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Ariel Competition History
The Early Years
Ariel invested time and money in factory riders and races in the early years of Ariel production. Winning races gave Ariel its promotional muscle and helped to make it a well-respected marque.

The Isle of Man TT races were the most publicized motorcycle racing event in Europe. The TT was a true test of the reliability and endurance of the motorcycle and rider - by 1913 the IOM TT was 250 miles long and took 5 and a half hours for the fastest riders to complete.
Jack Slaughter (1910 Ariel 482cc) Single Cylinder TT RaceCharlie North (1911 Ariel 498cc) 1911 Senior TT Race
Len Newey (1913 Ariel 498cc) Senior TT RaceE.H. "Gaffer" Littledale (1914 Ariel) 1914 Senior TT Race
The 1920s & '30s
Ariels were widely known for reliability competitions that included demanding off-road trials. The ACU (Auto Cycle Union) Six Days' Trial (SDT) in the 1920's and the Scottish SDT, and International SDT of the 1930's were extremely successful for Ariel.
1923 Ariel team ACU SDT Riders at BrooklandsFred Povey, 1938 SSDT Rider
Winning 1938 SSDT teamISDT gold medal winners
Supercharged Square Four
In 1933 Ben Bickell decided the 500cc OHV Ariel Square Four was the best machine to take the motorcycle cup for the first multi-cylinder 500cc machine to cover 100 miles in one hour at the Brooklands track in England. Ben and his brother Joe, of Bickell and Sons in London, built a Sq4 that would lap Brooklands consistently at over 110 mph. However each time Ben attempted the actual record, the cylinder head blew or the cylinder base flange cracked apart from the cylinder block, such was the power of the supercharged engine. Ernie Smith (Ariel Selly Oak factory technician) tried to get a new block made up with a more robust flange but the designer Edward Turner resisted stating that everything must be standard. The photos below show a beautiful replica of Bickell's Sq4 built by Ted Woodrow.
1933 Supercharged Ariel OHC Square Four 500cc Replica (Built by Ted Woodrow in England in 2000)
For a complete history of the Bickell Sq4 and some history of another supercharged cammy check out this link: Lots of great history and pictures!
Red Hunter Singles
By the mid 1930s Ariel singles were respected competition machines with the factory offering competition versions of the Red Hunter through their catalog. All 500cc Red Hunters had polished steel flywheels and a cylinder head with polished combustion chamber and ports. Ariel claimed 27hp at 6000rpm for the VH. The competition Hunters had a crankcase undershield, competition tires, nail catchers, high clearance fenders, detachable rear wheel, chain guard rather than enclosed primary and fabric rather than cork clutch. The lights, horn and mag dyno were replaced by a BTH magneto, while the smaller gas and oil tanks of the 350 NH were fit to the 500 VH. A limited number (<10 reportedly) aluminum-bronze cylinder heads was also made available to those racing 500cc engines.
1930s Ariel racer with large custom tankCompetition Red Hunter from 1936 catalog
In 1935 Ariel redesigned the VH cylinder casting to incorporate a 1" thick base flange to prevent the flange cracking away from the barrel under racing conditions. The thick flange makes it easy to distinguish 500s from 350s. The 1938 Ariel catalog claimed the competition VH Red Hunter to be capable of 100mph and NH and LH Hunters capable of 80mph. The 1939 Ariel catalog reported many racing successes and that the "Australian land speed record (was) established by Mr. A. Senior on a 500cc Red Hunter Ariel at a mean speed of 127.65 mph". The 1939 spare parts list itemized a 7.5:1 compression piston, an aluminum chain guard and greasable drive shaft to replace the oil-bath primary case, a 4 pint oil tank plumbed for a chain oiler and low profile fenders.
Australian Land Speed Record
From The Argus, Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, August 13, 1938.

Sydney, Friday – Riding on the concrete road near Liverpool, on which he established the Australian speed record about 2 years ago Arthur Senior, the Sydney motor-cyclist, to-day raised the record to 127.65 miles an hour, this being the mean of two timings over a measured mile riding in opposite directions. Senior rode a 500 c.c. overhead valve Ariel motorcycle fitted with a streamlined aluminium body. He wore a special cap to reduce wind resistance.
In the Movies
Ariel won the Isle of Man TT in the 1935 comedy film "No Limit" staring George Formby. In the movie Formby dreams of racing in the TT so builds his own bike that falls apart, but he makes such a good impression he is offered a ride on the competitive "Rainbow". The Rainbow is an Ariel with "Rainbow" badges, number plates and a racing seat. In the race Formby falls off the Ariel, gets pushed off the road by a competitor, runs out of gas and drops the bike just before pushing it across the finish line to win the race and the girl - played by Florence Desmond. Clips from the movie can be found on YouTube.
Four pictures from the 1935 comedy "No Limit". George Formby at speed on the Ariel "Rainbow", running out of gas and pushing across the finish line to win. Wags point out this was Ariel's best finish in the TT.
Brooklands Gold Star

In the summer of 1939 a Red Hunter earned the coveted Brooklands Gold Star for L.A.Howe who lapped at 101.43 mph. The bike had been prepared by famed Ariel tuner Laurence Hartley. Remarkably the bike was first built in 1938 as a grass-track racer for Jock West, then modified for track racing. (Picture to the right shows Jock West riding a Hartley tuned Ariel side valve in 1934.) Interestingly, both the Ariel single and the BSA M-24 Empire Star that would become the first BSA Gold Star were Val Page designs.
North America
By the late 1930's racers were competing on Ariels in North America. Eighteen year old Trevor Deeley of Vancouver, BC is shown (left) racing on the dirt in 1938. Deeley later became a leading west coast importer of motorcycles.
In the USA, Lew Atkinson rode his customized 1938 Red Hunter in the 1942 Lancaster, Ohio Races. The Ariel was repainted maroon and orange (rims too). Lew was the Ohio State Amateur Champion for two consecutive years (note the #1 plate in the photos).
Lew Atkinson in 1938 (photos courtesy of his son, Ted Atkinson)
Ovide Pazzi rode 7 miles in 8 minutes (52.mph average) in a 1946 Canadian race on his circa 1930 twin-port Ariel single. Note the mismatched exhaust pipes and the left side front brake.
Young Joe Leonard racing after WWII on a late '30s Ariel 500. Leonard, a San Diego native, would go on to win national championships on bikes and in race cars. A great story about Leonard's exploits can be read at: Joe Leonard at Legacy Motorsport

Ariel's success at trials and scrambles caused the company to pursue these events rather than road racing after the war. Many American and Canadian service men returned from Europe with good impressions of the light, fine handling bikes made in Britian with the result that Ariel saw their exports to North America increase. The nimble British bikes were better suited to trials and scrambles than heavier Harleys and Indians so these events became more popular in North America. Continued success at trials in the UK and overseas, combined with export demand led Ariel to develop a purpose built offroad bike - the VCH. The VCH, sporting an all alloy engine, was introduced in 1949.
Clearly this history is not finished. It will be updated when I get more written.
Cal Brown's Greenhorn Enduro!
For a great personal history of the Greenhorn Enduro see Cal Brown's story in the March - April 2011 Spirit of the Air (in full color in the member's section of this website). The Enduro was a 500 mile race over the roughest tracks of the Greenhorn Mountains and the Mohove Desert. Cal won it twice on Ariels!
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