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James Starley worked as a foreman at the Coventry Sewing Machine Company in Birmingham, England. A gifted inventor and engineer, he soon learned that sewing machines were not quite as exciting as transportation machines. In 1869 the business was renamed Coventry Machinists Company and they began building bicycles.
1870s and '80s:
In 1870 Starley partnered with William Hillman, and their 1870 Ariel "high wheel" bicycle was the first use of the name Ariel and was the first commercially produced bicycle! Starley is credited with the invention. He patented a new tensioned wire-spoke wheel which was a huge advance over the previous wood-body metal-tire designs. The Ariel was also the first all-metal bicycle, but featured rubber tires for a smoother ride.
In 1871 they named an improved version of their penny-farthing bicycle "the Spirit of the Air", based on William Shakespeare's mythical fairy Ariel. His 1610 play, The Tempest, featured Ariel, a fairy who was "a spirit of the air and guardian of innocence". The "penny-farthing" bicycle (named because the wheels looked like two English coins, the larger penny & smaller farthing, placed beside each other) featured a dramatically large front wheel & small rear wheel with the pedals driven off of the front wheel. It allowed riders to go father with each revolution of the front-wheel-mounted pedals. This bicycle was quite popular both on the roads and the race track, but it required great skill to ride safely. John Starley (James' nephew) invented the chain rear-wheel-driven (instead of the traditional front-wheel-driven) version (Safety Bicycle) which made riding much easier. These early advances in bicycle design would set Ariel apart from the many bicycle companies in these pioneering years.
It was during this early period of bicycle design that Charles Sangster joined Cycle Components as Managing Director.
Ariel built three and four-wheeled motorized cycles from 1898-1902. The first Ariel Tricycle was built using a 1 3/4 hp de Dion single-cylinder 239cc engine. This tricycle was first on display on 18 November 1898 at London's Crystal Palace. Ariel's design was better than the conventional French tricycles as they relocated the engine in front of the rear axle, thus improving balance & handling. The Ariel also had advanced features like enclosed driving gears to keep out the road dirt and lubricated gear teeth for improved reliability. The Tricycles sold in large numbers and helped Ariel to continue designing advanced motorized cycles.
Ariel also offered a four-wheeled Quadricycle that featured a 3 1/8 hp de Dion engine. There was also an improved Tricycle featuring a 2 1/4 hp de Dion single-cylinder 289cc engine.
The first important step for motorized vehicles in Great Britain took place in 1900. The Thousand Mile Motor Vehicle Trial of 1900 (23 April - 12 May) was a reliability test for the 65 cars & tricycles that participated. Automobiles in 1900 had a negative public image and most people felt the drivers were dangerous and that the cars would not replace the horse & buggy as the main form of long-distance transportation. The 1900 Trial set out to demonstrate that motorized vehicles were a practical means of transportation and convince the public that cars would be safer, faster, and more comfortable than horse-travel.
Ariel, as an early pioneer in motorized vehicle design and led by Charles Sangster, entered two 1899 factory vehicles (Quadricycle #3 & Tricycle #4) while Mr. A. J. Wilson entered privately with his 1899 Tricycle as well (#A16). All three Ariels completed the Trial. The #3 Quadricycle won 1st Prize & the #4 Tricycle won 2nd Prize in their classes. During the Speed test, the Tricycle recorded 29.45mph, 3rd fastest of all vehicles! In the Hill Climb test, both Ariels were the fastest uphill with the Quad going 15mph and the Tricycle 14.4mph compared to the 5-10mph other entrants.
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