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Ariel 3 1/2hp

1913 Ariel 3.5 hp

In 1870 James Starley and William Hillman patented the first wheel to use tensioned wire sprokes. Much lighter that previous built-up wheels, it was used a build a patented penny-farthing bicycle that they called Ariel, after the mythical sprite of the air, Justly popular, the bicycle company grew until in 1896, Starley merged his company with another engineering concern, Westwood Manufacturing, in order to make bicycle components.

The first motorised Ariel came two years later, in the form of a quadricycle or quad, effectively a four-wheeled bicycle using a French De Dion engine driving the rear axle. This was soon modified into a motor tricycle based on the De Dion design but with improvements which carried the engine nearer the centre of the frame. Carefully designed and constructed the tricycles sold well.

The first Ariel motorcycles appeared in 1902 and were ahead of most of the competition using an engine manufactured by Kerry, with proper carburettors and magneto ignition, at a time when hit-or-miss hot-fuse ignition was the norm.

The company was called Components Ltd, run by Charles Sangster. In 1905, Ariel was chosen by the Auto Cycle Club (ACC) to represent Britain in the International Cup Races. Rider J S Campbell won the event at an average speed of over 40 mph. Other early stunts included the 'end-to-end' run from John O'Groats to Lands End.

Even so, sales were slow; more a reflection of the high price of a motorcycle in general - then around a year's wages for the average worker - than any product failings. Models with 2 and 3.5hp engines were on offer at £25 and £50 respectivewly.

In 1910, Ariel launched a new model with a powerful 4hp side-valve engine built by White and Poppe. This was such a sound design that it was still in service in 1925.

By the start of World War I, the range included a 500cc side-valve engine and a 6hp V-twin and a lightweight 350cc two-stroke. Despite advanced ideas, the war put paid to these promising designs. However, a number of Ariel motorcycles saw armed service and by the end of the conflict, the company was well-positioned to take advantage of the post-war boom.

Ariel 3 1/2hp

  • Years in production - 1913
  • Engine - single-cylinder side-valve four-stroke
  • Bore and Stroke - 85 x 88mm
  • Capacity - 499cc
  • Transmission - direct belt drive
  • Top speed - 55mph