Ariel Motorcycles’ History

The original company was established in 1870 by James Starley and William Hillman. They built wire-spoke wheels under the first British patent; this allowed them also to build a lighter-weight “penny farthing” bicycle which they named ‘Ariel’ (the spirit of the air). They put the name on the factory where they made penny-farthing bicycles and sewing machines. In 1885 James Starley’s nephew, John Kemp Starley, invented the ‘Rover Safety Bicycle‘ – a bicycle with two similar-sized wheels and chain driveto the rear wheel, which is essentially the design still used on bicycles today.

Ariel merged with Westwood Manufacturing in 1896 and made a powered tricycle in 1898 with a 2.25 hp de Dion. Hillman left soon afterwards to found Premier Motorcycles. More tricycles were produced and motorised quadricycles were added in 1901 as Ariel then moved into car production.

In 1902, Ariel produced its first motorcycle, which had a Kerry engine with an innovative magneto ignition and a float carburettor. That year, Ariel was taken over by Components Ltd., owned by Charles Sangster. Sangster built a three-speed, two-stroke motorcycle that was sold as the “Arielette”, but he stopped production on the outbreak of the First World War.

In 1918, Sangster’s son Jack began managing the Ariel division of Components Ltd. and developed a motorcycle with a 4 hp White and Poppe engine that proved successful. Jack increased the range of motorcycles to include 586 cc and 992 cc machines. A range of motorcycles was made with engines either bought in or assembled to other people’s designs until 1926 when a new designer, Val Page, joined Ariel from JAP. That year Page created a pair of new engines which used many existing motorcycle parts, and then redesigned the motorcycle for 1927. These new Ariels are known as ‘Black Ariels’ (1926–1930) and were the basis on which all Ariel 4-stroke singles were based until their demise in 1959 (except the LH Colt of the mid-1950s). During the ‘Black Ariel’ period the Ariel horse logo came into being as did the slogan ‘The Modern Motor Cycle’.