by Shawn Downey
And The Answer Is…Square Four
Imagine a cool game show. Forget about the MTV “Kaptain Kangaroo blew up while tripping on acid” game show we see today. I am talking about an event characterized by leather chairs, motorcycles, and neon lighting. The host is a mid-1970’s Elvis or a young Evil Knieval. Elvis or Evil struts to the podium and flashes the crowd a Viva Las Vegas smile. When he returns his gaze to you, the contestant, his sultry smile has metamorphosed into a challenging snarl.
He extracts the first question from his chain wallet. “Hey, baby. (Snarl. Snarl.) Edward Turner is well known for patenting what revolutionary engine?”
Anxiously, you glance towards the other two contestants and notice the small beads of sweat erupting through their stage makeup. The answer slaps you upside the head like an oversized piston, but you are unable to divert your attention from thought provoking dilemmas such as: “I wonder if I’m starting to pit through my shirt; when I stand up, will the audience see sweat stains on my back from these leather chairs, and what the hell ever became of Buffy and Jody?” The contestant closest to you takes advantage of your hesitation and answers, “The Triumph Speed Twin.”
With a look of shock and horror, the host sounds the buzzer (the sound of a two stroke seizing) and says, “You suck. Anyone else?”
Your mind conjures up images of a hot steamy mocha, a brisk Fall day, and a newspaper article written by some wacko devoted to Triumphs and Edward Turner. The answer crystallizes before you…
Edward Turner’s first patented masterpiece was the Ariel Square Four in the year one thousand nine hundred and twenty-nine. Four cylinder engines had been assembled in a variety of configurations for twenty-five years when ol’ Ed came to town. He took one look at the commonplace in-line four, the v-four, and the transverse four and said (in his cockney accent), “Whoa Simba, that just ain’t gonna work out for us ‘ere now is it? Course not. Get me a pint o’ Guinness and a pen.”
Within weeks he had designed the ground-breaking Square Four — the only motorcycle to have four cylinders arranged vertically and equidistant to form a square. The front two cylinders drove one crankshaft, and the rear two drove another. A helically toothed flywheel gear resided in between them. When these gears meshed, the crankpins of one shaft were at top AND bottom dead centers while the crankpins of the other were at half-stroke.
But what does this mean? This means perfect balance (well, almost perfect), which means no vibration at any speed, which means no more wet pants. Ever ride 100 miles on a vibrating motorcycle and then try to drink your coffee? This wasn’t a problem if you were riding the Ariel. These four cylinders were smooth when cruising at walking speed in top gear, and they were just as smooth when approaching the coveted triple digit. Bikers of the 1930s loved this versatile motorcycle and started grafting sidecars to them to use as their only mode of transportation all year long. Of course, people were hardier back then, and nobody lived in Minnesota.
Everybody loved the Ariel, and it continued its great commercial success as it evolved through the expected advancements: a chain tensioner, swinging arm rockers versus pushrods, and a special ducting system to transfer cooling air to the rear cylinders. The motorcycle was so well-known for its reliability that law enforcement agencies were considering implementing it as their vehicle of choice. Rumor has it that after a couple of runs they declined due to a high speed wobble. Ariel riders were ecstatic when they heard the police would not be using the long distance machines, because nothing else on the road could match the stamina nor the speed of a properly tuned Ariel. Remember, this was pre-radar days and anything was legal as long as you did not get caught.
With this continued success, one would have thought other manufacturers would try to imitate the design and ride of the Ariel. No one did, and in 1929 people were jumping out of windows to get a look at the new Ariels.
The dream sequence ends and you find yourself thrusting your hand into the air like a hopped up Arnold Horshack.
“Try twisting the buzzer,” says the annoyed host.
While twisting the buzzer (it’s a throttle) to oblivion, you begin shouting, “Ariel! Ariel! It was the Ariel! Edward Tuner, I mean Turner. He penned the Ariel!”
“Congratulations,” remarks Elvis grudgingly. “You get to go to the bonus round where you and the other finalist drag race Bimotas to determine the winner.” Oh no, now you have to stand up and show everyone your sweat stained shirt.