Now the recent revival of the Ariel name in motorcycling has got a lot of people excited but the company (which dates back to the 1870’s) has been making headlines in the four wheel world for quite some time...
Ariel actually began by manufacturing revolutionary bicycles, including the 48” front wheel Ordinary or ‘Penny Farthing’ that had the first and patented tensioned spoke wheel. As the automotive industry was born, Ariel moved into the field to quickly establish themselves as class leaders. Producing their first powered vehicle shortly before the turn of the century, the Ariel Tricycle featured a De Dion engine and was followed by a Quadricycle option.
Continuing to grow during the early 1900’s, Ariel produced road and race cars, competing at the first ever Brooklands race and also moved into the world of two wheels, an area they would become most famous for. The first motorcycle produced by the Birmingham based company was in introduced in 1901, powered by a Minerva engine with a capacity of 211cc. Ariel progressed to larger capacity single cylinder and V twin machines with 500cc singles dominating production until the mid 1920’s.
As car production took a backseat, Ariel continued to build revolutionary motorcycles. from the 1931 Square 4 to the two stroke Ariel Arrow. Unfortunately Ariel just could not keep up with the might of the Japanese brands, and the company was absorbed into BSA, later to become Norton Villiers Triumph.
The Atom Age
After laying dormant for years, remaining an almost forgotten icon of British engineering, the Ariel name was resurrected in 1999 by Simon Saunders. Welcoming in the new millennium with the incredible Ariel Atom car, the company was placed firmly back on the map. Undergoing multiple updates over the past 14 years, the latest version, the Ariel Atom 3.5R, features a sequential gearbox, paddle change system, uprated suspension and new bodywork compared to its predecessors.
But it is not just the looks which make this the company’s most advanced vehicle yet...
“It’s powered by a Honda Civic Type-R 2.0 litre iVTEC engine that we’ve tuned in house at our Ariel factory in Somerset.” said Simon, “We’ve had over ten years experience of supercharging the Honda K20 engine and have developed a charge cooling system that allows supercharger boost to be taken from 7.5psi to 11. In the Atom 3.5R this means the engine now produces an incredible 350bhp and over 330Nm of torque!”
Coupling that power with the now legendary Ariel reliability means the Atom 3.5R is certainly a force not to be messed with. “Drive comes via a new Sadev six speed sequential race gearbox which has adjustable limited slip differential and different gear sets that we can tailor to suit each clients need. We use a pneumatic paddle shift system which can make upshifts in less than 40 milliseconds and downshifts in less than 50.”
Boasting these impressive figures, it is only natural that people will want to test the Atom 3.5R on track. With optional twin side pods that house the charge cooler on one side and an Ariel developed remote oil cooler system on the other, the inlet and engine temperatures can be maintained even under the hardest of track use. A set of Öhlins TTX36 dampers, that were designed and valved specifically for the Atom, come with a choice of optimised springs for road, track or race use.
“We have used Öhlins with great success on the Atom race cars we use in the Atom Cup series,” continued Simon, “So it made sense to transfer that over by using the TTX dampers on the 3.5R model. Obviously on track we want supreme handling, but our interest does not lie solely in that as we value having compliance, comfort and handling on the road – which is why the Öhlins units are perfect for the Atom as they tick every box. To do that though, particularly on such a lightweight car, is far from easy and its only through our long term development and latest technology that we’ve been able to be right at the front of sports car suspension.”
With a 0-60mph speed of 2.5s and a 0-100mph in six, the Atom is certainly at the front of sports car development. However the Ariel name has always been linked to motorcycles so it was only natural that the resurrected brand would turn their attention to two wheels...
ACE- Back to two wheels!
“It started back in 2007 really, we always wanted to build a motorcycle, so we bought a few machines and began testing them, throwing some ideas around and seeing what we could do. We have enjoyed a long and successful partnership with Honda through the Atom so we wanted to continue that with the motorcycle. We knew about the new Honda V4 in the forthcoming VFR1200 and it fitted with everything we wanted from an engine.”
“We spent a long time on the frame, we knew that we did not want to use a standard trellis frame and actually spent a long time considering if we could use a carbon one. However while it might be put to good use in racing, it has never been tested properly on the road, so that idea was put on hold for the moment.”
“We design absolutely everything in-house, so it took a while to get the Ace to the levels we expect, and with just the frame taking over 70 hours to machine, the build process is quite lengthy too. What makes us unique however is that the way we build our products allows us to tailor and fit each one to each individual customer.”
Different forks for different folks
One of the most unique elements to the project was the choice between two completely different ‘front ends’ – traditional telescopic forks and the unique Ariel girder front end. Made from machined aluminium the Ariel girder forks give an option to standard telescopic forks and result in better handling, feel and sensitivity but at the same time feel familiar to any motorcycle rider.
To achieve this kinematics (movement of the wheel through its suspension travel) and wheel rate (spring rate measured at wheel contact patch) had to closely match that of a telescopic fork suspension system.. Featuring the latest Öhlins TTX dampers and springs which offer separate rebound and compression damping, together with spring preload, the Ariel girder system can be set up by owners to provide the exact level of response for their own particular needs and riding style. The choice of more ‘orthodox’ suspension is supplied by Öhlins Road & Track forks tailored specifically for the Ace. AT the rear end the Pro Link single sided cast aluminium swing arm, is equipped with a TTX rear shock. The entire suspension project was overseen by UK Öhlins Centre Mick Gardner Racing who assisted with testing and valving specifications.
Other options include variants on low and high seats (with pillion options), different tank sizes, handlebars, wheels, exhausts, bodywork as well as the vast colour, finish and material choices that come with the Atom.
Concluding, Simon said, “Motorcyclists have a real passion for their machines. They like them to be individual and become ‘their own’ bike, not just another one identical to thousands of others. Each Ace we produce will be as individual as the owner and we have countless possibilities to build a completely bespoke final product.”
Paraded at Brands Hatch British Superbikes by ex Champion Tommy Hill, and raced up the iconic Goodwood Hill, the Ace has certainly turned heads wherever it has been shown, with orders for this unique £20,000 machine rolling in.
For more on both the Atom and Ace see www.arielmotor.co.uk