Born on the 1st of January 1939 in Luton, Bedfordshire, Read started racing at the age of 19 and won his first GP at the Isle of Man TT in 1961 in the 350cc class. His first race for Yamaha was on the ground-breaking air-cooled, two-stroke, rotary disc valved twin-cylinder RD56 in the 250cc class at the Japanese GP at Suzuka during the final round of the 1963 season, where he finished third.
Read switched to Yamaha to compete full-time for the factory team in the 1964 FIM 250cc World Championship, a move that would prove to be a seminal moment for both the rider and manufacturer. Read made an immediate impact, taking his first Yamaha victory at the French GP in Clermont-Ferrand before claiming another four wins and two further podiums to secure the first-ever World Championship for Yamaha. In the process, he also gave Yamaha their first Constructor’s World Championship.
The 1965 season saw Read cement his position as the man to beat, as he took seven victories and two second-place finishes to defend his 250cc title in style. He also secured Yamaha’s first victory at the Isle of Man TT after winning the 125cc race on the RA97 while also claiming third in the 350cc class at the same event.
In 1966, Read competed full-time for Yamaha in both the 125cc and 250cc World Championships. In the 250cc category, he raced onboard the four-cylinder RD05 and recorded six podiums on his way to second. At the same time, he once again found success on the RA97 in the 125cc class, winning the Finnish GP and scoring another four podiums to finish the season in fourth. He also won the 350cc race at the Japanese GP in Fuji on the 250cc RD05 against the larger capacity machines ridden by his rivals.
The 1967 250cc World Championship was one of the most hotly contested on record, with Read winning four races and claiming four second-places to finish on exactly the same amount of points as his main rival Mike Hailwood, but missing out on the title due to the fact he had one less victory to his name. Read also secured second in the 125cc World Championship that season to make it a Yamaha 1-2 behind his factory teammate Bill Ivy.
Read and Ivy would completely dominate the 125cc and 250cc World Championships in 1968, with Read winning both titles after securing five and six victories in each class, respectively, while his teammate made sure it was a Yamaha 1-2 in both categories. These were Read's third and fourth World Championship titles for Yamaha, but despite this success, they joined the other Japanese manufacturers by withdrawing from Grand Prix motorcycle racing at the end of the season due to regulation changes.
Nonetheless, Read continued to ride Yamaha production racers at some of the largest British and European events, winning the 250cc race on a TD2 and the 350cc race on a TR2 at the Grand Prix of Nations in 1969 at Imola.
Read returned to compete full-time in the 1971 250cc World Championship as a privateer onboard a TD2B specially modified by Brouwer that included twin-disc brakes, improved horsepower, and revised aerodynamics. The Brit won the first three races of the season and then claimed two further podiums to secure the title, his fifth World Championship for Yamaha.
In 1972, Read rode the TD3 to victory in the 250cc class at Clermont-Ferrand and also claimed his fifth Yamaha win at the Isle of Man TT, finishing the season fourth in the standings before he parted ways with Yamaha at the end of the year. He would go on to win two 500cc World Championships for another manufacturer, cementing his legend status and making him the first rider in history to win Grand Prix titles in the 125cc, 250cc, and 500cc categories.
In total, Read won 39 GPs for Yamaha across all classes (125cc – 10, 250cc – 27, 350cc – 2) and claimed another 38 podiums from 133 Grand Prix starts, plus the five titles he secured (125cc – 1968, 250cc – 1964/1965/1968/1971) make him, to this day, the most successful Yamaha rider in history in regards to World Championships, ensuring he wrote his and the manufacturer’s name prominently in the record books.