It’s the new Ariel ace. but Is it any good?

Witha new Bri­tish bike wait­ing in the wings, we flew down to Somer set to see i fit was just the cider talk­ing or whether the Ariel Ace was ex­actly a sits name sug­gests…

Fast Bikes - - CONTENTS -

We’re al­ways a teeny wee­nie bit scep­ti­cal when a new mo­tor­cy­cle man­u­fac­turer comes along pro­claim­ing an old mar­que’s res­ur­rec­tion. True, a few of them have worked, but most of them end up sink­ing with­out a trace, be­com­ing that name you can never quite re­mem­ber in a pub quiz.

De­sign­ing a new bike is the easy bit, build­ing one is an en­tirely dif­fer­ent prospect. Sourc­ing sup­plies from a wide ar­ray of con­trac­tors and mar­ry­ing them in one ho­moge­nous lump of beauty is one hell of a task, so we’re not sur­prised to see so many fall at the first hur­dle.

But if you’ve been do­ing all this, but with a ve­hi­cle that has an ex­tra pair of wheels, you know the game. You know what mam­moth ef­forts are needed to trans­form clay mod­els and CAD draw­ings into some­thing life-sized and ul­ti­mately saleable – and Ariel is one such firm.

Now famed for its Atom roller-skate of a sportscar, Ariel started out life as first a Birm­ing­ham-based bi­cy­cle man­u­fac­turer nearly 150 years ago, be­fore mov­ing into mo­tor­cy­cle pro­duc­tion (and the odd car) just be­fore the turn of the last cen­tury – build­ing the fa­mous Square Four along the way. Of course, along with the rest of the Bri­tish bik­ing scene, Ariel was dec­i­mated by the Ja­panese and by 1967 mo­tor­cy­cle pro­duc­tion had ceased. The name was res­ur­rected by Si­mon Saun­ders around the turn of the mil­len­nium and pinned to the new Atom – which has been pro­duced now for over a dozen years. So that means this is a com­pany that knows how to build a ve­hi­cle, a pretty fruity one too.

“We’ve al­ways wanted to de­velop a bike,” says Tom Siebert, Ariel’s Gen­eral Man­ager, “and Dad, who de­signed the car, is a life­long biker and he al­ways wanted to de­sign a bike. He ac­tu­ally de­signed bikes years ago, the Van Veen, which was a Dutch ro­tary bike. It was one of the rea­sons when we were look­ing for a name for the com­pany that we went for Ariel.”

But the in­tent re­mained dor­mant while the Atom es­tab­lished it­self as one of the best track­day cars you can buy. That wasn’t the only rea­son why the de­sire re­mained un­ful­filled, as the Ariel team were un­moved by the mo­tors on of­fer. “In 2007 we de­cided that we wanted to def­i­nitely do some­thing, so we started buy­ing a few bikes, test rid­ing all sorts, and work­ing out ideas,” says Tom. “We al­ways wanted to use a Honda en­gine be­cause of our as­so­ci­a­tion with them on the car side (the Atom’s use Civic Type R lumps), but there wasn’t re­ally any­thing that grabbed us. In­line fours are awe­some, but they’ve been done. Du­cati has done the twin thing, so we didn’t want to go there, so we wanted some­thing dif­fer­ent. We scratched our heads for three years un­til the VFR1200F was launched in 2010. We knew that was the one. We got one and that’s when it re­ally kicked off.”

And kick off it did. Ariel man­aged to get one of the first VFRs in the coun­try and set to the bike’s 1,237cc v-four mo­tor as they started the de­sign process – an 18 month jour­ney – which was then fol­lowed by the stress anal­y­sis and engi­neer­ing. The de­sign of the bike has ob­vi­ous cues ac­cord­ing to Tom. “We wanted to keep the blood­line of the Atom go­ing, so the shape was key. We didn’t want a stan­dard trel­lis frame as that’s been done. We looked at a car­bon frame, for a long time, but we re­alised that no-one had done it for a rea­son. It’s fine in a race con­text, but ten years down the line you don’t know how it’s go­ing to hold up. We de­cided it wasn’t the best idea to be trail­blaz­ers here. So the frame was one thing we wanted to carry on, the other thing was try­ing to link it back to the most fa­mous Ariel, which was the Square Four. We weren’t go­ing to de­velop a new en­gine, which would have been crazy, but we wanted to use the V4. Also, Ariel was known for its Girder fork sys­tems, so we thought it would be cool to do a mod­ern ver­sion, to keep that go­ing. That has all been de­signed in house. Then the rest of it was play­ing around and see­ing what we liked and what worked. We also wanted to do the cus­tomis­ing thing. We have a mod­u­lar plat­form with a com­mon frame and com­mon mo­tor, com­mon swingarm (we thought about con­vert­ing it to a chain drive), and then make it tai­lorable to the cus­tomer. So the two bikes aren’t two bikes. They are two il­lus­tra­tions of two pos­si­ble con­fig­u­ra­tions.

We weren’t go­ing to de­velop a new en­gine, that would have been crazy...

You can have the forks, but with dif­fer­ent bars, or Öh­lins forks with a cruiser type seat, there are so many dif­fer­ent per­mu­ta­tions for it. The ge­om­e­try is dif­fer­ent be­tween the two bikes, via ec­cen­tric bear­ing cups on the head­stock. You can have what you want.”

With fo­cus just on the end goal, the sky was lit­er­ally the limit. “The beauty is we can do what we want. We just crack on and have a batch of op­tions, and we’ve tried stuff and re­jected things straight away. So, for ex­am­ple, there’s noth­ing to stop you hav­ing a dif­fer­ent seat unit in the garage. It’s a bolt on part to the main frame. Peo­ple moan about the VFR’s range so we want to of­fer a big­ger tank, one that you’ll never be able to drain! So we make sketches and do a rough CAD draw­ing then make it in clay first, then take the points off it, then we feed it into a 3D model that’s then cre­ated, then we take moulds off that. This is the first project that has been 100 per cent com­puter mod­elled. With the Atom it was a fag packet sketch that went to a fab­ri­ca­tor but here we are send­ing draw­ings on the com­puter.”

While fi­nal de­ci­sions are be­ing made on the last few el­e­ments of the bike (start­ing pro­duc­tion af­ter Christ­mas), there are cer­tain key parts that have been set in stone – the frame for one. “The ma­chin­ing of the frame takes 70 hours. It’s two solid lumps and we get £800 back from the swarf alone. It’s done in the UK and he’s al­most a one-man band the guy that does it. We like that, be­cause we can get de­ci­sions made quickly. There’s been a lot of trial and er­ror, and once it’s done it’s done. The cost of a mis­take, just one bit, means you have to scrap it – the lot.”

As many parts as pos­si­ble are sourced in the UK, for ex­am­ple, Talon Engi­neer­ing based a few miles down the road pick­ing up some ma­chin­ing busi­ness.

The Crewk­erne fac­tory is an assem­bly only unit, noth­ing is made on site. But when pro­duc­tion starts the plan is to build two or three bikes a week, with a bike tak­ing around two weeks to cre­ate. “One person builds the car up, it’s not the most eco­nom­i­cal way of do­ing it, but peo­ple love it,” says Tom. “They shake hands with the bloke who’s build­ing it and he’ll take pic­tures of the whole build. It’s all part of the ex­pe­ri­ence.”

But what of the sense of the project, fol­low­ing in the steps of other doomed ven­tures? Tom is ve­he­ment that Ariel and its Ace is dif­fer­ent, “It’s not a van­ity project at all. The bike and cars have been de­signed to sit along­side each other and to com­pli­ment each other. The cars make us money and we’ve rein­vested that to make the mo­tor­cy­cle. No one is putting pres­sure on us, so we can do what we want, when we want. If it’s a flop then it’s out fault. There isn’t re­ally a busi­ness plan and we don’t know how many we’re go­ing to sell. We’ll just make it as good as we can then peo­ple will make their judge­ment on it. We’ve got 23 or­ders so far, which is bril­liant. But we don’t

want this to be some rich boy’s toy. That is not who we are at all. Peo­ple who buy the cars are en­thu­si­asts, and they plough all their time and money into it. The cars are used, not parked up. We don’t want the bike to be com­pletely unattain­able. The only thing that narks me is peo­ple say­ing we’re just mak­ing these posh toys, but if they came down and met us they’d quickly see that we’re just en­thu­si­asts.” And hav­ing had the plea­sure of Ariel’s com­pany for the day there’s no doubt­ing that.

Some naysay­ers will think that this isn’t a Bri­tish bike be­cause it’s got a Honda en­gine in it, but they’d prob­a­bly say that the Atom was a Bri­tish car at the same time. The truth is mak­ing an en­gine is an in­dus­trial process, and at the end of the day Ariel is a small fac­tory em­ploy­ing around 20 staff do­ing some­thing that they’ve al­ways wanted to do. This is a Bri­tish bike, and as you’re about to find out, it’s a bel­ter, too…

The frame ma­chin­ing takes 70 hours and we get £800 back from the swarf!

The first pro­to­type... Full fac­tory

Words: rootsy Pics: J o n n y G aw l e r

The boys con­sider life in a cage... Rootsy just wipes up some drib­ble af­ter check­ing out the ma­chin­ing!

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