Magazine publisher Bill Bagnall was one of the driving forces behind motorcycling’s tremendous growth from the 1950s through the early '70s. He served as president of the AMA for three years (1968 to 1970) and was instrumental in bringing about the AMA’s affiliation with the FIM, the world governing body of motorcycling. Bagnall was also editor of Motorcyclist magazine for 20 years and co-founder of Motorcycle Dealer News and related trade shows. In 1985, Bagnall was honored by the AMA with the Dud Perkins Award for his outstanding contributions to motorcycling.
Bagnall was born on March 27, 1926, in Taft, California. His interest in motorcycling was sparked in the early 1940s when a school chum gave him a ride home on the pillion seat of an Indian. World War II put a temporary damper on the young Bagnall’s enthusiasm. He served in various regions of Asia with the Army from 1944 to 1946. After the war, he purchased his first motorcycle – a brand new Norton ES-2. It was the start of a lifelong love that would become his vocation.
An avid photographer, Bagnall began submitting photos to Motorcyclist magazine, which was one of the few major motorcycling periodicals during the early 1950s. In 1950, Bagnall was hired as Associate Editor on a temporary, 90-day trial basis. On the 90th day of employment, he was fired by then publisher Arthur Welch. At the end of 1952, Welch’s son-in-law, Chuck Baskerville, rehired Bagnall after Welch retired. With Motorcyclist, Bagnall traveled the country covering many of the top races of the day. He took the reins as editor in 1953.
Bagnall considered 1956 a banner year in his life.
"I made my first trip to Europe, with a group of BMW and NSU dealers, spent a week on the Bonneville Salt Flats during NSU’s successful attempt to break the 200 mph barrier with rider Wilhem Herz, and I got married to my bride, Shirlee (the daughter of BSA distributor Hap Alzina and his wife, Lil)," Bagnall recalls.
In 1965, Bagnall and partner Larry Hester launched the dealer-oriented magazine Motorcycle Dealer News. Bagnall was involved with that publication until 1970, when Hester offered to buy Bagnall’s portion of the partnership and he accepted. During that time, Bagnall and Hester also embarked on starting a series of motorcycle trade shows across the country that proved to be very popular.
Also in 1965, the Bagnalls purchased Motorcyclist and took full control of the monthly. With the explosion of motorcycling in the 1960s, and the resultant proliferation of motorcycle magazines, Bagnall suddenly found his publication understaffed and underfunded. In the early 1970s, he approached Petersen Publishing Company about taking over the magazine. Bagnall knew that combining Petersen’s financial clout with some new editorial talent would keep Motorcyclist a leader in the field.
As editor, and later publisher, of Motorcyclist, Bagnall became one of the most recognizable persons in motorcycling. As a result, he was asked to become an executive board member of the AMA and eventually served three terms as AMA President. He was the first president of the AMA from the West, which was gaining importance in the industry due to the Japanese manufacturers, which had all made their U.S. headquarters in the Los Angeles area.
The highlight of Bagnall’s presidency came in 1970, when he represented the AMA and the United States at the annual meeting of the FIM in Cannes, France. It was then that the AMA officially became affiliated with the FIM. It was something Bagnall had lobbied for in the pages of Motorcyclist as early as 1953. The AMA’s affiliation with the FIM opened the door for Americans to enter world championship competition, and by the early 1980s, America became the global leader in producing world-champion racers.
The Bagnalls retired to Lake Arrowhead, California, in the early 1970s. He still was involved in a mail-order book business. His wife and partner of 26 years, Shirlee, died in 1983. By that time, Bagnall was semi-retired, but remained active in many projects. He served as president of the Trailblazers Motorcycle Club and gave frequent talks and wrote feature articles on his years in the motorcycling industry. He also served as Lake Arrowhead Resorts Chamber of Commerce president during the mid-1970s.
When he was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999, Bagnall, father of a daughter and a step-son, kept busy running a series of camera shows in Southern California. He died in November, 2006.