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Memorable Motorcycles Ariel Leader

Tuesday, January 13, 2004
The Ariel Leader: A bike ahead of its time or a rebel without a cause  You decide.
The Ariel Leader: A bike ahead of its time or a rebel without a cause? You decide.
If the Japanese launched the Ariel Leader today, with a modern four-stroke engine, it would most likely be considered a stunningly creative and radical design. In 1954, when Ariel's Chief Designer Val Page was drawing the Leader, the bike was almost science fiction.

Valentine Page is arguably Britain's greatest motorcycle designer and the Leader was undoubtedly his masterpiece. He tore up the rulebook for two-wheelers and produced an elegant, effective and easily manufactured tourer which was flawless in its execution, appearance and effectiveness.

The neat, 250cc two-stroke engine was hung from a rigid beam frame made from two simple pressings. Cheap and easy to make, it also contained the fuel tank which was then in the optimum position for sweet handling.

The dummy petrol tank between the rider's knees provided space for a luggage compartment whilst streamlined panniers, a luggage rack and even height adjustable lights made sure the Leader 50 years ahead of its time.

Although a gifted free-thinker, Page was an eminently practical designer. Therefore the trailing link front forks were on the Leader not for effect but because they provided low tire wear and predictable handling. Like the fully enclosed chain case and elegant built-in fairing, Page intended every aspect of the Leader to be practical.

For its time, the inclined two-stroke motor was a masterpiece of efficiency. At 70mph, top speed was comparable with 250cc sports bikes of the day whilst fuel consumption was miserly. Cruising at 60 mph, 70mpg was possible.

But best of all, a Leader felt like an elegant, sophisticated ride and several worlds away from the dull, porcine products being offered by Ariel's owners, BSA, and the even more turgid 250s sold by Matchless.

The final cherry on the cake was that the Leader enjoyed the lowest warranty claims of any BSA group product. It was a simple bike to build and, with the most cursory maintenance, would run forever.

The Ariel Leader cockpit provides excellent protection against the elements.
The Ariel Leader cockpit provides excellent protection against the elements.
Practical, reliable, with excellent handling and good looks the Leader should have been the star of the British motorcycle industry. But there was one factor which would eventually kill the bike: the Americans hated it.

In the critical US market, the Leader looked strange and its all weather capabilities were wasted on a market which saw motorcycles as purely recreational vehicles to be ridden primarily in summer.

Attempts were made to get the most out of the expensive tooling with naked versions of the Leader, in the form of the Arrow and Sports Arrow, but still the Americans refused to buy a bike which had strange front forks and appeared to have no frame.

Well after he should have retired, Page had one last fling with the Ariel. He designed a typically neat 400cc straight four engine, with shaft drive, which was intended to power a new military bike. The new engine fitted the Leader like a glove and now Ariel had a true super-tourer which would have captured a huge amount of BMW sales. But a cash strapped government cancelled the new military bike and with it died Page's engine and what could have been a truly revolutionary bike.
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Piglet2010   August 28, 2011 04:04 PM
When has a practical motorcycle ever succeeded in the US? Americans want large, noisy motorcycles with 1930's styling, not modern technology transportation.
Barry Rawlings -Retired  January 18, 2011 03:59 AM
The Ariel Leader was an excellent bike in my young days, but I was not allowed to have one as such a big bike was dangerous, so I got a Vespa scooter and soon after fell off it, could someone bring them back honda ??
harry smith -nr  December 4, 2010 09:18 AM
as any one got a leader to sell to me bbobcat@talktalk.net WIGAN
Richard Thomasson -Ariel Leader  May 5, 2010 06:37 AM
I swapped my Honda 90 for a leader when I was 14,spent the next two years tidying it up,then used it for three years once 17 to commute to work at Rolls Royce and then pass my driving test.
In those three years it did 33,000 miles quite reliably and could put up quite a performance compared to my mates on Honda super dreams and RD 200s.
Very practical to use,sweet handling and quite capable of being completely oil tight.
These days an economical,satisfactory and fun way to enter the classic bike scene....

mark layton -1960 ariel leader  February 6, 2010 03:53 PM
have just aquiered a 1960 ariel leader, been stood for 45 years approx! 8000 miles in original condition,amazed when i found it was not siezed,gob smacked when it produced a perfect spark at the plug with no attention from my-self,cleaned carb and fired some petrol into bores,flabergasted when it fired into life 4th kick. i was looking for something to restore but have not found 1 yet as it would be criminal to restore this bike as it mainly only requies a good old fashioned polish.
GEORGE LEE -Leader  November 16, 2009 10:41 PM
I agree BSA should have developed the Ariel Leader even further.I had one in the late 50s-60s.The windscreen was so good I could light a cigarette sitting upright at 50 mph.Its true the front brake was a bit weak at times.Its handling and road holding were very good.I used to go past much bigger faster bikes on the bends.Paddy O,Rouke came 7th on the I.O.M riding a race prepared Arrow against the might of the Japanese.I often wonder what his top speed was in that race.
Alan Topham -Ariel Leader  July 11, 2009 02:24 PM
Franks article on the leader echo`s my opinion exactly. I owned a red & white one in 1959. Its stunning looks brought attention wherever we went. My best trip on it started in Bolton and hit the coast at Rhyl then never left it down to Lands End then across to Bournemouth, using ferries, one I remember was just a small boat with an outboard motor and tied to a raft which held a car and my byke. We had to sit on the byke to avoid wet feet. The one bad mark against the Leader was that dust collected in the front drum causing the brake to grab when damp. I would absolutely adore to own a good condition one again.