Ariel are up the road from us, just across the badlands border in Somerset. We’ve been in touch since MD and Ariel rights holder Simon Saunders decided to revive motorcycle production under the hallowed marque. On the face of it, this was an interesting development: Ariel’s ground breaking Atom took the petrol head division of the four wheeled world by storm, building a car that owed much to Saunders’ biking roots. Would that same ethos – light weight, high performance, stripped down – be applied to the first Ariel motorcycle for a generation?
While the Atom is incredibly focussed, it was decided early on that this bike had to tick more than one box. Ariel’s relationship with Honda – whose engines were so successfully utilised in the Atom – meant that they were the obvious candidates to supply the power plant for the new bike, Saunders having taken the equally obvious decision not to build a new motor from scratch. The key design parameter was modularity – so that the same frame, motor, tank and swing arm could be ordered in sports tourer, cruiser or commuter guise, according to individual customer requirement. There may even be a minimal, naked option (think V4 based BMW nineT). Ariel were aiming for a low maintenance, do it all, high performance machine. This demanding brief resulted in the selection of the V4 1200 motor along with its shaft drive (low maintenance) and single sided swinger. That alone should tell you that Ariel’s first new bike will not be a two wheeled Atom, since those components mean that we’re not talking lightweight. Against that, there will be plenty of power – and Ariel’s own frame design allied to the Honda swing arm looks like a recipe for a bike that will handle. And you can bet that Ariel’s V4 incarnation will bring out the inherent character of that format with a relatively free flowing – and sounding – system, amplifying what Honda describe as ‘an uneven firing order’.
However, putting this complex package – or to be more precise, variety of packages – together has inevitably eaten up more time than was initially envisaged. I spoke to Saunders on Thursday (13/3/14) and the project has reached the mule stage. Because the engine has been developed by Honda and rigorously tested in the field by buyers of the big VFR, Ariel’s focus is on road and test track miles – speed and surface testing. So what do we know for certain about the bike, as of today? Saunders confirmed that
- Modular design remains the keystone. At one end of the spectrum the bike will be available for delivery as a Diavel or sports cruiser analogue; at the other as a Multistrada (‘adventure’) type machine. How this will be achieved – e.g. by different suspension and bar options – has not been revealed.
- The VFR 1200 motor, swing arm and shaft drive will be used in an Ariel frame. Rumours of a trellis have not been confirmed or denied.
- The electronic control system will be Honda’s, including ABS and TC. Whether or not Ariel go the whole hog and incorporate Honda’s DCT auto gearing (which permits manual actuation) remains to be seen.
Bikerglory will be riding the mule this summer, but we’ll be updating prior to that and hope to confirm more details in the near future. Watch this space.