Categories Motorcycles

A Brief History of Ariel Motorcycles

Founded by James Starley and William Hillman in 1870, Ariel was a British motorcycle manufacturer based in Bournbrook, Birmingham. The companies name came from the character Ariel, “spirit of the air” from William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Ariel was eventually sold to The BSA Motorcycle Company in 1944 who ceased production of Ariel in 1967 and the Ariel name was discontinued in 1970.


ariel motorcycle
Ariel VG 32 500 cc four valve 193


The Beginning of Ariel Motorcycles

Like most motorcycle manufactures that can trace their history to the turn of the century, Arial began as a bicycle manufacturing company. The first bicycle commercially sold under the Ariel name was a “high wheel” bike in 1870. According to The Ariel Motorcycle Club of North America, “The Ariel was also the first all-metal bicycle featuring rubber tires for a smoother ride.

The first Ariel fitted with an engine was the Dion-Bouton powered vélocipède tricycle released in 1898. Three years later the first Ariel two wheeled motorcycle was released. The 1901 motor driven bicycle was powered by a 211cc Minerva engine. It wasn’t until 1927 that chief designer Val Page was able to create the Red Hunter utilizing a larger four stroke engine motorcycle. The Red Hunter would go on to become Ariel’s bestselling model. In 1931 and 1932 they released a 500cc and 600cc engine for the brand, the 600cc engine was utilized on a new side car motorcycle.

During the 1930s the company experienced some financial troubles due to The Great Depression, but continued to improve upon existing models and release newer larger engine motorcycles.

The War Years

Like many other British motorcycle manufactures, Ariel focused motorcycle production on the war effort for both world wars. During the Second World War they supplied the military with the 349cc OHV single W/NG model, which was based on the Red Hunter with a higher ground clearance. The W/NG models were supplied from 1939 to 1945.

The Post War and Sale of Ariel

The motorcycles were considered to be well made and very popular with the public, even though sales were not necessary high in comparison to the competition at the time. It was in 1951 that Arial was sold to BSA motorcycles along with Triumph, creating one of the largest motorcycle companies in the world under the BSA banner. Throughout the late 40’s and 1950’s the company continued to innovate releasing first telescopic front fork for the 1947 model year, and the 650 Huntmaster in 1954. The Huntmaster shared the same 650 engine and many other components as the BSA A10.

The End of Ariel Motorcycles

Depending on the source, some might call it revolutionary while others refer to it as the nail on the coffin. What they are referring to is the 250cc Ariel Leader, which was released in 1958. The Ariel Leader, itself, was a reliable two-stroke engine and the company had so much faith in it that they stopped selling the popular Red Hunters & Ariel Square in 1959. The company also released a undressed model of the Leader called the Arron. Unfortunately, the smaller motorcycle did not sell well and was discontinued in 1966. The last proper Ariel Motorcycles were built in 1959.  In 1970 a Ariel 49cc Trike was built by BSA which quickly failed.

Ariel is Back

Like Triumph and Norton the Arial is making a comeback. Atom maker of the sporty little race car the Atom, released the Ariel Ace in 2014. The motorcycle uses a Honda 1237cc engine. The motorcycle doesn’t look anything like it’s historic namesake, instead being sold as fast easy to handle modern sportbike.

Published to Substack

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