First used to name a bicycle concern, the Ariel
name went on to become the make we all know
and love. James Starley began his revolution
of the cycle industry in the 1870's when he
went into partnership with William Hillman,
who later became better known for his cars.
Among James Starley's first innovations were
the wire spoked wheel and an all metal lightweight
frame. Although still of the ordinary or penny
farthing type of cycle, it went on sale in 1871.
Late in 1872 the pair went their own ways.
James Starley continued with his innovative
machines, winning cycle races and setting speed
records, and eventually set up a business with
his sons. (He also had interests in sewing machine
manufacture). Eventually in the late 1880's
Ariel Cycles became part of the Rudge-Whitworth
concern, which was itself an amalgamation of
a number of smaller cycle manufacturers. Principal
among these were The Rudge Cycle co and The
Whitworth Cycle co. At this stage the name seems
to have disappeared from the cycle salerooms.
The Ariel name was used again in the early
1890s when it was registered as a trade name
and a limited amount of cycles were produced.
However, around this time only one make of pneumatic
bicycle tyre was mass produced and this was
made by Dunlop. This tyre was to become standard
fitment for almost all makes of bicycle produced
in the UK, and bicycles being the only real
form of transport for the population meant very
big business for Dunlop. As well as producing
these tyres, for which they held the patent,
in 1896 Dunlop resumed bicycle manufacturing
resurrecting the Dunlop Cycle Co. This was after
a 2 year break in production during which they
concentrated on tyre manufacturing. As you might
imagine this was the cause of great unrest in
the cycle manufacturing world. Other manufacturers
were upset at having to fit a rival's products
to their cycles and in doing so give them free
publicity. It was an uncomfortable position
for Dunlop, and one that could not last. The
Dunlop Cycle Company therefore decided to find
a new name for its bicycle producing arm. Ideally
it would be with a name still associated to
Dunlop. Ariel was a name already associated
with pneumatic tyres from James Starley's Ariel
cycle and, was also a trade marked name that
came with an earlier acquisition of the Dunlop
Company. Comparison of the trademarks of the
Dunlop and Ariel concerns will see little difference
in the two. This was intentional to maintain
the subconscious link of the two companies.
The result was The Ariel Cycle Company.
In the 1890s there existed a fragmented empire
known as Cycle Components Manufacturing. Cycle
Components were an amalgamation of various smaller
cycle concerns and as the name suggests, cycle
component manufacturers. This company acquired
The Ariel Cycle Co. during 1897 and moved it
into the Dale Road works along with its core
manufacturing business. It was from here that
the first motorised Ariel, a tricycle, was launched
in 1898 and later in 1901 the first Ariel motorcycle,
fitted with a Minerva engine of 211cc.
From here Ariels progressed to large and medium
single cylinders and occasionally a V twin,
using, mostly, bought in engines or those manufactured
under license. Those used included MAG, J.A.P.
and AKD V twins. The singles from 1910 were
mostly based on the 482cc White and Poppe SV,
originally bought in, then made under license
right up to 1926.
From 1901 they also made motorcars until the
middle of 1916. In 1925 Ariel employed a new
designer, fresh from J.A.P., Val Page. Val Page
revolutionised the Ariel model range from 1926.
First he designed a modern engine, but had to
wait until 1927 before a frame and cycle parts
of the same quality were designed. These machines
were the beginning of what was to become the
Red Hunter line, which existed until Ariel ceased
trading in four strokes in 1959. Side valves
of 250 and 557cc, OHV 's of 500cc, and a tax
dodger 250cc OHV were the main stay of the marque
until the Sloper engine fad of the early '30's,
including a 4 valve version.
The introduction of Edward Turners OHC Sq 4
500cc occurred in 1931. The Sq was enlarged
to 600cc for sidecar use in 1932, but shortly
after this, the company went in to liquidation
following the depression of the early '30's.
The phoenix that arose from these ashes went
on to rationalise the range back to upright
singles and the 600 OHC Sq4, all installed in
a more or less common frame. The classic Ariel
of the 30's was of course the 500 Red Hunter
with its gleaming chrome petrol tank with inset
Towards the end of the 30's the Sq4 became
an OHV pushrod motor of, first 600cc then the
1000cc Iron engine 4G of the Pre and Post-war
era. Late in the 40's Ariel introduced a 500
OHV twin designated KH. At the beginning of
the 50's the Iron engined Sq4 was developed
into an Alloy engined model, the MK1, which
was itself superseded in 1953 by the classic
4 pipe version, the Mk2. For the next year the
range of Ariels were produced in the Pivoted
Rear Fork frame option, except the Sq4 which
remained in a plunger frame until production
ceased in 1959.
In 1954 Ariel produced the 650 Huntmaster,
the engine of which was based on the BSA 650
A10, with which it shares many internal components,
and also a small 200cc four stroke machine,
the Ariel Colt.
The Ariel LH Colt model was built from 1954-59
and was essentially a copy of the BSA C11G model.
The revolutionary 250cc Ariel Leader was produced
from 1958 until 1966, being joined by its undressed
sibling, the Ariel Arrow, in 1960. A smaller
200cc engined version came on the scene in 1964.
Ariel had much success in Trials with its 350cc
and 500cc HT models and in Scrambles with the
HS 500cc model; both models began their lives
in 1954 and had all alloy motors and special
frames for competition. The HS shared the same
frame as the road going model but it was built
with Reynolds tubing, and without many of the
standard castings such as the rear pillion footrests.
The HT had a purpose built frame and a modified
gearbox, although still a Burman unit. These
models enjoyed great success in the hands of
people such as Sammy Miller, Ron Langston, and
the trials sidecar champions Frank and Kay Wilkins.
In 1959 Ariel/BSA took the decision to stop
all four stroke production and to concentrate
solely on its very popular award winning Leader
and Arrow models.