two world GP ti­tles in the same year joins MCN for a ride and re­veals all...

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week In Mcn - By Matt Wildee SE­NIOR ED­I­TOR

Fred­die Spencerõs tucked in on the three-cylin­der Honda NS, work­ing the mo­tor hard, in­tent on keep­ing the bike in its tiny power­band. His footõs a blur as he slots an­other whip-crack gearchange, mo­men­tum never waver­ing as he drives for­ward.

Moulded around the tank, eyes pierc­ing his Arai with a 1000-yard stare, the oper­a­tion of ev­ery oper­a­tion con­trol is but­ter-smooth, ac­cu­rate and ef­fec­tive. Thereõs an aura, an easy con­fi­dence that only comes from the truly tal­ented.

But this is­nõt 1985 and some far­away race­track, this is 2017 and Fred­die has popped into the MCN of­fice and is now out to play on some of our favourite lo­cal roads. Weõre all a lit­tle starstruck.

A leg­end in Peter­bor­ough

Itõs been a funny old day. It all started when we picked Fred­die up from Peter­bor­ough train sta­tion and brought him back to our busi­ness park of­fice. The sight of a three-time GP cham­pion, the only man to ever win the 250 and 500GP ti­tle in the same year hang­ing out by our mouldy cof­fee ma­chine or chat­ting to the girls at re­cep­tion is bizarre. But it felt im­por­tant enough that we even had a tidy be­fore he came.

Ònice of­fice youõve got here,ó says Fred­die, po­litely nod­ding at our sea of creak­ing desks and tired com­put­ers. De­spite now liv­ing in Lon­don, his Louisiana drawl is as strong as ever and his mod­est, softly-spo­ken na­ture is a world away from many rac­ers. He seems like a gen­uinely nice man.

We spend the next hour or so go­ing through MCNÕS ar­chive, dig­ging out great pic­tures of his great ca­reer. But the most ex­cit­ing part of the day is is to come Ð the ride.

A meet­ing of icons

We go out­side as the van rolls up con­tain­ing two other Honda icons Ð an NS400R and a RC30. Both are in stun­ning con­di­tion, beau­ti­fully pre­pared and beg­ging to be rid­den. Fred­dieõs no­tice­ably ex­cited. Òyou could­nõt have picked two more in­ter­est­ing bikes, and both of them have real mean­ing

‘He won 500cc and 250cc ti­tles in the same year and has come to visit MCN ’

with my ca­reer. The NS feels re­ally does have a good flavour of my three cylin­der NS500 that I raced in GPS. It’s the en­gine feel, the smooth­ness, the geom­e­try.

“The same goes for the RC30 – in many ways the chas­sis here has al­ways re­minded me of my NSR500 – by the late 80s stuff was fil­ter­ing down from HRC.” Fred­die’s fa­mil­iar with the RC30 too – he rode one to pole at Day­tona in 1991 and even won in AMA su­per­bike on Two Broth­ers Rac­ing ver­sion.

Start­ing both ma­chines is an event. The NS400R NC19 crack­les into life with a hearty, sat­is­fy­ing kick (no electric start of course) and set­tles into a smooth, off­beat idle from its V3 mo­tor.

It’s in time-warp con­di­tion and a study of 1980s acronyms, from the TRAC (Torque Re­ac­tive Anti- dive Con­trol) forks to the ATAC (Auto Torque Am­pli­fi­ca­tion Cham­ber) pow­er­valves.

Fred­die sym­pa­thet­i­cally blips the throt­tle, blow­ing fra­grant smoke rings from the NS’S triple pipes as he does. His affin­ity with two-strokes is ob­vi­ous. He then kicks up the faired-in side­stand and rides off.

I take the RC30. That V4 booms and rum­bles be­low me har­mon­is­ing with the whine of those gear-driven cams and pulling smoothly and strongly through the tall, 82mph first gear.

Fol­low­ing Fred­die is sur­real. I’m a fan of the blood, guts and skill shown by 80s GP rac­ers and for the last few years I’ve worn a Spencer-rep Arai. For me he was al­ways the ul­ti­mate racer – smoother, more eco­nom­i­cal than any­one else. He never looked flus­tered.

And on the road he’s the same. When Fred­die ar­rived in jeans, jacket and train­ers I as­sumed we’d cruis­ing and while the pace is only brisk, it’s enough to glimpse into great­ness.

His road po­si­tion is per­fect and ev­ery now and again he’ll do some­thing that re­minds you he’s not quite like the rest of us.

In­sight into ge­nius

We’re hav­ing a good ride, re­peat­ing the same set of cor­ners, back­ward and for­ward for the pho­tog­ra­pher. It is this rep­e­ti­tion that al­lows you the odd glimpse of some­thing oth­er­worldly. I know the road, Fred­die doesn’t, yet even on the first pass I can barely keep up. He’s so smooth, so ef­fi­cient in di­rec­tion changes that ev­ery­thing looks easy. He’s not even lean­ing over.

Watch­ing his ge­nius through a cloud of two-stroke smoke, it’s hard not to get a bit giddy. He’s on the power ear­lier and uses far less road than me, too. It’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween a man who used to smoke tyres for a liv­ing and an­other for whom ev­ery slide makes him want to take up smok­ing.

Fred­die loves the NS. “It’s the best one that I’ve rid­den since I rode in the pro­mo­tional video for the bike in 1984. The way it han­dles re­minds me of my old race bikes. What’s in­ter­est­ing is that at the time they didn’t know any bet­ter when it came to chas­sis de­sign, so the bike was very flat in its at­ti­tude but had steep rake and trail – and that’s why it feels so ag­ile and happy on the road. My NS500 race­bike felt the same. Like this bike, the NS was re­ally good at chang­ing di­rec­tion, but was set in the cor­ner.

“But it’s the en­gine that makes this bike so spe­cial. There is noth­ing like mas­ter­ing a two-stroke and its re­sponse, of learn­ing the throt­tle con­trol, of the prom­ise of what’s to come. It’s the an­tic­i­pa­tion that makes it so beau­ti­ful. It’s po­etry.”

It’s time to move on and we swap bikes. Sum­mer’s come early, the sun’s out and there’s enough warmth in the air to prop­a­gate grip. Fred­die’s right about the NS, but I’m in­ter­ested in what he thinks about the RC. In my opin­ion, 29 years on it’s still the per­fect mo­tor­cy­cle. They ex­ude an in­tegrity, a sense of right­ness that very few other bikes can match – and this one fu­els bet­ter than any 2017 bike. It’s creamy.

“That bike had a lot of in­flu­ences from HRC. The power de­liv­ery is stun­ning – the tran­si­tion be­tween the

‘Watch­ing his skill through a cloud of two-stroke smoke is an amaz­ing thing’

midrange and the top-end and the midrange is lovely. It’s the kind of bike that is easy for your head to stay ahead of. I re­mem­ber the first time I rode a fac­tory V4 with the In­ter­cep­tor and I loved the smooth, lin­ear power. I won at Day­tona 1983 on a V4.”

The joy of rid­ing

This time Fred­die fol­lows me. Be­ing tailed by one of the most tal­ented rid­ers that ever lived is a nerve-rack­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and you feel con­stantly judged. Af­ter ten miles I’m sweat­ing from the con­cen­tra­tion. Any­thing less than the per­fec­tion I’ve wit­nessed won’t do. Ev­ery gearchange has to be per­fectly ex­e­cuted, ev­ery line per­fectly carved. Of course I fail.

But if he thinks I’m rub­bish he’s far too po­lite to say – 55-year-old Fred­die is mod­est and well mean­ing and has wit­nessed a life­time of less-than-per­fect rid­ing as a su­per­star track in­struc­tor. We stop off at a lo­cal pub for a chat. One thing that shines through is his love of bikes and rid­ing.

“Rac­ing was about rid­ing the bike, the an­tic­i­pa­tion, the con­trol. When I was a kid there was so much joy with just rid­ing my bike and feel­ing what it was go­ing to do and be­ing ahead of it. At night I used to lie on my bed and think about rid­ing and what my re­ac­tions did to the bike and then the next day, the things I thought of would work out for real. Rid­ing bikes has al­ways been a beau­ti­ful thing to me.”

‘ There’s noth­ing like mas­ter­ing a two-stroke. It’s po­etry’ FRED­DIE SPENCER

Both our Hon­das bring mem­o­ries back to Fred­die

Thanks to Rob at Clas­sic Track­days and Andy at the VJMC for the amaz­ing RC30 and NS400R. Spencer loved both equally Fred­die tops the French GP podium, with Marco Lucchinelli and Ron Haslam

Spencer shows MCN’S Tim and Matt his ca­reer high­lights

Fred­die sifts through MCN’S pic­ture ar­chive. We had a tidy-up in his hon­our

‘R for Roberts, S for Spencer.’ Spencer sorts our fil­ing

‘It’s all about throt­tle con­trol’ Fred­die talks, MCN lis­tens

‘Not ex­actly Gardner is he?’ Fred­die on his new rid­ing part­ner

‘What’s your favourite colour?’ Fred­die gets grilled on the sofa

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