American Enduro legend Jeff Fredette’s record run

Jeff Fredette reflects on his incredible 33 finishes at Six Days
Jeff Fredette Featured © Mark Kariya
By Jerry Bernardo

The excitement level of the typical off-road racing fan in the United States always reaches a boiling right around Six Days time. The International Six Days Enduro (known as the International Six Days Trial from its inception in 1913 until ’81 when it became the ISDE] is the time to shine for any serious off-road racer who’s ready to knuckle down and represent his or her country.

Fifty-six-year-old Jeff Fredette from Beecher, Illinois, is synonymous with Six Days. Year in and year out, he’s entered--and finished--the grueling six-day-long event that tests both rider and machine. His record run was not a consecutive one due to injuries or other issues that inevitably pop up, but it’s long been the topic of conversation in and around the paddocks of many an off-road event.

This year at the ISDE in Argentina, Fredette’s record run came to a sudden halt when he sadly recorded his first DNF [Did Not Finish] in this, the oldest off-road world championship race.

Fredette has been an American hero to almost every off-roader for years. Though this chapter in the off-road history books is now closed, Fredette will remain involved as he finally gets to take a more behind-the-scenes role and pass on all of the valuable knowledge he’s gleaned after trekking around the globe for almost four decades with his trusty sidekick: a Kawasaki dirt bike.

Fredette in the Early Years © Jeff Fredette

Eye-opener
“1978 in Sweden. KTM. I went over to Austria beforehand and built all of the KTMs for the USA team that year,” Jeff begins. “It was an eye-opener for me. At first I thought to myself, ‘I’m pretty good at this stuff.’ I soon found out that I needed to work on all of that. (He finished sixth American overall that year.)

“I was kind of familiar with the format used at the Six Days after watching the film On Any Sunday. At the first few Six Days that I rode, the rules back then stated that you had to carry everything you need for the day; the only thing you could get at a checkpoint was a hammer! That meant you had to carry all of your own tools and spare parts. Back then, we attached a lot of the spares to the bike: levers, cables and such parts were wired or zip-tied to the bike. When you headed out, you hoped you had everything that you’d need.”

Bleeding green
“In 1983 the Six Days was held in Wales. Fritz Kadlec and I rode Kawasaki KDX200s. The guy at the local shop asked us, ‘What are you going to ride these things for?’ He said that they were play bikes that were not meant for real racing. Back home we raced KDXs and they worked really well.

The guy at the shop had a brand-new one on the showroom floor, and by the end of the week he had Fritz’s bike, my bike and the one on the showroom floor all sold.

Fredette adds: “That was the beginning for me. Ever since that race in 1983, I’ve been on Kawasakis.”

Geoff Ballard and Jeff Freddette © Mark Kariya

Fuel-soaked postcards
“When I began competing in the Six Days it was never a goal of mine to compete in so many. They [the streak of finishes] just started piling up. Before I knew it I had competed in 10 Six Days, then all of a sudden it had climbed to 20, then 30.
“I didn’t look at is as a race. Every year it was just a planned vacation for me where I got to ride a dirt bike in a different country.”

Man vs. machine
“If you don’t preserve your motorcycle, you’ll never finish a Six Days. Probably the toughest one I ever competed in was held in Holland back in 1993. I rode the wheels off my bike on Day One. After that first day I felt that the bike was not going to make it; I had to back it down just so the bike would survive. I pushed it as hard as I thought I could just to make it through each day.

“That’s the big thing at those events: If you hammer the bike and you don’t make it to the end, you’re not helping the team out. There’ve been a number of times that I’ve had to back off in order to finish.

“That ’93 event was brutal. Holland is a flat country to start with and the water table [that year] was about three inches off the ground. It was so wet--it rained from the minute we touched down until the time we left that country.”

The final nail
“In Argentina this year, Days One and Two were relatively easy. Yes, it was monotonous and very rocky, but certain parts of those days were fun to ride. When Day Three came around, everyone was looking forward to going out into desert.

“Unfortunately, parts of that area had the worst dust I’ve ever seen!” Jeff explains. “I’ve never had an event where I’ve needed to change an air filter--I just left my filter the way it was. I had never had any issues with filters in years past. When my bike eventually quit running I broke out the spare one in my fanny pack--I thought that would get it going.

“When I took off the filter--I am not kidding!--I must have had a kilo of dirt in it. As it turns out, by the end of Day Three 203 riders dropped out of the event (112 on that third day alone).

I was out in the middle of nowhere and spent over an hour trying to get my bike going. After the hour went by I had a sick feeling in my gut. I had let myself down, I let the team down, and I was not happy.

“Everyone tells me that it was a great run and 33 ISDE finishes is an accomplishment that will never be duplicated. I say that records are made to be broken. Maybe not in my lifetime, but someone may--one day--break that record. It was never my goal to establish a record run. I just feel like it’s over now. Before Argentina I had already planned this to be my last Six Days. Having gone out on Day Three, there was some closure. In turn I was able to assist the rest of the U.S. team throughout the week.”

Jeff Fredette © Mark Kariya

Red, white and blue
“I do a speech each year for all of the new riders coming to the Six Days, and it always brings tears to my eyes. It’s that heartfelt type of an event for me. Representing the United States at the Six Days all of these years has been my heart and soul. I’m going to find a spot on the team doing something to give back to the sport. I’d like to mentor the new guys coming into this type of racing; I have a lot of knowledge and I’d like to share it around.”

Jeff Fredette’s final medal tally: 11 gold, 20 silver, 2 bronze, 1 DNF
Fredette holds the record for the most ISDE/ISDT finishes in the history of the event.

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