A long time ago my step dads friend Stanley acquired an Ariel Square Four And for some strange reason he let me ride it. Now Stanley lived in a very remote area of Southern California where the roads were empty and all you had to contend with were deer and cows crossing the road at the most inopportune time…especially on a bike that had Fred Flintstone brakes!!!
My experience on bikes at that point had been desert racing on a Bultaco and going to and from school on a BSA 650…by the way, that BSA made me one of the cool guys pulling into the parking lot. After that the cool factor went away in about 26 seconds.
My memory of Stanleys ‘Squariel’ was that other than being a four cylinder bike that was almost as old as me, compared to my Beezer, was pretty boring. It was smooth, had a boatload of mid-range torque (which the BSA had plenty but nothing like the Ariel) and it looked pretty cool.
Here’s some basic facts…it had a whopping 40HP, some estimates put it a bit higher but my experience with bikes of that vintage…40 was probably about right. When I rode the Ariel it topped out at just over 100mph. Plenty fast enough for a bike built in 1957. The bike was really comfortable, easy to ride and the more miles I put on it that day the more I just simply enjoyed it.
The Square Four didn’t require any extraordinary riding skills (if you were used to riding older British bikes), yeah the shifting was clunky, the brakes were…well, 1950’s British drum brakes…you really had to plan ahead for a stop and the handling was nice and easy.
Ariel was in some ways going after the Vincent. A bike with speed that literally left everyone in its wake. The Vincent had speed. The Ariel had easy ride-ability. The Vincent won that war. The Ariel however had so much torque that you could start from a stop sign in top gear and never change gears all day long. I even tried that. And while not entirely true…pretty damn close.
In 1958 Ariel was part of the BSA group and the Square Four was dropped in favor of a lighter weight 2 Stroke. That didn’t last long. In 1971 the Healy brothers took over Ariel and built 28 of the Fours between then and 1977. 28, that’s all. It put out 52 HP, top speed was a bit over 125mph and was actually lighter than a Honda 250. It may have had all that going for it but it couldn’t compete with the Honda CB750, the Kawasaki Z1 or the Suzuki GT750. All the history, the mystique, the heritage…it didn’t matter.
Interestingly though, square four motors did do quite well in GP Racing? The Yamaha OW60, AKA the RZ500. Unusual, yes. Successful? Yes But it was a stop gap measure to the V-4 motors. The problem Yamaha had with the RZ was not a problem Ariel had. The Ariel was easy to ride everywhere, the RZ was only good on the race track, hence the RZ never made it to the streets of the States…other than in the grey market.
So, back to the Ariel I found on ebay this morning. Really, really nice. Very original and ready to ride. This is a bike that if I just wanted to have nice 100 mile ride on a Sunday or a casual getaway with the wife over a weekend…this motorbike would be on the short list. Actually on the long list…it ain’t cheap but for a bike with kind of heritage and cool factor…well worth it.
Click on the pics below for more pictures and info.