Retrospective: 1958-1960 Ariel 650 Cyclone

1958 Ariel Cyclone Twin 650
1958 Ariel Cyclone Twin 650. Owner: Dan Dutra, Redwood City, California. Photos by the author.

In the 1950s, the Brits realized that giving their products exciting names could enhance sales. And stormy allusions were popular, perhaps starting with the AJS 650 Hurricane in 1957, quickly followed by the Ariel 650 Cyclone in 1958, and then the Matchless 500 Typhoon in 1959.

Here we are interested in that Ariel Cyclone, an upgraded version of the Huntmaster Twin, intended for the power-mad American buyer. Our economy was doing well, motorcycles were considered expensive toys and bigger was always better.

BSA had bought Ariel back in 1944, and initially the decision was to keep the marques very separate. As the ’50s progressed, BSA was looking to expand Ariel influence in the U.S., but was also beginning to integrate the two brands. The Ariel company had a good reputation, especially among the scrambler types who liked the big singles, but the demand for the Turner Twin—as the parallel twin designed by Edward Turner was often referred to—was very strong. In 1948, Ariel had put its own 500cc Fieldmaster twin on the market, but did not get around to enlarging it. Then in 1953, bright lights at BSA decided to make mild changes to its Golden Flash 650 and rebadge it as a 1954 Ariel Huntmaster. The duplex frame was new, with twin downtubes at the front, using Ariel’s own telescopic fork. At the back was a swingarm sporting a pair of Armstrong shocks, with hydraulically damped spring units but no preload adjustment. Exceptionally neat was a new centerstand with oval feet that was easy to use.

1958 Ariel Cyclone Twin 650 dash
1958 Ariel Cyclone Twin 650 dash.

The Huntmaster was a pleasantly staid twin, with traditional Burgundy paint popular with the marque, but the riders Ariel was looking for were the hot-rodders, the go-fasters, the tear-’em-up types. OK, the Cyclone got new, hotter camshafts, a new crankshaft with bigger bearings (common to both BSA and Ariel) and the compression ratio was upped a point to 8.5:1. Resulting in, as a major two-page Cyclone ad read, “Ariel Cyclone 40 Cubic Inch Twin with 40 Full Horsepower.”

The standard long-stroke engine had an 84mm stroke and 70mm bore, for a total of 646cc. Dry sump lubrication, with two pumps making sure the circulation was happy, and 4.8 pints of oil in the reservoir. One worrisome point on any much-abused engine was the main bearing on the timing side, which could wear excessively. The 4.5 gallons of gasoline in the tank went through an Amal 376 Monobloc carb, with this particular model having the Amal reservoir extension added on. The cylinder head was made of cast iron, with two valves per piston. Ignition was via Lucas magneto, standard for the time, while a dynamo sitting at the front of the engine provided the electricity for lights, horn and battery.

1958 Ariel Cyclone Twin 650
1958 Ariel Cyclone Twin 650.

A single-row primary chain ran back to a dry clutch, and then power went through a 4-speed Burman box. Wheels at both ends were 19-inchers, using a 3.25 tire at the front, 3.50 at the back. Single-leading-shoe 7-inch drum brakes were at both ends, with the rear drum actuated by a cable rather than the conventional rod. Wheelbase ran 56 inches, and curb weight was about 430 pounds.

The look was mildly different, with the Cyclone wearing Cherokee Red paint instead of the Burgundy. And lots of chrome, from the narrow sporty fenders to the trim on the tank, along with lots of polished alloy. The BSA timing case got a new design with the words “Six TWIN Fifty” written on the side…just in case anyone missed the dual exhausts. Like its Huntmaster forebearer, the primary cover had a removable chromed cover over just the clutch, so adjustments could be made easily. However, the cowled headlight, while attractive to some, did not indicate riotous performance.

1958 Ariel Cyclone Twin 650
1958 Ariel Cyclone Twin 650.

One interesting option was the fully enclosed chain drive, popular in Europe where motorcycles were considered mostly as transportation, but lacking the sporty look so desired by us Yanks. No record appears of how many Cyclones got the option; the factory built upwards of 300 Cyclones, all of which came to the States.

Sporty Americans did complain about the Cyclone’s suspension being too soft for hard work, as the previous Huntmaster was sold as a touring unit. However, the innovative U.S. aftermarket could do wonders in stiffening up the fork and shocks, whether for sporty road riding or competition.

This was an American-specific model, not sold in Britain, with BSA hoping to bring in American dollars, much as the Bonneville would a year later. In 1958 Cal Brown, a well-known racer sponsored by Ariel’s West Coast distributor, rode his Cyclone to win the Greenhorn Enduro—he had won the Greenhorn in ’56 on an Ariel 500 single. The ads featuring Brown on the winning bike, without lights and all unnecessary road weight removed, did not look much like the stock street bike with white saddle and cattle-horn bars, but win on Sunday, sell on Monday.

1958 Ariel Cyclone Twin 650 engine
1958 Ariel Cyclone Twin 650 engine.

In 1959, the Ariel factory began concentrating on an all-new two-stroke 250 twin, in effect foreseeing the Japanese invasion. Construction of all of the four-strokes ended, except for the Cyclone; according to noted motorcycle historian Roy Bacon the last of those were built in early 1960.

And the stormy names? BSA apparently liked the Cyclone name so much that after dropping the Ariel model it added the name to its 500cc twin in 1962, with a Lightning and a Thunderbolt appearing in the 650 range in 1964. Bridgestone briefly claimed the Hurricane name in 1967 for a 175cc scrambler, the name resurrected again in 1973 with Craig Vetter’s take on the BSA/Triumph triple. The only Typhoon these days is a Piaggio 125 scooter.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I’m now old enough to vividly remember these bikes as new on the road. Yikes! Now I ride my trusty 650 . . . V-Strom, much better in all but aesthetics, and my VFR – a “sport tour” that those who designed the Cyclone couldn’t have even imagined. And yet, if I could add one to my garage it would be under my butt in a flash. Thanks for the memories!

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