1873 Starley Ariel

As well as being the first ‘ordinary’ (penny farthing), this model is historically significant because it indirectly led to the founding of three of the most important British vehicle manufacturers.

1. William Hillman subsequently founded ‘Hillman, Herbert & Cooper’ who made ‘The Premier’, the first successful safety bicycle. Hillman later made cars.

2. Starley’s company went through various transformations, eventually evolving into D Rudge & Co, which became Rudge-Whitworth.

3. Starley’s nephew J.K Starley, who worked for him, founded Rover.

The Ariel name resurfaced in the 1890s as the Ariel Cycle Co.

1873 Starley Ariel

Size: 46″ Front wheel

This historic Ariel machine was found in a river. The frame is very rusty. I’d planned to leave it like this, as a museum display piece to illustrate how many (subsequently) restored bicycles are found. However, with some time to spare during the 2020 lockdown, my friend Paul decided to build a few replica 1871 Ariels with tangent wheels for me to resell (see the link at the bottom of the page).

Now he has completed those, I’ve managed to convince him to create the missing parts for this original one. Last week he took the frame, has freed off the steering head so it turns, and yesterday he sent me some photos of it mocked up with a wheel rim to give an indication of how it will look when it’s done. I’ve added those pictures here, and will add more as the work progresses.


1) Starley & Hillman Ariel patent dated 11 August 1870, presumably when they were both working for CMC.
2) Starley left CMC 27 Nov. 1870 and was making Ariel’s by Christmas. see two letters to The Field. May 1872.
3) Hillman left CMC on 28 Jan 1871 and maybe joined Starley as the partnership became Starley & Co.
4) W.B.Smith had joined the partnership by 28 Feb 1872, the date of the Ariel open-head registered design and it became Smith & Starley & Co. after 24 Dec 1872 when The London Gazette announced that Hillman had retired from the partnership.
5) In 1874 Ariel bicycle production was passed over to their employees Haynes and Jefferis.
6) Starley patent 3595, 17 Nov. covers tangent spoking, together with his ladies model and two-man version, both highly impractical, but later developed into the Coventry tricycle.
7) The license for H&J to make the Tangent is dated 13 May 1876 (Coventry Record Office 153/14) Haynes and Jefferis began advertising it in Dec 1875 so I don’t thing Smith and Starley ever made Tangents.

8) The Tangent and Special Tangent were made up to 1880 but dropped by Rudge in 1881 although I think the wheel continued for a while on their Coventry tricycle.

9) Jan 1877, Voluntary liquidation of Smith and Starley

10) Nov 1878 Attempted flotation of Smith Starley & Co. apparently failed and the assets were purchased by Woodcock and amalgamated with Haynes & Jefferis as the Coventry Tricycle Co. In Nov 1880, it became D.Rudge & Co.
The remains of the original 1873 Ariel, in front of the new 1871 Ariel…


























Thanks to Nick Clayton for sending me the historic information