Wednesday, May 27, 2009


As regular readers of The Vintagent know, I have a 'thing' for unusual bikes, and a special place in my Pantheon for the Majestic motorcycle from France. I've already given several expository posts on the subject (which you can read here), but here in Bavaria, where all motorcycles seem possible to ride, a freshly restored 1929 Majestic with a 500cc ohv Chaise engine was proffered. My visit marked the premier starting event for this bike, and as the film below shows, the mechanicién knew his stuff:

The Majestic is the physical embodiment of the Art Deco aesthetic, a streamlined torpedo which suggests Speed and Modernity, and although it fails to deliver in the former case, it was certainly and extremely forward-thinking design, an attempt at an 'ideal' motorcycle, whose formula has been echoed through the decades by modern factories such as Yamaha and Bimota.

Structurally, the 'New Motorcycle' (as it was called in prototype form) is built similar to an automobile of the era, with 'C' section steel channels forming the chassis in twin, low rails along either side of the power train, atop which is a shapely light-gauge steel body of attractive and curvaceous line. Classic Deco stuff. The engine compartment is covered in a mesh, and the body is louvered along the sides to dispense with heat.

The true innovation comes with the hub-center steering, not unique, nor was Majestic the first two-wheeler to use such, but the execution is modern and works well. Suspension, as on a Morgan car, is via sliding pillars along either side of the front wheel - the rear is rigid. Conventional controls operate the machine, including a hand-shifter, which is a simple rotary device with a knob - no 'gate' for holding the lever in place, just a round boss with Roman numerals indicating the gear (there are III). Steering is via normal handlebar with a push-pull rod connected to the front hub.

So, the important question; what is it like to ride? Sitting astride the machine there is no sense of anything unusual, that one is atop a totally enclosed vehicle with hub-center steering, only the handlebars and extensive (smart too) instrument panel can be seen from the perch. Starting the Chaise engine is a doddle, and a typical 20's bonk emerges from the fishtail muffler. There is valve clatter below the perforated engine covering. So far, so normal.

Moving out, the steering is very light, and has no inertial sluggishness for such a long machine. As the speed rises, one notices a certain pendulum effect at the front wheel, and a light hand is required on the 'bars to prevent a weave. Even with a delicate touch, the front wheel seems, not hunting exactly, but not rail-like in steering - constant minor correction is necessary to keep the plot moving in exactly the right direction. I imagine that a little work perfecting the trail of the steering geometry would cure this minor effect; it's a very small matter for such a radical design, and the road-holding and steering feel true at all times and perfectly stable and safe. As the engine warmed up, I felt completely confident in swift cornering, and was rewarded with a very nice ride with zero drama.

What I wanted, though, was a different engine. The Chaise unit is, I'm sure, perfectly serviceable and totally conventional for the time, but such an innovative motorcycle cries out for a smooth and modern engine, with significant power output. A prototype of a 'New Motorcycle' with a Cleveland four-cylinder engine was shown at the 1928 Paris Motorcycle Show; this would have been a perfect combination of power and engine noise. Unfortunately, the prototype seems to have disappeared, so we'll have to settle for the 'what if'.


southsiders M.C. said...

I thought all the Majestic had a crackling paint scheme?

vintagent said...

What's wrong with Bugatti blue? Actually, the 'alligator' finish was an option, and I've only heard of two which survive; the rest are painted as this one.

Anonymous said...

Wild looking machine, but the square section license plate/tail light holder seems out of character with the streamlined moderne design ethos. Is the license plate holder original or a modern add on concession to practicality? This must be the motorcycle that Raymond Loewy would have designed in his youth!

Anonymous said...

boy that money you spent on the brownie 127 hawkeye is realy paying off i hope you washed yer hands and wiped your feet before you got on ? dave

Anonymous said...

Raymond Loewy rode a Velocette.!


Anonymous said...

I do like the Majestic, but still prefer the NerACar's looks and inventive engineering. The Majestic is nice, but too 'sausage' shaped for my taste.

A 4cylinder motor could have been a viable option, but likely only in America. European 4cylinders weren't common in the 1920s.

PS, if you want one, there is a NerACar project with a FN 4 cylinder motor in place for sale. It is a modern build, and needs work. Contact me for details.



Makes me think of a flattened Bugatti!

Anonymous said...

'Bugatti' blue is actually traditional French racing blue.
Many nations used to have national colours in the pre-
sponsorship-infested era. Example: French blue, British
racing green (any green would do, but olive green was
preferred), German silver, Belgian yellow, American
white with blue stripes (as seen at Le Mans on the great
Cunninghams), Italian red, Dutch orange, Japanese white
with red . . . many others were used traditionally. Lotus
was the first to break the tradition, with the John Player F1
cars, and the slide downhill started from there.
"At least today's Ducati desmosedicis and Ferrari's F1
cars retain a predominantly national colour, instead
of being mobile billboards"
John Joss

Anonymous said...

I am also a great fan of unusual motorbikes.
If you should ever think of selling the "Majestic" please give me a call.


vintagent said...

Not my bike! I wish it were, but I'd probably do something horrible like install a 4-cylinder Cleveland engine...
Majestics are very rarely available, although with some effort, any motorcycle can be purchased...

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

If it's literature in English, yes, the Majestic was indeed a new motorcycle, but not a New Motorcycle... In French it would have been "une nouvelle motocyclette, la Majestic"!!!!!!!

Even in France, the earlier NM effort is bloody rare, I only knew of one when I lived there, as for period photos, about the same amount, one, and it was Roy in the saddle!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Patrick,
It took a bit, but the July 10, 1929 issue of Motor Cycling is the article I quoted - it must have been the prototype machine which used a Cleveland 4-cylinder (the original has disappeared apparently, and someone in France is making a replica - I'm trying to find an appropriate motor for him). Interestingly, the bike isn't called a 'Majestic' at all, but a 'New-Motorcycle', so perhaps he built his prototype before the dissolution of N-M? Just to be clear, this is an all- enclosed hub-center steered bike, identical to the later Majestic, which as far as I know was never built with a 4-cyl again - ? You can see my confusion; I usually try to be accurate with my source material, or claims by the owner. As with the MGC; the owner claimed it was originally a racer, but that doesn't make it an N3BR, nor did he claim it to be, and I never called it such. Was it raced originally? Perhaps so, I can't tell from this distance and with the source material at hand (extensive, but not complete).
As a coincidence, the July 17, 1929 issue of MC has the debut of the MGC! Busy times, interesting bikes from the French...they were so amazingly innovative from the first days to the Depression, when the bikes became beautifully Deco, but not so interesting.
I'm sure I'll hear more about all this!
all the best, Paul