Ariel began in 1847 in Bournbrook, England as a manufacturer of pneumatic-tired wheels for horse drawn carriages. In 1885 Ariel moved into bicycle production under the leadership of James Starley ("Father of the Bicycle Industry") and William Hillman.
Ariel is one of the oldest motorcycle manufacturers. Before starting to build motorcycles around the turn of the century, they were well known for their bicycles. The Ariel company started life making bicycles and in 1870, founder James Starley and William Hillman invented the wire-spoke wheel which allowed them to build a lighter weight bicycle naming it Ariel-the spirit of the air. The first Ariel vehicle was a Tricycle that used a 2.25 hp De Dion engine mounted at the rear. More tricycles were produced and quadricycles were added in 1901 as Ariel then moved into car production. In 1896 the company began making motorized four-wheeled vehicles followed by a motorized three-wheeled bicycle. In 1902 Components Ltd., owned by Charles Sangster bought the company and began producing motorcycles but their progression over the next two decades was sluggish.
Over the years, the company had financial difficulties including going into receivership in 1911 for a period. During the 20's, Charles' son Jack Sangster hired some of the best designer/engineers in Britain and the marque was beginning to show promise. Based in Selly Oak in the Midlands, by the 1930s they had became one of Britain's most influential manufacturers. They employed Edward Turner, Val Page and Bert Hopwood - who would later become known as three of the British bike industry's greatest designers. In the 1930s Ariel closed down due to financial problems, but was restarted when Jack Sangster son of Ariel's founder Charles, bought the firm and restarted production of bikes such as the VH500 Red Hunter. The BSA group took control of Ariel in 1944.
Ariel's parent company went bankrupt in 1932 when Jack Sangster bought the rights to the Ariel name and much of the tooling at a reduced cost and started a new company called Ariel Motors (J.S.) Ltd.. After the Second World War, Ariel voluntarily allowed itself to be absorbed by the BSA empire. One of Ariel's most notable engines was the Square Four, the first prototype emerging in 1930. As the name suggests, the cylinders were configured with two cylinders directly behind the front two cylinders. Starting as a 500cc engine, then increased to 600cc and finally the 1000cc configuration. The 'Squariel' was plagued with heat problems as one might imagine having two cylinders directly behind the front pair. Despite the heat issues it remained in production until 1954.