Historic Motorcycle Brands


Ariel Motorcycles was a British maker of bicycles and then motorcycles in Birmingham. It was an innovator in British motorcycling, part of the Ariel marque. The company was sold to BSA in 1951, but the brand survived until 1967. 


Ariel 50-inch High Wheel Bike – Mike Demille


The original company was established in 1870 by James Starley and William Hillman, who built wire-spoke wheels under a British patent. The light wheel structure allowed them to build a lighter penny farthing bicycle which they named Ariel, after Shakespeare’s spirit of the air character in The Tempest.

In 1902, Ariel produced its first motorcycle, which had a Kerry engine, with magneto ignition and a float carburettor. That year, Ariel was taken over by Components Ltd, owned by Charles Sangster and the result was a three-speed, two-stroke motorcycle branded Arielette.

In 1918, Sangster’s son Jack began managing the Ariel division of Components Ltd and developed a model with a 4hp White and Poppe engine and increased the range to include 586cc and 992cc machines.


1931 Ariel M2F 350cc – Lars-Goran Lindgren


 A new designer, Val Page, joined Ariel from JAP in 1926 and created new engines that used many existing parts. He redesigned the range for 1927, with models known as Black Ariels that were the basis of Ariel four-stroke singles, until their demise in 1959.

During the Black Ariel period, the Ariel horse logo came into being, as did the slogan ‘The Modern Motor Cycle’.


1932 Ariel Red Hunter – Lars-Goran Lindgren


Components Ltd had suffered several financial crises, including spells in receivership in 1911 and in the early 1930s. 

The Ariel Square Four, with a 500cc engine designed by Edward Turner,  appeared in 1931, but in 1932, Components Ltd went bankrupt. Jack Sangster, Charles Sangster’s son, bought the Ariel subsidiary from the receivers at a bargain price. The company was renamed Ariel Motors (J S ) Ltd, and promptly resumed production.


 Ariel 1000 – Lord Price Collection


One of the first new bikes was a 600cc version of the Ariel Square Four, followed by the Ariel Red Hunter. The Red Hunter was a success, and enabled Ariel to purchase Triumph.


1938 Ariel 350cc Red Hunter – Piero


Throughout their history, the Square Fours had overheating problems with the rear cylinders that didn’t receive enough cooling airstream and that resulted in distorted heads. Despite that issue, a redesign in 1937 resulted in a 995cc OHV version, designated the 4G.

In 1939, Anstey-link plunger rear suspension was an option. It was still available when production restarted in 1946, with telescopic forks replacing the girder forks.


Ariel W/NG 350


During the Second World War, the Ariel factory was turned over to military production, including the Ariel W/NG 350 Army motorcycle based on the Red Hunter. The W/NG models were supplied from 1939-45, with the frame and fork of the pre-war NG-NH modified to increase ground clearance by one inch. 

For 1949, the Mark 1 Square Four scored cast aluminium barrels and heads instead of cast iron. With its lower weight the bike was a 90+mph machine.

In 1951, Jack Sangster sold Ariel and Triumph to the Birmingham Small Arms Company group (BSA) and joined their board. Ariel launched the 500cc KH model and the 650cc Huntmaster, which had an engine based on the BSA A10 parallel twin. Reliable and capable of 100mph, the Huntmaster proved popular with sidecar enthusiasts.

In 1953, the Mark 2 Square Four was given a redesigned cylinder head and was capable of 100 mph.


Ariel Leader – Mick


The Red Hunter formed the basis for Sammy Miller’s 1955 trials motorcycle which proved very successful in competition.

In 1959, Ariel dropped its four-stroke engines and produced the Ariel Leader, fully enclosed, 250cc two-stroke with faired bodywork from the headlamp aft. The Leader aimed to combine the benefits of the motorcycle with the advantages of a scooter. 

Ariel also made the Arrow, open-body version of the Leader, but which retained the Leader’s enclosed chain case and deep mudguards. Both models were unsuccessful attempts to compete with new Japanese imports.

BSA closed the Ariel factory in 1962 and moved production of the Leader and the Arrow to the BSA factory. 


Ariel A3 – Mick


Production of the 50cc Pixie began in 1963, but by 1965 it was all over. In 1964, Ariel had introduced its last model, the Arrow 200, with capacity reduced to 200cc, to qualify for lower UK rider insurance. Ariel motorcycles ceased production in 1967.

In 1970, parent company BSA produced the Ariel 3, 49cc automatic tricycle with a coupling between the front and rear frame sections allowing banking when cornering. The design was licensed from George Wallis, who had patented it in 1966. 

Following the failure of the Ariel 3, the design was licensed to Honda, which produced it as the Honda Gyro.


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