Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Shot in Brooklyn yesterday at the 'Tweed Run', a pair of Ariel 'Ordinary' bicycles, ca. 1880; the Ladies' Model is especially rare, with a side-saddle!
James Starley, considered the Father of the British bicycle industry, felt he could improve on Pierre Michaux's 'velocipede', the first commercially viable pedal-powered bicycle, which was essentially a 'Boneshaker' with eccentric pedals attached to the front wheel. Michaux's frame of serpentine-bent steel tended to break on the horrid roads of the day, although it was good enough for one clever fellow, Louis-Guillame Perraux, to attached a small, single-piston steam engine to his Michaux velocipede, and invent the motorcycle in 1867.
The Perraux steam cycle of 1867, using the Michaux pedal cycle.  This machine was exhibited in 'The Art of the Motorcycle' exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum; it now sits in a storage box, deep inside the Musée Sceaux in Paris, where it cannot be seen...
Starley's improved bicycle design of 1871 had a large front wheel, still with the pedal crank at its axle, and a serpentine frame with a much smaller rear wheel, which he called the 'Ordinary', but is better known as the 'Penny-Farthing', named after the relative large-small size of these two British coins.  Starley and his business partner, William Hillman (better known for the cars which bear his name), named their company 'Ariel', after Shakespeare's airborne sprite in his play 'The Tempest'.  The first Ariel bicycle cost £8, although for an extra £4, one could purchase an internal gear hub which halved the pedal speed relative to the wheel rotation - the first British speed gear fitted to a bicycle.
The Ariel tricycle of 1898, using a deDion 239cc engine
By 1898, with chuffing petrol-engine monsters pacing bicycles on tracks and scaring horses on streets, Ariel added a motorized tricycle to their bicycle lineup, using the ubiquitous 239cc single-cylinder deDion engine, with an 'automatic'. (suction-drawn) inlet valve above a mechanically operated exhaust valve.  Those first engines produced only 1hp, but a revised motor of 289cc the following year doubled that, to 2hp!  The national speed limit in Britain had been raised in 1896, from 4mph to 8mph, so the Ariel had scofflaw potential. The engines improved rapidly with experience across the whole nascent motoring/motorcycling industry, and Ariel introduced an optional quadricycle attachment in in 1900, ‘taking form of a small open carriage, which can either be supplied with the Tricycle at the time of purchase or at any future period’, according to the Ariel sales brochure.  The Ariel Quad is very much a four-wheel motorcycle, being their tricycle with a two-wheel bench seat bolted in place of the trike's front wheel.
An original-condition 1900 Ariel Quadricycle, which sits hidden in a warehouse of London's Science Museum
At the turn of the 19th Century, the London Ariel sales agency sat at 101 New Bond Street, which now happens to be the HQ for Bonhams auctions.  In 1901 an Ariel 345cc Quadricycle, frame no. 85, engine no. 607, was purchased by Captain A Loftus Bryan of Borrmount Manor, Ennisscorthy, County Wexford, who owned the machine from 1900-1967!  It has since had two further owners, and is among the rare survivors of these true Pioneer motorized vehicles.
The 1901 Ariel Quadricycle, which returns to its original sales location at 101 New Bond Street for the Bonhams 'London to Brighton' sale on November 1st, 2013

By poetic coincidence, the machine will return to its 'home' at 101 New Bond Street, to be sold in the Bonhams 'London to Brighton' sale on November 1st – in the very same spot it was sold 112 years ago.

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occhiolungo said...

The earliest Ariels are wonderful machines, but different only slightly from the myriad of three wheelers with the DDB motors. But their one difference was substantial: they moved the motor to be ahead of the rear axle. This helped to prevent the front wheel from coming up off the ground (and the subsequent loss of steering!). This one change was enough to ensure that Ariel had a foot up on the competition, and they used that to build motorbicycles for decades afterwards while others failed. Good stuff. By coincidence, I just ordered a copy of a new book about the Ariel company c1894-1930. I'll write a review once it arrives...

The Vintagent said...

Always the improvers, those Ariel gents... It's true, the non-wheelying engine position was an improvement - again - on a French innovation.

I'm just happy for an excuse to write about First Motorcycles, Steam Cycles, and Hidden Treasures...

Pete do you recall seeing this deflated/original Ariel Quad at our trip to the Science Museum?

occhiolungo said...

yes, that 1900 Ariel 4 wheeler (not the auction machine) is at the Science Museum's archives. I have some mediocre photos. Item # 1969-84. It has the same basic look now, and the same dents in the petrol tank. Curiously, the mudguards are now sitting on the floor under the bike and the bike has 4 new tyres. The water tank mounted behind the seat is listing to one side and about to fall off! A seat cover has been dropped on the frame, but otherwise it looks the same as your black and white photo. It was over in the west side of the hall on a pallet with the 1900 Ariel 3 wheeler. I had some pretty strong feelings for them both, and was saddened to see them slowly rusting away... You can only imagine how much I would love to have an early 3 or 4 wheeler and ride it through the park on Sundays.

The Vintagent said...

I confess to a deep ambivalence to museums; they provide a measure of public access to see bikes, but rarely are they seen in action. A few of them, a few times per year, which I suppose we must count ourselves lucky to see at all.

If even a small percentage of private owners actually use their old machines, that still greatly outnumbers the number of bikes shown by museums at events, no?Thus, is it better to house them in a museum, or with a private owner?

In the case of the warehoused 1900 Ariel rotting in the Midlands, and the crated 1867 Perraux in Paris, I'd rather they were in private hands!

occhiolungo said...

Agreed. Bikes rotting in museum warehouses do no good for the bikes, nor for our hobby, nor for the public at large. The best situation that I can imagine is when bikes are privately owned, ridden and displayed at shows. The best way to keep a machine in good condition is to use it as the maker intended. :) They are not precious pieces of art like the Mona Lisa. They are simply utilitarian transport tools, not unlike the household tools like early washing machines or furnaces. Just because we find beauty in them does not mean that they should be shuttered away behind a red velvet rope. OK, off my soapbox now and ready for a ride.