FEEL: A Dinner With Freddie Spencer
We all feel the same when riding motorcycles
What makes pro riders pros, is their talent, their fearlessness, and perhaps more than anything else, their ability to feel. That skill applies to Freddie Spencer in more ways than one. A legend on two wheels, he had the magic touch, but he also had a feeling that led him to take a chance on Honda. And now he’s telling his story in his aptly named bio, Feel.
One of the greatest motorcycle racers of all time, winning the 1983 500cc championship and capturing both the 500cc and 250cc Grand Prix World titles in 1985, he comes by his nickname “Fast Freddie” honestly.
Frederick Burdette Spencer, 57, was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. Since he began competing in dirt track events at the age of four, racing was obviously in his blood. After winning the 1978 250cc U.S. National Road Racing Championship, he was signed by Honda. By 1982, he had been promoted full-time to Honda’s Grand Prix team and, at the age of 21, won his first 500cc World Championship in 1983. In 1985, Freddie won the Daytona 200, as well as the Formula 1 and 250cc classes. He still holds the record of being the only rider to win all three divisions in a single year. This also happened to be the same year he became the only rider to win both the 250 and 500cc World Championships. Wrist injuries unfortunately cut his career short and, although he returned to successfully race in the AMA Superbike Championship in the 1990s, he officially retired from Grand Prix racing in 1988.
I have to admit I was pretty excited to meet him. Freddie has been a long-time motorcycle hero of mine. I can clearly remember the year he won the two world titles, and I have followed his career ever since, even naming one of my cats after him. Because of this, I realized on my way to the dinner that I was nervous. Despite feeling lucky to have my own career riding motorcycles for a living, I certainly can’t compare my riding to a world champion racer, right? After he retired from racing, he opened a motorcycle training school in Las Vegas. I hoped that this would give us some common ground since I started my own motorcycle training school, MotorSoul Riding School, a few years ago in Toronto.
I arrived at the restaurant and Freddie was already there at the bar with his wife and our VIP Honda representative. I had always wondered what he would be like, and Mr. Freddie Spencer did not disappoint. As I and the other attendees arrived at the restaurant, he greeted us warmly and was quick to make some friendly chit-chat. Over dinner, I was struck by his sincerity and how willing he was to talk candidly about his life. He told me he wanted to be forthright about his journey. So, he didn’t hold anything back in his book. Feel is his story about his life – the good and the bad. Despite Freddie’s worldwide success in racing, he struggled with childhood trauma and his purpose in life. I think one would just assume his life would have been fulfilled after his tremendously successful racing career. However, Freddie understood life is bigger than winning races.
As Freddie chatted throughout the evening, he made a point to include everyone at the table. He chatted about his love for his children, stories of racing his grandmother in her LTD, and dogs he used to have. He was very kind and charming, making sure everyone got some of his time. This should come as no surprise since he is known to spend time with every fan at his book signings. He’s a true legend – always giving back to his fans!
I asked Freddie what else motorcycling has given to him, besides a life-long career and fame. He was quick to respond that motorcycling gave him the ability to trust his own judgement and taught him to listen to his instincts – both critical things in order to navigate through life. He referred specifically to the late `70s, when he chose to go with Honda after meeting Mr. Honda himself and how he felt an immediate strong connection to him. At the time, Honda was struggling internationally to make the oval-pistoned NR500 four-stroke work in the two-stroke dominated 500cc Grands Prix, and Freddie was told that his decision to sign with Honda was crazy considering he had already won with Kawasaki. However, he knew in his gut that going with Honda was the right choice for him – a choice he more than validated in the coming years.
I was curious how Freddie felt about the technology available today compared to when he raced, and would it have made a difference to his riding ability.
“You had to adjust and adapt to the equipment,”’ he explained, and he liked that. He said he simply had to trust and feel the bike. “Electronics can band-aid mistakes,” he clarified. So, he wouldn’t change a thing.
Since I’ve been involved in motorcycling over the past 20 years, I have seen a dramatic change in the demographic of riders myself – more women, more “hipsters”, more over 50s learning to ride, more people choosing to ride for more cost-effective transportation purposes, etc. So, I wondered how much more it has changed since Freddie has been riding. The perception of riding and its acceptance by society is completely different now. When Freddie was growing up and people learned he rode motorcycles, he was asked one of two things: was he a biker gang member, or did he want to be Evel Knievel? There was no other perception and nothing in between. Freddie is all about the bigger picture with riding and what it does for the collective group. This change in perception is exactly what this sport needed in order to welcome more riders from every walk of life to enjoy all the benefits of riding.
I was thrilled when we spoke about our mutual love for teaching new riders. We both delight in seeing that spark happen – when you know they “get” what riding is all about. As a female rider in a male-dominated sport, I wondered how he felt gender played a role generally, and in teaching. Freddie paused for a moment and asked what I thought. I explained how I never wanted to differentiate and separate male and female riders at my motorcycle training school. I am strongly against all-girl courses, because riding isn’t gender based. Riding is riding, I said. Freddie smiled and agreed, “Riding IS riding,” he repeated.
What was clearly evident at that moment was Freddie’s pure love for riding motorcycles. He said there is no difference with how riding feels for him and how it feels to any other rider, “We feel the same things when we ride.” I guess we riders have something in common with a legend like Freddie Spencer after all.