A Brief History of Ariel Motorcycles


Ariel Motorcycles and Parts for Sale 


In 1871, James Starley went into partnership with William Hillman to build bicycles.

Hillman later became well known for his motor car company.

Starley and Hillman invented and patented the wire spoked wheel.

They developed a light weight bicycle frame of the Penny Farthing design to which their wire spoked wheels were fitted.

They called their bicycle the Ariel Cycle.

However the Ariel name was not used again for a while as Starley went to work for companies such as Coventry Machinists and Swift Cycles.

Charles Sangster had been a successful engineer at Swift.

In 1895, Sangster planned a new company making components for the cycle trade.

Components Limited was formed with financial backing from Harvey du Cros Jnr. who was already the finance behind Dunlop and Swift.

Around this time, Dunlop was the only mass producer of pneumatic bicycle tyres.

Dunlop tyres were fitted to virtually all makes of bicycle produced in the UK.

In 1896, Dunlop resurrected the Dunlop Cycle Co. and resumed bicycle production. 

 caused unrest in the bicycle manufacturing world.

Other manufacturers were upset at having to fit a rival's products to their bicycles.

The Dunlop Cycle Company therefore decided to find a new name for its bicycle division.

Sangster took on the Dunlop cycle division, leaving Dunlop to concentrate on tyre design and manufacture.

The Ariel name was with Swift but was soon transferred to Components Ltd.

Ariel was then registered as a trade name under which Dunlop bicycles were produced.

A factory was founded at Dale Road, Bournbrook, Selly Oak, South Birmingham in 1896.

In 1898, the first Ariel motor vehicle was a quadricycle that used a 2.25 hp De Dion engine mounted behind the rear axle.

A year later, a motor tricycle was introduced. This also featured a De Dion engine, now located ahead of the rear axle to give a better weight distribution.

In 1901, Ariel introduced a bicycle frame fitted with a 211cc Minerva engine fastened to the frame downtube.

From 1910, Ariel used single cylinder side valve engines based on the White and Poppe design. These were made right through to 1925 with some of them being built for military use in World War I.

Engines used by Ariel around this time included Swiss built MAG engines and British built JAP and Abingdon (later Abingdon King Dick) V-twins.

In 1925, Val Page joined Ariel as a new designer. Val was a talented engineer who had previously worked at J.A. Prestwich (JAP).

Page designed new engines for 1926.
Most Ariel four stroke single cylinder engines from 1926 to 1959 were based on this design.

Ariels made between 1926 and 1930 were known as 'Black Ariels'.

A classic Ariel of the 1930s was the 500cc single cylinder Red Hunter with its gleaming chrome and red petrol tank with inset instrument panel. 

The 500cc Ariel Square Four engine, designed by Edward Turner, first appeared at the 1930 Olympia Show ready for the 1931 season.

In 1932, the capacity of the Square Four was increased to 600cc.

In 1932, Components Ltd. went bankrupt.
Jack Sangster, Charles Sangster's son, bought the Ariel subsidiary from the receivers.
The company was renamed Ariel Motors (J.S.) Ltd.

In 1936, Jack Sangster bought the Triumph motorcycle concern.

In 1937, a redesigned Square Four overhead valve engine of 995cc with iron barrels and head was introduced.
This was known as the 4G.

In 1939, Anstey link plunger rear suspension was an option. It was still available when production restarted after World War II, when telescopic forks replaced the girder forks.

Ariel had been involved in various military projects during the war including the manufacture of a military motorcycle, the 350cc Model W / NG based on the earlier Red Hunter.

In the late 1940s, Ariel introduced a 500cc OHV twin cylinder machine known as the KH.

In 1951, Jack Sangster sold Ariel and Triumph to the Birmingham Small Arms Company group (BSA) and became a member on the BSA board.

At the beginning of the 1950s an alloy engined version of the Square Four was introduced. This was known as the Mk I.

 Ariel Square Four Mk II painting by Steve Dunn


By 1953, the classic four pipe version, the Mk II, was introduced.


Ariel Square Four Mk II painting by
Steve Dunn.

Click here to see Steve's prints

In 1954, a prototype Square Four Mk III was built featuring Earles forks.

In 1954, Ariel introduced the 650 Huntmaster.
The engine was based on the BSA 650 A10.

Also in 1954, the Ariel Colt was introduced. This was a 200cc four stroke machine.

For 1954, with the exception of the Square Four, the Ariel range had the option of the Pivoted Rear Fork frame.

The Square Four remained in a plunger frame until production ceased in 1959, however, in 1957, a prototype Square Four Mk IV was produced featuring a swing arm frame.

In 1956, Jack Sangster became the new Chairman of the BSA group.

In 1957, Edward Turner became head of the automotive division which then included Ariel, Triumph and BSA motorcycles.

In 1959, the BSA group took the decision to stop all four stroke production for the time being, and the Ariel Leader was introduced.
The Leader was a fully faired machine with a 250cc twin cylinder two stroke engine.
An un-faired version, the Arrow, became available in 1960.

In 1963, BSA closed the Selly Oak works and transferred all production to Small Heath.

In 1963, the 50cc Ariel Pixie was introduced. This featured a version of the BSA Beagle four stroke engine reduced from 75cc to 50cc.

In 1964, a 200cc version of the Arrow was introduced.

Ariel ceased motorcycle production in 1966, although the BSA group used the Ariel name once more on the Ariel 3,  a three wheeled 50cc two stroke moped.

Production of the Ariel 3 was short lived and was dropped along with the Ariel name shortly afterwards.

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