Wednesday 3rd of February saw the passing of W.H. (Bill) Martin of Newton Abbot, one of the best motorcycle trials riders of his era, he died in hospital following a long struggle with health issues.
Bill, aged 84, was born in Bristol, the son of a builder. They relocated to Devon in 1946 living in the Buckfastleigh area. Local motorcycle ace at that time, Ernie Short, practiced his skills every lunchtime plus many evenings on land adjoining the Martin’s property and Bill spent many hours on his push bike emulating his new friend. At the age of 15 Bill’s father bought him a Francis Barnett motorcycle to ride around their large garden and paddock, he took to it ‘like a duck to water’.
For his 16th birthday Bill received a new bike, a proper 197cc Francis Barnett Trials model, and it wasn’t long before he’d entered his first competition in which he finished in third place. Working for his local motorcycle dealer, the well-known rider and sporting enthusiast Freddie Hawken, as an apprentice motorcycle mechanic placed Bill in an ideal situation.
Only a few months later Bill rode in his first big event, the West of England Motor Club’s national trial, ‘The Open’ as it was known back then. Mixing with most the best riders in the country of the period the local lad performed impressively and from there his riding went from strength to strength qualifying him entry in in the 1953 British Expert’s Trial.
Such were his natural riding skills the awards came thick and fast, only around twelve months after his first competition Bill was awarded the ‘Pinhard Prize’ a very prestigious trophy which is awarded each year for the most meritorious achievement in motorcycle sport by a rider under the age of 21.
Some of the other names engraved on Pinhard trophy include John Surtees, Jeff Smith, Mike Hailwood, Mick Andrews, Malcolm Rathmell and three members of the famous Lampkin family, every one of them going on to become a true legend.
Bill’s riding success continued and in 1954 he, very proudly, became a member of the James Factory trials team. James Motorcycles (part of the A.M.C. group) were manufactured in Greet, Birmingham and were one of the most successful competition machines available.
Remaining faithful to the A.M.C. group of companies, Bill continued to ride their bikes for the next 10 years, this included an International Six Day Trial (the Olympics of motorcycling) appearance. For most of the 10 year period Bill rode James machines as a fully-fledged factory rider deviating only for the 1956 season when he rode a Matchless and in 1963 when his mount was a Francis Barnett (both Matchless and Francis Barnett being other marques within the A.M.C. Motorcycles group of companies.
With the decline of the British motorcycle industry all was changing, including within motorcycle sport and Bill now moved on to ride a Greeves machine for 1964 before deciding enough was enough and retiring. He did make a few come back appearances in 1970 on a Spanish built Bultaco before deciding to finally hang up his boots.
Of all of his successes winning the West of England National Trial in 1958 remained his proudest memory, not only did he beat the best riders in the country that day, he did it on his own doorstep, in front of his many local fans, admirers and club mates. Bill was also very proud of his position as the President of the West of England Motor Club, not only was he a long time member, it was also the club that organised the event that produced the most memorable success of his life back in ’58.