No Bull: Riding Freddie Spencer’s 1980 Honda Superbike

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You can’t tell thanks to this being a black and white photo, but those are Day-Glo red leathers Dain is wearing aboard Freddie Spencer’s Honda Superbike.
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Spencer’s Honda ran a modified GL1100 fork.

Elsewhere in this issue, we take a lighthearted look at the rules bending (OK, cheating) that took place during Superbike racing’s formative years. But it was no laughing matter for me when, shortly after the 1980 Superbike season’s conclusion, American Honda’s Superbike team invited me to Willow Springs Raceway to sample Freddie Spencer’s bike, a highly modified CB750F. Mike Velasco, whom I raced against a few times during our younger days as AFM club racers, served as Spencer’s crew chief and as my host for the day. I wrote about my experience for Cycle Guide magazine in the March 1981 issue, and below are some of my comments and observations as reported in that issue about a bike that I dubbed The Bull:

“My roving eyes caught sight of the mangled metal at the junction of the header and tailpipe, plus the blistered Goodyear slicks, and I understood Velasco’s explanation of Spencer’s riding style. ‘Freddie doesn’t like to use the rear brake,’ Velasco said almost apologetically. Freddie slows the 413-pound beast by using the two front 13-inch Mehanite discs, not to mention all kinds of tire friction, when he sets the bike into the famous Fast Freddie Spencer Superbike Slide.

“‘Suit up,’ Velasco tells me. I do. My legs and arms wiggle like Jello as they’re poured into a large, empty leather pouch. While my rubbery fingers grab the front zipper, three mechanics check over The Bull as a fourth raps the throttle. Their glazed eyes, the eyes that only tuners have when an engine whips its tach needle to 10,500rpm, massage The Bull.

“I am ready. They silence the engine, and only the whispering desert wind penetrates my helmet. My breathing sounds like something in an underwater scene from an old Sea Hunt program as I snap my visor closed.

“Engine power up to 6,000rpm is firm but civilized. As the tach needle swings more to the right, The Bull’s hoofs kick harder at the asphalt and my vision tunnels forward until only the upcoming turn and tachometer are in focus. By 7,500rpm The Bull’s engine is steaming, and suddenly at 10,500rpm it doesn’t sound like a bull any longer. I’m sitting on a silver missile that wants to lift its nose and take me skyward.

“The turns approach me at Warp Three. Not to worry, because the bike responds not like a bull at all: I pick my apex and No. 8 steers easily with little muscle required, save for some extra forearm/bicep strength to help keep the wheels aligned.”

Ultimately, I lapped Willow Springs that day about seven seconds slower than Fast Freddie’s times. Not bad for having only about a dozen or so laps, and I ended my dispatch with this: “It’s one thing to get into the arena with The Bull for one lap and another to cape it successfully for 40 minutes in the company of a whole herd of other Bulls. That’s why I intend to say all my future olés from the safe side of the track.” Chickens**t prima donna journalists. — Dain Gingerelli

Motorcycle Classics Magazine
Motorcycle Classics Magazine
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