Rider Of The Week puts a famous rider in the spotlight and examines their career. In the past, we’ve covered greats like Mike Hailwood and Barry Sheene, who died too early. John Hartle can be counted among that list, as he was one of the most exciting racers of the 1950s and 1960s. Unfortunately, he passed away at the age of 34 during an accident on the Scarborough race track. Hartle was a true superstar and we’re taking a look back at his life.
Hartle was born on the 22nd December 1933 and grew up in Derbyshire. At seventeen, he left school to work at Eric Bowers Motorcycles. He befriended a boy called Peter Dale and they raced their bikes through the streets together. By 1953, he’d started competing on professional circuits in Yorkshire.
Hartle competed in the 1953 and 1954 Isle of Man Manx Grand Prix, which bolstered his confidence. For the 1955 season he joined Norton, but the possibility of serving in the army threatened his racing career. Hartle became an army motorcycle dispatch rider instructor and Norton was able to negotiate his release for UK events.
Hartle continued to perform well throughout the ‘50s, reaching 6th in the Isle of Man TT and joined MV Agusta in 1958. He earned a second place finish at the World Championships, as well as becoming the first Englishman to break 100 mph. Hartle came close to winning a world championship many times, eventually scoring his first win at the 1960 IOM TT.
The 1960s proved to be a trying time for Hartle, as he was never able to reach the same kind of success. As other riders were adapting and finding new techniques, Hartle stuck to the classic style of riding.
A fractured skull forced him into retirement, but he returned in 1967, which led to him appearing on the Scarborough track in 1968.
While competing in the 500 cc race at Oliver’s Mount, Hartle swerved to avoid a rider with a mechanical fault. He collided with the bridge supports and the impact killed him. Hartle’s death shocked the motorcycle world.
Hartle will always be remembered as a man who loved his home town of Chapel-en-le-Frith. He was known for wearing the coat of arms on his helmet, with the Latin motto Cava et Spera. This translates as ‘Caution and Hope’ which defined Hartle’s entire career.