Sam Love is a Kiwi motorcycle champion doing the goods in one of the world’s most unlikely places.
This year, Love was crowned the Norwegian 600cc road racing champion.
Born in Australia but raised as a Kiwi, Love has raced competitively on two-wheels in New Zealand and Europe.
But for the past five years, Norway has been Love’s home, and he has been riding in the Norwegian, Swedish and Scandinavian road racing championships.
Love grew up around Tauranga and always had a passion for speed on motorbikes.
“I was always riding bikes around the farm when I was younger,” Love told Velocity News.
“I guess you could say I was always interested in riding.”
Riding a bike to and from work as he got older, Love soon learnt that riding fast on the road was not always the best idea.
“I had some crashes and got into trouble for going fast.
“My Dad then told me I should get off the road and get onto the track.”
Love’s first experience on a race track was during a Honda promotional ride day at Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park in Taupo.
Developing a need for speed, Love then graduated from casual ride days to local club racing when he was 18.
In 2008, Love got a Suzuki SV650 and competed in the national Pro-Twin class.
But a crash in the first round at Ruapuna broke Love’s ankle, and he was off the bike for seven months.
He dominantly returned the following season, collecting the Pro-Twin series title and Tourist Trophy in 2009.
The following year Love raced a Yamaha R6 in the 600 sports production class.
However, he soon decided that New Zealand wasn’t where he felt he needed to be at the time.
“I realised I wasn’t really going anywhere in New Zealand. So, I moved to Australia and lived in Perth.”
While in Perth, Love focused on work, and after five years, he had saved up enough money to fly to Barcelona.
There, Love linked up with Grand Prix-winning Kiwi rider Simon Crafar, who was a riding instructor at the time.
One of New Zealand’s most complete riders, Crafar has raced in the 500cc world championship and the World Superbike championship.
He is considered one of the world’s best motorbike instructors and has been invited to mentor junior European championships.
“Simon helped me get back on my feet,” Love said. “He was super good to me.
“I then got myself a van and turned it into sort of my own campervan.
“I would buy written-off R6s and travel around Europe, fixing them up and riding them at track days.”
Love lived in his van for roughly ten months.
During that time, Love was with Crafar at a track day in Norway.
There, Love met Norwegian rider Renate Jensen. Jensen was riding in the Scandinavian championship in between her off-shore job.
“She worked two weeks on, four weeks off.
“So, when she didn’t have work, she often flew in to see me. We would go around Europe together, riding on some of the best MotoGP tracks in the world.”
Now Love’s girlfriend, Jensen offered Love a place to live at her family’s home in the north of Norway.
The two have been living together since 2015.
Norway is heading into its winter months, which Love says can have the temperature drop to below -10 degrees Celsius.
“Yeah, it definitely gets cold,” Love laughed.
Home isn’t even the coldest place Love regularly visits.
His job for a gas production company has him living on a boat in the arctic circle for two weeks at a time.
Despite motor racing being a relatively tiny sport amidst the Football and Ski-crazy population of Norway, the country does have three FIA-approved race tracks.
One of them, Arctic Circle Raceway, is located not far from Love’s accommodation.
The northernmost circuit in the world, Arctic Circle Raceway, has become Love’s second home.
“It is the greatest race track in the world, I’d say.
“It’s a real riders track. It is fast, flowing and has serious elevation changes.
“It’s about a 25 metre difference from the circuit’s highest point and lowest point.”
Given the sun does not set in Norway for a certain period during summer, the circuit even has 24-hour racing in full daylight.
“It is such a cool track to ride at.”
Love and Jensen build and fix their bikes themselves, with Love currently riding a 2008 R6.
Before this year, Love’s best championship finish was second in 2016.
“That year came down to the very last race, and all season me and this other rider were trading places.
“But I crashed in the final race trying to beat him and finished second.”
He won the opening two races of the following year but crashed in the third race, breaking his back and pelvis in numerous places.
Thus, after many attempts, to finally claim that elusive championship title meant a lot to Love.
“It was awesome. The bike felt great; I felt good as a rider. There were no crashes.
“It was such a great year.”
Jensen also enjoyed a strong season and finished third in the same championship.
Love intends to visit New Zealand and do some racing back home once international travel reopens.
But for now, he is content to carry the New Zealand flag to the top of the podium in quite literally the top of the world.