Ariel mem­o­ries

Old Bike Australasia - - OUT’N’ABOUT -

Graeme Bradley rem­i­nisces about his favourite mar­que.

In the early 1950s I sold my Ex­cel­sior Au­to­byk for a BSA Ban­tam then an Army BSA then a 1949 rigid frame Ariel Red Hunter. There have been oth­ers but the Ariel I cur­rently own and oc­ca­sion­ally ride started as that 49 model over 60 years ago.

At Syd­ney Tech­ni­cal Col­lege, I met Ariel twin rider Richard Char­teris, both of us elec­tri­cal ap­pren­tices. As mem­bers of the Mo­tor­cy­cle and Side­car Club we had the bright idea to en­ter the 1954 24 hour race at Mt. Druitt on a Red Hunter com­prised of parts from both of us. Naive in the ex­treme with no com­pet­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence, no pit crew and no cut lunch we were sup­ported by other club mem­bers. We rode in 2 hour shifts and lasted 12 hours. Fol­low­ing the 24 hour race my 49 Ariel was matched to a 1951 spring frame and had be­come my ‘racer’. It was towed be­hind my 1947 8HP Austin with the front wheel re­moved and the axle bolted to the rear bumper bar. The rear chain was re­moved. This method of transport proved un­event­ful (pro­vided I re­mem­bered the bike was there if I needed to re­verse) un­til I built a trailer with wheel­bar­row wheels! Rac­ing was ex­cit­ing and there were some mi­nor plac­ings at Mt Druitt. I first rode at Mt. Panorama in 1956. My road bike then was a 1953 Ariel Square four. At this time Mil­ton (John­nie) Shanks was a star Ariel rider on a 54 model, which had sur­vived a Redex Trial, and which had the first of the swing­ing arm frames. He first rode this in the 1955 24 hour race. When he grad­u­ated to a 55 Ariel, I bought his 54 model in road trim as my road bike. ‘Shanksie’s’ 55 Ariel was later raced by Ross (Splin­ter) Pen­te­cost be­fore it changed hands to my friend Richard Char­teris with whom it re­mains unloved to­day. There was ad­vice to the con­trary but I pre­ferred the plunger and spring sad­dle to the swing­ing arm frame so the 54 en­gine went into the 51 frame along­side some orig­i­nal 49 bits to be­come my racer. The cast iron 49 en­gine was sold in the 54 frame.

A no­table event in the life of the Ariel (circa 1955) was when Art Se­nior, Ariel racer and record holder, fit­ted a ‘du­ral liner’ (a plain big end bear­ing) guar­an­tee­ing it up to 90 mph. It was smooth and quiet up to the point we went onto the Heath­cote Road. On cue at 90 mph the big end failed. Back com­plain­ing to Art Se­nior he said “You’ve been out to the Heath­cote Road!” He re­placed the roller big end. He must have been test­ing at Heath­cote too! The racer was com­pet­i­tive and pro­duced the high­light of my brief rac­ing ca­reer at Mt. Panorama in 1957. My friend Richard, rid­ing the ex ‘John­nie Shanks 1955 Ariel’, and I com­peted with Bob Sluce on his Tri­umph Tiger 100. Bob had rid­den to vic­tory in the 1955 24 hour race at Mt. Druitt. We rode to­gether chang­ing places through­out the race. We fin­ished Sluce first, Char­teris sec­ond and me third. We need to re­mem­ber that in those days Club­men rac­ing was pretty agri­cul­tural, there were few fa­cil­i­ties in the pits at Mt. Panorama, it was just grass and there were no run off ar­eas, just wood rail and barbed wire fences. Mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing was dan­ger­ous and there were fa­tal­i­ties. I de­cided to re­tire and the rac­ing Ariel be­came my road bike again. In 1958 the Ariel had a side­car chas­sis on it and I rode to Mary­bor­ough in Queens­land for an ad­ven­ture. Back home, the side­car came off and the Ariel be­came my daily ride un­til 1960 when I took a job in Port Moresby TPNG. My friend Mal­colm Sullivan shipped the Ariel up to me where it was rid­den un­til 1967. Dur­ing my time in TPNG the Ariel was shipped to Manus Is­land while I rewired houses for the Depart­ment of Civil Avi­a­tion in Mo­mote. Dianne and I had mar­ried in 1964 and in 1967 the Ariel was re­turned to Syd­ney and then, along with our goods and chat­tels, was trail­ered be­hind the newly ac­quired EH Holden from Syd­ney to Ade­laide. For the next 48 years the Ariel has served to get me to and from work, lan­guished from time to time in the shed and later on His­toric Reg­is­tra­tion taken for oc­ca­sional short runs in the Ade­laide Hills and some­time Club ac­tiv­i­ties with The Clas­sic Own­ers Mo­tor­cy­cle Club. Over time the Ariel has been ti­died up to its present very pre­sentable con­di­tion. It isn’t much used these days as over the last 13 years and 61,000 km I’ve rid­den an R80 BMW for plea­sure. My phys­i­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties have dic­tated a re­cent ‘down­size’ to a Honda CBF 250, so af­ter 60 years it is time to give the Ariel a new lease of life be­cause only one of us is likely to be re­stored. In 2015 Mal­colm, Richard and I drove to Bathurst to visit Shanksie, to rem­i­nisce about Ariels and to do a se­date lap of the Moun­tain.

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