Tuesday, 22 March 2016
You don’t see many Ariels on the roads, these days. You see even fewer Ariel Arrows, the sporting version of the Ariel Leader. A weird and wonderful two stroke twin that if you stretched a point and viewed things with a big squint, could be thought of as an early LC. Mine, a 1961 model, has been in the family for ages, passed down from generation to generation until it finally, poor thing, came into my hands. Because of the 125 law I could not use it to learn on, so father's C90 was put into use for a few months until I passed the tests. This did not stop me riding the Ariel illegally many times down the nearby back roads. We had managed to keep the-machine in reasonable order as some time in the past father had the forethought to buy three used engines when they were available for just a few notes. What parts we did not have could be made up on the small lathe in our garage or could be robbed from a different machine and persuaded to fit the Arrow.
For its time, the Ariel was quite advanced. A welded box section style beam frame from which the small and compact engine was hung endowed the chassis with surprising stiffness. 16" wheels and a trailing link fork combined with less than 300lb in mass meant it was very flickable, but prone to slight weaving when ridden flat out. The rear shocks were not heavy duty items, quickly sagging when they were not trying to turn the back end into a pogo stick. Replacement with Girling shocks was the easy answer.
The age of the machine is evident from its massive mudguards, the front absurdly mounted a few inches off the wheel and liable to snatch up low flying birds. it was useful when the machine was taken on off road excursions, though. The fuel tank is hidden within the beam frame as are the electrics. The whole front end looks bizarre at best, in the styling excess of those huge Yank cars of the fifties. The brakes are also period pieces, full width SLS drums for which shoes are difficult to find. Engine braking from the two stroke motor is minimal and fade endemic to the braking system. They can't even be praised for working gradually in the wet as they can become easily water logged, although family history has it that they were not so prone when new and 67000 miles younger!
The front brake became dangerous when the front fork linkages became worn a few thousand miles ago. The lurching front and kept throwing the machine into a real wobble, but we made up some bushes and played around with the linkages. The temptation to replace the forks with something more modern, and telescopic in nature, is high, but we have grown to love the weirdness of its looks.
The engine has had two new cast iron cylinders and piston sets (off the spare engines) but the three bearing crankshaft is still on its original ball bearings. much to everyone’s amazement. The engine is fed by an inaccessible single Amal Monobloc and a complex array of intake tubing and filters. Starting is easy enough, using the two position choke but the large clouds of blue smoke from the petroil mix (25:1) make the machine very unpopular with our ecology conscious neighbours.
Performance is better than restricted 125, with an indicated 80mph possible under favourable conditions, although uphill or against a head wind it's hard pressed to hold 70mph. The engine is tractable at lower revs and takes off in a vaguely spirited way once the throttle is past the halfway mark. A half dead LC would eat it for breakfast, naturally.
Spirited back road riding is rather fun, what with the gentle yowl out of the ultra long silencers and the general chuckability of the chassis. Ever since I discovered it was possible to fit modern Michelins to the 16" wheels I have found fantastic angles of lean on the Arrow, although pivoting the bike around on the centrestand prong is not conducive to a long and happy life.
It will suffer motorway work but the lack of brakes and top end acceleration make it a bit dangerous. Similarly, riding at night with the 6 volt electrics is not recommended. The bike was never fitted with indicators; the original 50 watt Lucas alternator would probably throw a fit if I dared to fit them. Vibes are sufficient to blow the rear bulb from time to time, but don’t really create much of a nuisance for the rider.
Age has had a marked effect on the transmission. The puny old primary chain stretches at a quite frightening rate, these days. Probably down to the poor quality of chain available in the idiosyncratic pitch Ariel deemed necessary. The clutch is very unpredictable (god knows how many plates it’s gone through), sometimes it slips, other times it drags; it’s even been know to combine the two on some days. The four speed gearbox is still on many of its original components. Its action has become very heavy over the years but once booted into gear it generally stays there — to the extent that there's no way to find neutral at a standstill. The drive chain resides in its own CD style chain enclosure and receives a modicum of oiling from the primary chaincase, so lasts 15 to 20,000 miles depending on use and quality of chain.
There’s quite a large gap between first and second, with obvious consequences on acceleration. Top gear is rather tall, only really of use when the engine is in good fettle. Acceleration in third is much more interesting and the bike can get down to 20mph in this gear, still able to power away, after a fashion, up to 70mph, although judging by the vibes that run through the footrests at that level it’s pushing the mechanical limits of the old dear.
Failures on the road have been rare, mostly down to a spate of electrical faults caused by the ancient wiring rotting away or falling out of its connections. As father likes fettling the bike, the garage is his private refuge from the world, the bike receives meticulous servicing every few hundred miles, one reason why it's lasted so long.
Fuel consumption averages around 55mpg, which is on a par with most Japanese four stroke twins. It in early days it was able to do as much as when ridden moderately but even a new carb failed to improve consumption to better than 60mpg. A hard thrash will get it down to about 50mpg, so you can pretty well ride it as you want and not worry too much over economy. The tank gives a range of about a 100 miles before it's necessary to ﬁnd a petrol station.
Things to watch are the state of the spark plugs as they foul up after an excess of town riding, the points as they have been known to fall apart and wheel bearings which don't usually last more than 10,000 miles. It has to be pointed out that the Arrow is a bit of a family pet, well looked after and given a lot of tender loving care. A lot of them were thrashed just like LCs are these days; after 20,000 miIes they were reduced to scrap and dumped, the rider moving on to better and bigger things. I’ve seen two Leaders (a sort of two stroke CD175) but no Arrows in the past ten years. I suppose there must still be a few tucked away that come out for the shows, but I never bother going so I wouldn't know. I expect to be able to hand the Ariel on to my son when he comes of an age to ride it.