▲ Ariel took a brave leap forward with the Arrow and its stablemate, the Leader. Too bad that the firm, under the control of BSA, didn't further improve a design that had plenty of scope for development.
The Val Page concept
Fork and chassis
Ariel Arrow tuning remembered
Type: Air-cooled two-stroke parallel twin
Capacity: 247cc (250cc)
Bore & Stroke: 54mm x 54mm
BHP: 20bhp @ 6500rpm
Compression ratio: 10:1
Transmission: 4-speed, multi-plate clutch
Brakes: 6-inch single leading shoe
drums front and rear
Electrics: Lucas alternator, coil ignition, 6 volt
Front suspension: Trailing link fork
Rear suspension: Swinging arm,
twin shock absorbers/dampers
Wheels: 3.25 x 16-inch front & rear
Weight: 290lbs (dry)
Maximum speed: 78mph (approximately)
Price new: £187.11.5 inc £32.1.5 purchase tax
Additional Super Sports specifications:
● 1-1/16" carburettor
● Whitewall tyres
● Prop stand
● Folding kick start
● Dropped bars
● Ball ended levers
● Fly Screen
▲ How many motorcycle engines do you know that can be rebuilt while still in the frame? This one can.
▲ Once a rocker's ride, always a rocker's ride. In the 1960s, this was a credible sporting alternative and capable of giving plenty of more macho machines a fair run for their money...
▲ ... and yet was still capable of being a decent commuter or tourer.
▲ A simple, solid, well-conceived design by Val Page, one of the greatest motorcycle engineers of all time—and considered by many to be the greatest.
▲ Why buy 1960s retro when you can have the real thing? This motorcycle is cool, not kitsch, and can hold pace with modern town traffic.
▲ Whitewall tyres are both de rigueur and available new, but at a price. This model, note, has stick-on whitewall trims. Hard to fit, but they look the part.
▲ Gripping stuff. This racer was good for around
70-80mph depending on how you rode it. Not bad for a 250cc British two-stroke of the 1960s.
▲ The trailing axle fork beneath these "spats" keeps the wheelbase more or less constant and provide a comfortable and fairly surefooted ride.
▲ Neat axle adjuster detail. Servicing is well within the capabilities of the average home mechanic. But if you're new to two-strokes, you've got a little homework to do before you reach for the spanners.
Ariel Arrow tuning remembered
"Don’t know if it’s of interest but I and several of my friends had Arrows in the early sixties and mine gradually evolved into a racing bike whilst retaining its road credentials. We used to race these bikes from our ‘home’, the Cellar cafe in Windsor, to the Ace Cafe on the North Circular, the Busy Bee near Watford and the Manor at Camberley. All good fun and somehow no one got hurt.
"The usual Arrow ‘tuning’ back then consisted of expansion chambers and not much else. Then a bike tuner named Geoff Monty began taking an interest in Arrows and published articles on tuning them. This consisted of skimming the heads to give 12:1 CR, modifying the piston skirts and crowns, and the porting to alter inlet/exhaust timings.
"Padding the crankcase and the cranks themselves considerably reduced the volume in the crankcase. Chucking away the big flywheel also helped acceleration. All this required much hotter FE220 (KLG) spark plugs and produced a considerably faster bike. Rear set footrests, the gold false tank replaced with a lightweight alloy one and as much removed as was structurally safe helped improve the power-to-weight ratio.
"A South London chap named Wal Phillips then produced a gravity fed ‘fuel injector’ that produced startling acceleration—but also produced holes in pistons when the fuel ran low and the mixture weakened!
"Final tuning for my bike was twin GP carbs, requiring a re-jigged mounting for the engine. A smaller rear sprocket (44 tooth from 47) gave a top speed of over 100mph and quite a big surprise for many larger capacity bikes of that era. My Arrow would easily outrun the likes of Tiger 100s, and on a twisty road could give Gold Stars & 650 Dominators a run for their money too.
"I almost forgot to mention that I'd also fitted 18" wheels and a bigger front brake, the make of which I've forgotten, but it made a big difference to the Arrow's ability to stop. A set of clip-ons, racing seat, discarded rear mudguard section and small front alloy guard helped change its appearance, but that distinctive front fork was always the give away.
"There was a chap named Peter Inchley who was an Arrow racing/tuning guru, who had one of the fastest Arrows in captivity. It was very competitive against anything out there. And there was also a company that developed a reed valve modification for the Arrow engine. They got it working but it never went into production. Perhaps surprisingly there was a host of aftermarket parts available for the Ariel, and very few Arrows seemed to remain standard for long. Particularly at the 'Cellar' cafe in Windsor, alongside the Thames, any evening would see plenty of seriously modified Arrows parked up. Happy days!
"Sadly, having raced it for a year it was swapped for a Yamaha and I never saw it again!
"As an aside I remember Mike Hailwood had an outing on an Arrow at Brands Hatch, much to our delight."
▲ Back to the top
It’s the usual story. You're many years down the
track and you suddenly hanker for the motorcycle you had as a teenage rocker. Mine was the Ariel Arrow Super Sports (known as the Golden Arrow to most classic enthusiasts).
I bought it brand new from Claude Rye in Fulham and collected it on 1st March 1962 (still have my 1962 diary). Before some in the know comment that it’s a '61 example, you’re right; it was on special offer as last year’s model. And as there were no major changes to the '62 version apart from the base colour and some minor electrical changes, I went for it saving about £12 (around 4 weeks apprentice wages in those days).
Once carefully run in, it was constantly thrashed racing everywhere with my mate Derek, also on a Golden Arrow. I’d tried Derek’s bike before buying mine and it ran like a turbine, smooth as silk, no vibration at all. Mine however did vibrate a little so I was a bit disappointed. However this was soon forgotten and considering how it was ridden, it proved extremely reliable only letting me down once—and even then it got me home.
The problem turned out to be my fault. On one of the hottest summer days of the year, having just finished exams at my local Tech College, I decided on a ride out to the Marlow area in Buckinghamshire. A college mate jumped on the back and off we went joining the M4 at Chiswick and flat out to J8/9 when we joined the A404. We passed through Marlow, and the roads became quite narrow, hilly and very twisty; just what we needed for some fun.
I was screaming up this very long and quite steep hill in 3rd when things started to slow. Still slowing considerably and thinking it a bit odd I quickly dropped to 2nd and whacked open the throttle but it kept slowing. Suddenly realising what was happening, I whipped the clutch in but too late, it had partially seized.
Kicked it over a few minutes later and it started, but rattled like a bag of nails. Something I wasn’t expecting, so I decided to investigate then and there. The engine was unbelievably hot and I burnt myself a couple times before I got the heads off. There was a lot of up/down play on the pistons which felt like it was coming from big end movement, so I came to the conclusion that the big ends were the problem, not a piston seize. As it turned out I was right.
Anyhow, rode it home gently rattling all the way.
But why was it my fault?
Well, just before the off, I filled an almost empty tank, and at the same time swopped from my favourite Filtrate 2-stroke oil run at 32:1 to Bardahl 2-stroke at 50:1. Derek had been using Bardahl for a while running almost smoke free, so thought I’d give it a try. 50:1 was a very lean mix in those days so I suppose I should have used more caution starting by reading the instructions. I ran it at 50:1 from the start on an extremely hot day two up and flat out for miles. If I had read the instructions, I would have seen that it should have been run at 25:1 for the first 500 miles (to coat the internal surfaces, I think it said) after which 50:1 would be OK.
Anyway, I repaired the bike with exchange cranks (easily available then) and returned to my Filtrate.
When introduced, the Ariel 2-strokes were, by the standards of the time, quite a modern and different concept—and in many ways still are. The Ariel Leader was the first to appear, introduced at the 1958 Motor Cycle Show and was a sensation. The stripped down version, the ‘Arrow’, arrived late '59, and the Super Sports Arrow (my bike) appeared a year later at the beginning of January '61. All were 247cc twin cylinder 2-strokes, the Leader and Arrow being fitted with a 7/8” Amal 375 Monobloc carb, whilst the Super Sports had the larger 1-1/16” Amal 376 which gave it the edge in performance and with its very glamorous teenage grabbing finish. It was an immediate hit and sold well.
For the time, performance of the Super Sports Arrow was excellent with rapid acceleration and an indicated top speed of 80mph flat on the tank (rider prone)—but it took about a mile to get the right numbers on the clock. However, slightly downhill and with a following wind I would often see an indicated 84mph.
The standard Arrow was a few mph slower. In an effort for a bit more speed and as winter was approaching I bought and fitted an Avon Dolphin fairing. However it didn’t seem to make any difference to the top speed but it did enhance the engine noises and did keep the cold winter winds off. Fuel consumption seemed to vary little from 70mpg irrespective of how it was ridden. This was in contrast to the Japanese 250cc 2-stroke twins that were arriving. Their consumption was much greater, but so was their performance. It just goes to show that you rarely get anything for nothing. Derek and I agreed that the fuel that gave the crispest performance (for our machines anyway) was National Benzole, it was quite noticeable and we used to seek out these garages for fill ups.
Unfortunately Ariel never carried out any serious developments to the range throughout production run, so the engine and brakes remained basically unchanged. The only modifications to the engine to aid performance were the change from “H” to oval section conrods and higher compression cylinder heads. These heads are easily recognised by the centrally and vertically positioned spark plug.
Private tuners however soon found some racing success; the best remembered probably being Mike O’Rourke’s famous 7th place in the 1960 250cc Junior TT on the Herman Meier tuned Arrow. This was quite an achievement considering the opposition; i.e. full works MVs, Hondas and the like.
Ariel did prepare a number of special Arrow Super Sports for the production races of the time, for instance the Thruxton 500, and were initially quite successful. But then the Japanese arrived. It’s also believed that the factory workers got involved in some unofficial developments, but as I understand it, the management put a stop to these as soon as they found out. They just weren’t interested. This was exacerbated when BSA took over production around 1963.
What a shame. These little motorcycles could have been a possible challenger to the ever-increasing number of sophisticated Japanese high performance 250’s that were appearing.
The Leader and Arrow were all based around the same rigid box section frame and the clever trailing link front suspension, the design of which gave an almost constant wheelbase whatever the suspension movement. With the fuel tank enclosed within the frame (early examples 2.3 gals, later 3 gals) and the engine suspended on lugs beneath, a very low centre of gravity was achieved, the combination of which resulted in excellent handling.
Because of this, Arrow riders loved the twisty bits, and often surprised riders of much larger motorcycles. These big bike boys would more often than not take the mickey out of any 2-stroke rider—and especially the Arrows—because they were so different and "a bit scooter-like". So whenever we had the chance to show them up, we did.
My wife, who in her youth used to ride pillion on a 500cc Triumph, confirms how these radical, pressed-steel two-stroke motorcycles caused much embarrassment on the bendy bits. The straights however were a different story when the increased capacity of bigger machines came into its own.
However, if they found themselves up against a tuned Arrow—and there were a few around—they might struggle somewhat.
Probably the worst feature of the design was the poor front brake, and for anything like decent retardation both brakes had to be used hard and in unison. The rear was OK, if not brilliant, but as both are exactly the same 6” units, it must largely be down to a lack of leverage to the front.
I reckon the front should have been at least a 7-inch unit, and better still a twin leading shoe type. But as stated, no significant improvements were ever made.
I must admit, It was a standing joke of mine and probably many others that the real reason for the fast cornering was the inability to slow down, so you just had to scrape everything to get round.
NOTE: Sumpster Michael Wilkinson comments:: "A common "fix" for the front brake at the time was to utilise a Honda C72 or C77 TLS front hub and brake."
Anyway, around 30 or so years ago, the urge to relive my youth (well bike-wise, not the stupid riding) became too great and I had to get a Golden Arrow to restore. When finished, it had to be exactly as mine was when it left the showroom. Finding a suitable bike proved difficult so I ended up buying a frame and engine from a bike breaker near Hampton Court called, if I remember correctly, “Aladdin’s Cave”. From then on I spent years scouring the local bike Jumbles for the parts needed to complete the bike. I also purchased parts from Draganfly, the Ariel and BSA spares dealer.
Owners or those who have an interest in these bikes are welcome to join the internet Ariel Arrow and Leader discussion group (set up by Barry Sharrock) where an interchange of views, information and advice can be had, also in some cases help with spares etc. Contact Barry at his email address:- firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once satisfied I had everything, I did a test assembly to make sure. The next step was to strip the bike and get all the frame, forks etc, grit/sand blasted. This was done by a local Heathrow company called Eltec who also gave the parts a primer coating. Having agreed to the work without actually seeing what was involved, they were a bit shocked when I presented them with all the parts; many more than they expected.
Those guys who’ve restored an Ariel Leader have my sympathy as there are loads more parts to deal with.
Frame grit/sand blasting; a word of caution
A word of caution about preparing parts for painting. If you’re going to have the frame grit/sand blasted, make sure you completely blank off the air filter intake/outlet holes in the rear engine lug. Also include the two small drain holes at the bottom of the lug. If grit/sand gets in there—and it will if the holes aren’t sealed—there will be a high possibility of engine damage. Once inside, it’s extremely difficult to remove, and just when you think it’s all gone, more appears from nowhere. If the bike is fully assembled and running before you discover this problem (normally a stream of grit partially trapped in oil within carburettor choke unit) then you've got major problems.
When back from Eltec, the parts were prepared for the final base colour coats. The 1958/61 models were light Admiralty Grey. The later 1962-on models were all Ivory, except for a few odd colours(mainly Leaders that I believe were supplied to special order) during production. Fortunately, amongst the parts I’d purchased over the years was an original NOS (New Old Stock) light Admiralty Grey piece in a sealed polythene bag, so this was used for the colour match.
I went for two-pack paint for this, but stuck to cellulose for the Metallic Gold dummy tank and rear light/number plate carrier. In this case I was lucky to find an area just behind the rear light unit that hadn’t seen the light of day. It allowed for a perfect match.
The paint supplier surprised me by insisting the lacquer that I’d requested for the top coat be mixed in with the gold rather than supplied separately. I’d never heard of this before but went for it and as it turned out, it was fine. It allows you to T-cut and polish until you get the finish you’re after, and you have the ability to repeat at any time should it be necessary.
The painting was done by a friendly local garage who did a great job. Unfortunately it will be closing down shortly due to retirement.
All the chroming was done by Doug Taylor’s in Banwell, Weston-Super-Mare. I was apprehensive because of a previous experience with another company, but as it turned out they did an excellent job. The previous company ruined all the parts even though I explained how flimsy the engine cowl and fork spats were. Fortunately I had duplicate spares.
I rebuilt the wheels using new rims and spokes; twice as it happens as the first rims I bought turned out to be slightly over size, and neither I nor a motorcycle dealer could get the tyres on. The dark bluish-grey hubs were sprayed whilst spinning them on their spindles and using a mini air brush spray gun with a mix of Humbrol enamels to achieve the colour.
I allowed a few weeks for the paint to harden before starting the re-assembly. A new wiring loom was purchased together with new nuts, bolts, washers and the chromed Philips type dome-headed screws. It wasn’t to be a rush job as it needed to be just perfect, and I took great care not to chip the paint work.
Lapses in enthusiasm did delay completion somewhat, but eventually it was finished in 2000 and the result is as per the photo.
With regard to the engine/gearbox, nothing was found amiss when I stripped it but as a matter of course I fitted new crank seals, piston rings and main bearings. One thing I should have done when fitting the new rings was hone (glaze bust) the bores. Because of this, starting was a particular problem especially when hot. I later rectified this.
Also, to aid hot starting, it’s a good policy to turn the fuel off at least a hundred or so yards before ignition off. Another noteworthy point is that the engine and gearbox can be completely stripped (all components removed) without having to remove the crankcase from the bike.
Most engine parts are still available, although mostly s/hand. Crankshafts are fairly robust, but the bearing journals on the N/S crank (drive side) are quite prone to wear; not so the O/S (alternator side) which rarely suffer this problem.
Cranks are expensive to have fully refurbished. But if the big ends are reasonable, then it’s possible to have the journals ground, chromed/metal sprayed and reground to standard size. But it's still expensive though.
Recently however, a small supply of special 6205 main bearings with a 0.005” reduced bore have been specially manufactured, so it’s just a case of grinding or fine turning the journals down 0.005” and using these bearings, a much cheaper and simpler option.
These bearings (normally only two are needed) aren’t expensive and are available from a guy called Walter Venters, email address: email@example.com
Both the N/S and O/S cranks are separate units and are fed into the crankcase from either side meeting in the middle on a keyed taper and secured by an Allen screw bolt through the middle. The centre seal surface on the O/S crank often wears quite badly, ending up with two fairly deep grooves but I’ve found that by fitting the two separate seals back to back but the reverse way round (closed sides facing outwards) they just avoid these grooves and work fine.
The tyre whitewalls are in fact separate from the tyres and can be bought from Draganfly or Bravado in Addlestone, Surrey. They’re quite tricky to fit and are held in place between the wheel rims and tyre bead but are essential to complete the original look. When fitted, it’s best to run the tyres at higher than standard pressures to prevent them from creeping from the rims. I also find the handling much better with the higher pressures; say 23/24lbs front and 28/29lbs rear as the modern tyre walls tend to flex much more.
As far as I know, only Firestone manufacture proper whitewall tyres of the appropriate size (3.25” x 16”) but they are expensive at around £125/135 each the last time I checked. North Hants Tyres can supply these. At the moment, normal 3.25” x 16” tyres are available from makers Dunlop, Heidenhau, Mitas and Pirelli, although there might be others. However, this size of tyre is becoming quite difficult to find.
The bike has won quite a few prizes since, mainly at local events. But it’s not about that. It’s about the memories it brings to the guys who had one, or remember them from their youth.
Most say it was a great bike, some saying the best they had. The odd exception said it was the worst, although I would like to think it was probably down to poor maintenance.
In the early days of Arrows and especially Golden Arrows, piston seizure seemed to be a familiar problem. However I think the main reason for this was that most of the young lads who had them didn't realise the importance of proper running-in, and in their eagerness for speed they immediately thrashed the daylights out of them.
I think proper running-in would have alleviated the majority of these problems as it did for mine. It never had a piston seize at all. It was run in for 500 miles at speeds of no more than 45/50mph and never put under load. After this the speeds/load were gradually increased until I’d done 1000 miles.
Another cause, I think was that a lot of riders had no idea that the engine suffered an almost complete lack of lubrication when riding downhill at speed on little or no throttle.
A few of the guys I’ve met at shows who’ve already restored an Arrow or Leader have commented that they didn’t think they were as fast as they remember. Maybe that’s true (lower octane fuel etc) but it’s only when I tactfully hint that they were possibly a little lighter in those days that it dawns on them as to another possible reason.
I’ve definitely noticed an increase of interest in these bikes in the last few years. More and more are being sort for restoration etc.
When looking at the prospective purchase of an Arrow/Leader, one of the most important things to look for is damage to the front end of the frame caused by collision impact. The first clue to watch for is the distance between the rear section of the front mudguard and the cylinder head fins which should be something like 2.25”. Anything less should raise suspicions. A closer look at the underneath/sides of the frame behind the headstock will be necessary. Look for any signs of compacted rippling. It’s unlikely the forks would have bent as they’re quite robust. The other thing the frames suffer from is rust particularly at the rear end so look out for that. Rust if not too severe can of course be cured or if severe by welding new sections, but it’s not the ideal start.
It’s a great shame Ariel didn’t develop these bikes further, because if they had—with better braking, more power, an extra gear or two, auto pumped lubrication and maybe some sharper styling—they could have been the British Yamaha or Suzuki of the time.
However they didn’t, and by 1964/65 sales had dropped disastrously as was happening to most of the British bike manufacturers of the time, and the situation wasn’t helped by the complete lack of interest from BSA after taking over production.
The final example was the 200cc version introduced in 1964 as a last ditch attempt to gain some extra sales due to its lower insurance bracket, but all was to no avail.
In all, Ariel produced a combined total (Leaders & Arrows including the 200cc Arrows) of around 35,500 machines. It all ended in late 1965 when all production ceased. A sad end to an innovative and exciting design.
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Sump visitor notes:
"Hi there, I thoroughly enjoyed your Ariel Arrow Super Sports article - I owned a 1962 version in the mid nineteen-sixties and had a lot of fun with it.
Regarding your article's excellent technical detail, I wonder if it might be worth mentioning that the machine had twin HT coils - one for each cylinder - mounted inside the dummy fuel tank?
One had to be careful to avoid dropping anything small, like keys or loose change, into that dummy tank. Such items could be difficult to retrieve without turning the bike upside down and shaking it! Although a very useful "in-flight" storage facility, I suspect that some of the mysterious and untraceable rattles that fellow Arrow owners occasionally mentioned, may have been caused by foreign objects that had vanished into the depths of that tank!
Best regards, Chris B