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.