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Classic bike, modern search

2012-02-06 09:05

WHAT A FIND: Columnist Dave stumbled across a rare Ariel Arrow on a popular classifieds site.


Jaco, my friendly local barman in the southern suburbs of Cape Town tipped me off recently about an interesting South African website*, one that has an enormous classified motoring section and is well worth checking out.

It has a rather peculiar name though, and so I came to discover 33 594 really interesting wheels-related items for sale or swap in the Cape Town area alone — a large percentage of which — I hasten to add, gladly pertained to motorcycle matters.

The motorcycle and scooter section seemed something of a treasure trove, should you be simply looking for a bargain scooter, perhaps a cheap project bike to fettle or maybe even one to rebuild from the ground up.

I’m sure there were ‘modern’ bargains to be had as well, but an advert for a little-known British bike had caught my eye: Ariel Leaders/Arrows weren’t huge sellers in the UK back in the early 60s, and for one to have reached our shores seemed to me a little surprising.


Fifty years ago the Ariel Motorcycle Company was barely surviving. Times were tough. And yet this was a British company quite capable of making decent bikes … ones that were reliable too! Their magical Square Four was now proving a real classic, while their tried and tested Red Hunter model was proving as popular as when it first saw the light of day in the 1930s.

1959, and for some inexplicable reason (possibly because Ariel had been bought out by Triumph some years earlier), the Ariel company completely changed direction by totally abandoning four-stroke bikes in favour of an all-new, radical-looking 250cc two-stroke machine called the Ariel Arrow.

Well, someone must have snapped up the bike I had seen advertised the other day pretty sharpish, as the ad only seemed to appear for about three days on the site.  It still looked original and complete — very often not the case until you take a really good look at your ‘bargain’ buy. All things considered, the asking price seemed reasonable, too.  

What that new owner will find is a bike that’ll be easy to ride, have great suspension and brakes, and, one that’ll be straightforward to fix if it does stop. The single Amal carb is a doddle to dismantle and clean, while the fuel tap — unlike its complicated Japanese counterpart — purely mechanical in action and trouble-free. If a lack of spark should occur there’s but a single set of points, a set of coils and a condenser to check out.


The 20-gauge pressed steel frame is really tough and was probably over-engineered, and the fuel tank that you see in the picture is simply a dummy, housing a rectifier, a set of coils and a tool kit, as the real tank nestles beneath the seat to keep the centre of gravity down low where it should be on a real motorcycle. (Honda Gold Wing owners should know they’ve been scooped by about 20 years!)

The bike is good for about 145 km/h in standard fare — but I do recall TT rider Mike O’Rourke averaging 80.18 mph (129,2 km/h) in the Lightweight TT and coming in ahead of Ducati, NSU and Bianchi machines — so obviously the Arrow had some real “get up and go”. Ostensibly designed to bring the Ariel marque back into favour with bikers once again, alas it never quite managed to “cut the mustard” with the buying public.

 Sadly, it was to prove for Ariel yet another nail in the coffin of the once-proud, mighty British motorcycle industry. The Ariel Company soldiered on until 1970 before disappearing forever.

*Gumtree.co.za - You can select distinct regions for your search, presumably to make navigation a little easier, but you can even venture further afield to the UK, should you wish. There are almost 100 various categories worth exploring.

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