A life long passion: Ariel motorcycles
By M. Helmuth Starhemberg
The name Ariel can stand for a character in Shakespeare's The Tempest, narrator of Pope's The Rape of the Lock and the evil angel of Milton's Paradise Lost. For the younger generation it is the protagonist in Disney's The Little Mermaid. But for the rest of the planet the name evokes the memory of one of the finest motorcycles ever produced.
This is certainly how Sutton's Ariel collector Chris Shearwood sees it. Right now he has three of them, but they reflect the three great periods of development, 1946, 1950 and 1951. "My favorite is the green 1950 ng which is the first one I purchased in 1988 from a antique furnitore restorer right here on Main street in Sutton states Chris.
Shearwood can often been seen in town on this bike as all three of his machines are registered, insured and ready to run anytime Chris has the urge to do so. His association with motorcycles dates back to 1968 when, at age 16, his parents caved in to his pleas and gave him a 100cc Kawasaki which he states "served my adolescent needs very well for a time". Then, working in Hamilton,Ontario, he bought a Honda 450 in 1971 to be able to negotiate the "401" in his weekend commutes back to his native Montreal.
"Then I joined the rank of car drivers, but I never did loose my love for bikes and was always searching for an affordable machine". This led to the 1988 purchase of the Ariel 350cc machine and the quest for more. Chris started doing his own mechanical work and after years of restoring machines is now one of the few Ariel experts left standing.
"When my spare bedroom in my Sutton house was no longer big enough for the projects I was working on, I built a 1,000 sq.ft garage" His stunningly beautiful 1946 Ariel Square Four, this one a one liter monster, purchased in 1994 in Cincinnati, was a basket case and Chris rebuilt it from a bare frame to an award winning machine which has attracted thousands at shows in Canada and the United States.
The Square Four motor was designed in 1928 by Edward Turner and Ariel Motorcycle Co. in Birmingham purchased his revolutionary design. The company had built their first motorcycle in 1902 and originally the company name Ariel goes back to 1870 when they produced bicycles they named Ariel because Ariel means "spirit of the air". and since they prided themselves in making lightweight (for the time) bicycles, the name was greatly appropriate. The Square Four was an immediate sucess and has lived through many refinements until it was discontinued in 1959. Under the BSA company's ownership, Ariels were produced until 1970 but they were rebadged BSA's and none could live up to the great Square Four, a 1936 model of which has a place of honor in Britain's National Motorcycle Museum.
Through all this, Chris ended up with another machine, a beautiful 1951 500cc example which I have lusted after since I have met Chris about ten years ago and became a frequent guest at his home and garage, complete with beer cooler priviledges...
I always enjoy visiting the garage where Chris reigns over his well equipped shop and the nice woodstove, which makes this one of my favorite places to be on a crappy rainy day. But the best part is, when I see him riding one of his museum pieces through downtown, I can tell anyone I am with:"Look this is Chris Shearwood, he is a good friend of mine".