As Freddie Spencer climbed to the top step of the 1982 Daytona Superbike podium, he knew he was done racing Superbikes. His first year in Grand Prix loomed before him, and he had already tasted Formula 1 perfection aboard the Honda FWS1000. He knew what a good racebike should feel like and the CB900F-based Superbike wasn’t it.
“It was a handful,” Freddie reflects. “In this corner, it would move around in about six different directions before you could turn it. In that corner, it would move in eight! It was never settled, never calm. I won Daytona on it in ’82 and told Honda I was done with Superbikes.”
At this point, historians are scratching their heads and wondering, “So how did he win Daytona Superbike in ’83, ’84 and ’85?”
“Because in the fall of ’82, I tested the prototype 750 Interceptor at Daytona. I was almost three seconds a lap faster than on the old CB and that was after about six laps! I told Honda I wanted to race Daytona. By March, the bike was really good.”
Honda admits the 1983 750 Interceptor was the first production bike built with racing in mind, but Big Red wasn’t alone: Suzuki’s ’83 GS750 and Kawasaki’s ’83 GPz750 bristled with race-inspired bits, and suddenly, all of us on Katana 1000s and GPz1100s and XS1100s found our-selves on heavy, wobbly streetbikes. I know because I was 21 years old and even my modded Kat couldn’t turn and rev like the shiny red Interceptor my buddy Don Debusk bought.
A 21-year-old street rider in Salt Lake City had just realized what a 21-year-old racer in Daytona knew: The Superbike class that was born in America in 1976 had just become Priority Number One for the Japanese factories.
Those two kids’ lives have been massively affected by street-legal superbikes, and we found ourselves at the age of 51 in the paddock of Chuckwalla Valley Raceway surrounded by six of the most significant Superbikes in history: 1986 Suzuki GSX-R750 Limited Edition, 1990 Honda RC30, 1989 Yamaha FZR750RR OW-01, 1992 Ducati 888 SP4S, 1991 Kawasaki ZX-7R and a 1999 Yamaha YZF-R7 OW-02.
Spencer had raced and won on a Two Brothers RC30 in 1991, competing against the OW-01, ZX-7R and 888, but he’d never had a chance to ride any of these other machines. Spencer enjoys motorcycle history and could relate each bike to a rider, guys like Raymond Roche, Kevin Schwantz, Scott Russell, Doug Polen, Doug Chandler, Troy Corser and Thomas Stevens—champions all. Our job was to lap Chuckwalla on these six jewels and compare notes, while benchmarking them against two of the best modern sportbikes available today: the Aprilia RSV4 Factory APRC SE and a Suzuki GSX-R750 Yoshimura Limited Edition. And if you know Freddie Spencer, you know he wasn’t going to just cruise around.