Ariel has made innovative motorcycles since 1902. But almost 70 years later closed their doors for the very last time.
Today, the name lives on, and the new Ariel Ace is a force to be reckoned with.
Even before Ariel made their very first motorcycle, the company had already established a name for themselves as inventors and innovators. In 1870, they registered the patent for the very first spoked wire wheel.
The wheels were a fraction of the weight of the wooden wheels of the day, allowing them to build a Penny Farthing bicycle that trashed the opposition. The bike was so fast they called it the Ariel, after the spirit of air, liking it so much they gave their factory the same name.
A few short years later the owner’s nephew threw the rulebook out of the window when he designed the first bicycle with two similar sized wheels, and chain drive to the rear. In no time at all, and at the dawn of Great Britain’s industrial revolution, the company had established a reputation as movers, shakers and envelope pushers.
The revolution saw the advent of the horseless carriage. And the dawn of Ariel producing a powered trike and a motorized quad. Later going on, to create their very first motorcycle in 1902. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the bike was way ahead of its time featuring a magneto ignition and a float carburetor.
In the years after WWI, Ariel entered somewhat of a golden era after hiring two young engine designers; Val Page and Edward Turner. Page was the mastermind behind the land speed, record breaking JAP 1000cc V-twins and within months of joining Ariel, designed the iconic Red Hunter.
Turner’s meteoric rise to fame was equally impressive. Ironically, he first showed his design for a four-cylinder bike with a chain driven overhead cam, to BSA, who promptly rejected it. Ariel saw its potential immediately, and by 1931, the groundbreaking Ariel Square Four was in production.
The years prior to, and following WWII were a financial roller coaster. Off the back of the Red Hunter’s popularity, Ariel had bought out Triumph motorcycles, only to sell both companies to BSA in 1951.
Under one roof Ariel, Triumph, BSA, Daimler and Carbodies (the makers of London black cabs), boasted a formidable portfolio of outstanding vehicles.
Unfortunately, Ariel couldn’t maintain their initial success. And even after a foray into the two-stroke market to compete with ever increasing numbers of Japanese imports, BSA closed Ariel in 1962.
Ariel’s resurrection came in 1999, at the hands of renowned car designer Simon Saunders.
Seeing the increase in popularity of track day events, Saunders saw a gap in the market. His idea was to fill this void with a bespoke, hand-built, all British two-seater sports car, and so the Ariel Atom was born.
Saunders having worked in conjunction with Porsche, Aston Martin and General Motors, had a passion and in-depth knowledge of all things motorized.
But I doubt if even he was quite ready for the praise heaped upon his giant-killing Ariel Atom. The first production car ever to utilize a tubular steel exoskeleton frame. At the heart of the Atom is a two liter Honda I-VTEC engine.
This combination of Saunders’ ultra-lightweight chassis and race-tuned Honda engine resulted in a car that transports you from 0-60 in 2.5 seconds. That’s faster than a Ferrari and pushes out more lateral G force than a Porsche GT3, at a fraction of the cost.
Ariel makes around 100 of the twin seat supercars per year, and off the back of this success, have finally launched the one thing everyone’s been waiting for, a motorcycle. Called the Ace, it’s the first new four-stroke Ariel to bear the name in almost 60 years.
The Ace has used the same winning formula as the Atom, in other words, a formidable triangular braced perimeter frame that uses the engine as a stressed member. Once again, the company has chosen Honda to supply the bike’s engine and gearbox, this time in the shape of their 1237cc V4.
Out of the 25 employees at the small Somerset manufacturing base, a quarter work in R and D. And it is this team that has developed a framework for the Ace of epic proportions that is as much a work of art as it is a functional chassis.
The sides of the trellis perimeter frame take 70 working hours to machine from a solid block of aluminum, which is then lovingly hand welded before being anodized. Naturally, the weld beads are left showing, as a matter of pride.
The frame needs every ounce of its load bearing strength too, to support that massive 173bhp engine. Saunders apparently went for the Honda power plant, as he wanted to build a motorcycle that was equally happy to trundle into town, go touring or rip it up at the track with everything in between.
And the shaft-driven VFR1200 engine seems to suit that role perfectly. With its torque, laden bottom end and full on rush over 4000rpm. Power from the throttle by wire fuel injection always manages to feel linear and seamless. But what would you expect from an engine out of Honda’s innovative top of the line sports tourer?
The bike, coupled to a six-speed transmission, also comes with switchable traction control. And with such a gutsy engine and Britain’s propensity for rain, that’s probably a good thing.
In its standard form, the Ace comes with 43mm Showa adjustable cartridge teles on the front with a Showa adjustable damper attached to a Pro-link mono swingarm.
Twin six-piston radial calipers bite on to 320mm discs on the front while a twin piston sliding caliper does the same on the rear. An electronic ABS takes care of business on both brakes.
But that is only the beginning of the story.
What comes next is a range of accessories so extensive, it can quite literally allow you to transform the bike from full on street-fighter to uber cool power-cruiser. There is even a choice of transmission. Either with conventional clutch or Honda’s DCT dual clutch. Accessible from a switch on the handlebar, this gives what amounts to a fully automatic twist and go clutch.
Apparently, Ariel’s two road test bikes have been built specifically to show the full extent of their bolt-on extras. The Streetfighter resplendent in top of the range Ohlins front and back, BST carbon wheels with milled alloy hubs, race exhaust and a host of carbon fiber.
According to the factory, buyers are leaning towards the power cruiser look. And it is probably this format that ties in Ariel’s heritage with its hi-tech present, so well.
Ariel Square Four
The slightly outside the box V4 engine, chosen as a knowing nod towards Edward Turner’s groundbreaking Ariel Square Four of 1931. And that exquisitely engineered aluminum girder fork with its Ohlins damper, a huge thumbs up to Val Page’s 1928 Ariel Red Hunter.
In both these specs, the bikes carry price tags around the $39,750 mark. But if something of this worth is on your shopping list it’s unlikely that you’re going to skimp. It is, after all, a bike that is quite literally made to measure. And assembled by a single engineer whose name is proudly displayed on a frame-mounted plaque.
With lessons learned from the successful production run of the Ace, two new variants have also recently been launched, both filling opposite ends of the spectrum.
To give as many people as possible, the chance of owning a truly unique piece of British craftsmanship, the base model Ace will come with Honda running gear and be offered at $29,809.
Ariel Ace R
While covering the opposite end of the Ace experience is the all-new Ariel Ace R. There’s exclusive (but with only ten being produced) then there’s this bike. A dark ops special, the race-spec R has a black pearlescent frame and carbon fiber bodywork.
Designers have somehow managed to ‘lighten and optimize’ the hand-built aluminum perimeter frame, while still retaining its rigidity and structural integrity.
Newly designed eccentric steering head bearings have given a slightly steeper rake to make turning a little faster. Top of the range Ohlins have once again been used but with upgraded springs and custom built valves to make the handling even sharper.
As for the V4 Honda engine, it’s tuning has been a collaboration between Ariel and race guru Mark Woodage. With unique cams, higher compression flowed cylinder head and lightened internals; they’ve pushed the already torque engine to 201bhp! Fitted with Translogic Quickshifter and with a significant power boost, Ariel maintains that the bike is still as reliable as ever.
The first of these exclusive $62,103 road-going rockets have already left the factory, so you’d better hurry, there’s only another nine to go.