When Georges Roy set out to combine the best qualities of an automobile with the thrills of a motorcycle, he created a remarkable machine – the Majestic. It’s the ultimate French Art Deco motorcycle, as his design enabled a free hand to create stylish, stunning bodywork over a radical chassis. The Majestic was revolutionary in 1929, and the ideas Georges Roy made into metal are still being explored by motorcycle designers.

Georges Roy himself with a prototype of his New Motorcycle. Love his riding kit! And the fishtail exhaust tips

Roy’s first production machine was the ‘New Motorcycle’ of 1928, which used a pressed-steel monocoque chassis, rather than a tube frame. Roy was among the first industrial designers to grapple with mass-production techniques for auto manufacture, in which huge presses stamp out bodywork by the tens of thousands, very cheaply. Conventional motorcycle production with the bicycle-derived tube frame is labor intensive and expensive, and Roy correctly understood that inexpensive pressings could form the chassis of a motorcycle, including the frame, forks, and tanks.

Details of the New Motorcycle, showing its pressed-steel chassis
The catalog cover for the 1928 New Motorcycle

The monocoque concept was sound, and eventually became the norm in the automotive industry (called ‘unibody’ construction from the 1960s), although it’s rarely used on motorcycles. Pressed-steel frame parts, on the other hand, are absolutely the norm today, and the most popular motorcycle in the world, the Honda Super Cub with over 90 Million produced in 14 countries since 1958, uses pressed-steel forks, frame parts, and rear fender.  The later C110 Sports Cub is also still in production (since 1960), and features a full monocoque frame of welded-up pressed-steel frame halves. Clearly, Roy’s ideas were sound, and today, frame production is possible on a mass scale, very cheaply, using the ideas he explored.  The New Motorcycle was hand-built and riveted together; robot welders and painters had yet to be invented, existing only as science fiction in 1928!

The Majestic

The original Majestic prototype used a Cleveland four-cylinder engine in a different chassis than the production models

The world soon caught up with George Roy’s concept, and even staid BMW produced motorcycles using a pressed-steel monocoque chassis from 1930-35. So Roy moved even further from the mainstream, exhibiting a prototype for a totally new design called the Majestic at the Paris Motor Show in 1929.  The Majestic was in some ways retrograde from the New Motorcycle, as it uses a conventional automotive-type chassis with hub-center steering, technology that was old news by 1929. The industry had already seen the Ner-A-Car of the early 1920s, and even the Zenith Auto-Bi of 1907, among other hub-center steered bikes.

The full article introducing the Majestic to the public; MotorCycling, July 10, 1929

What differentiated the Majestic from earlier efforts was its totally enveloping bodywork; swooping pressed steel panels with unbroken lines from its beak-like nose to the sporting abbreviated tail. The sweeping curves of the design make the Majestic a brilliant Art Deco sculpture, and was made possible by the use of automotive ‘coachbuilding’ practice – placing a bespoke body onto a standardized chassis – for the first time on a motorcycle.

The tapering body and swells over the wheels are clearly visible; a stylish and elegant beast.

The chassis is constructed using two mirror-image side rails of square-section steel, which are joined by riveted cross members. Firewalls at the front and back of the engine are also riveted to the frame, with strengthening panels beneath the engine, plus the two large, fixed top panels. The whole structure is extremely rigid, yet very light. The rest of the bodywork is attached to thse fixed points, including the nose and tail sections, and the central engine covers, which are removable for engine access, and stylishly louvered for airflow, to keep the engine cool. The bodywork is thin-gauge steel pressed into shape, so the overall weight of the machine is fairly low, around 350lb with a single-cylinder Chaise OHV motor inside.

The fabulous, symmetric instrument panel on the Majestic’s handlebars. This is the most elaborate version; some Majestics had far simple panels, or none at all.

The question of ‘what engine’, given an empty engine compartment, is open – the original Majestic prototype was built with an American 4-cylinder Cleveland engine! Other engines included Chaise and JAP single-cylinder engines, or a JAP v-twin mounted transversely. The fuel tank sits under the front bulkhead, and the instruments sat in a binnacle on the handlebars – in this case, a clock, speedo, and multi-position light switch. 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).

The Art Deco style of the 1930 Majestic catalog

The steering and front suspension uses vertical rods for sprung movement (or ‘sliding pillars’ if you know Morgan sports cars), and a steering rod is connected between the handlebars and the central hub. The inside of the hub is complicated, as it incorporates very large bearings, the swiveling steering mechanism, and the front brake.

A Majestic is striking from every angle

The Majestic was an expensive, elegant machine, a true Grand Routier in French parlance, and could be ordered in several colors, or even an ‘alligator’ finish, which was hand-applied by very skilled artisans of the Guild of Decorative Painters. There is no other motorcycle built with such a paint finish, which far exceeds the skills of even the best coach-painter; it’s an artisanal and labor-intensive technique, using an inherently unstable process. The ‘crackling’ is created by using a fast-drying top paint layer over an incompatible ‘base’ paint coat. As the top layer dries, it shrinks and cracks into an alligator-like skin. That several Majestics have survived 90 years with this unusual paint scheme speaks well of the artisan’s skills.

A short-chassis 1930 Majestic; there were 2 chassis types available

The Road Test

The Majestic is clearly a different breed, and we approached the machine with curiosity and a trace of awe. After a short tutorial on the function of various knobs and switches, a quick sit astride the machine brings no sense there’s anything unusual going on. Except there are no forks to guide you; one is atop a totally enclosed vehicle with hub-center steering, and only the handlebars and extensive instrument panel can be seen from the perch. Starting the Chaise 350cc engine of our test machine was a doddle, and after a prod, a typical 1920’s bonk emerges from the fishtail muffler. There was a slight valve clatter below the perforated engine covering, with no tank between rider and motor to muffle it. Not obtrusive, but noticeable.

Suitable for clergy! A priest on a Majestic

Moving onto the road, the steering becomes very light, with no inertial sluggishness in changing direction, which might be expected for such a long machine. As the speed rises to the 30-40mph range, there’s a mid pendulum effect at the front wheel, as if it’s seeking to find balance, so a light hand is required on the handlebars to prevent a weave. Even with a delicate touch, the front wheel seems very slightly aimless – not hunting exactly, but not rail-like in steering; constant minor correction is necessary to keep the plot moving in exactly the right direction. That was the only unusual effect of the Majestic’s steering, which was still surprising, as other hub-center steered machines tend towards over-stability, and are difficult to deflect from a straight line! It might well be that Georges Roy chose his front end geometry to avoid exactly that tendency, and to keep the Majestic feeling agile rather than rock-steady.

The slimness of the design is clear from the front; it’s little wider than a conventional single-cylinder motorcycle, and much narrower than a transverse 4.

The front suspension worked well, and the length of the machine meant bumps weren’t an issue at all. The Chaise engine isn’t especially powerful, so high-speed testing wasn’t possible, but as the throttle was wound back, the Majestic felt more stable than at ‘town’ speeds. The motor clattered away beneath the perforated steel cover, and the exhaust note was typical of the 1920s, with a tinny bonk from the silencer. At no point did the bodywork rattle or vibrate, and the whole machine felt completely solid, but in no way heavy.

The ‘craqueleure’ or alligator finish, an artisanal paint process requiring great skill. This example was spotted in the M2R museum in Andorra [Vincent Prat]
The Majestic was, as Georges Roy said, a ‘new motorcycle’, and an extremely forward-thinking design. He attempted to build an ‘ideal’ motorcycle, which was a fascination before WW2, when all things were possible. His ideal was taken up time and again over the ensuing decades, with many small shops and even Yamaha and Bimota taking up the hub-center flag. It’s a ‘better’ system than conventional forks in many ways, except that motorcyclists are a very conservative lot. Far-seeing enthusiasts in the 1920s knew enclosed motorcycles were the future…and how right they were, decades ahead of time.

The hub-center steering mechanism in plain view, showing the steering rod connected to the curved steering arm. The brake plate is on the other side of the hub.
A luxurious Bernardet sidecar makes a perfect complement to a 1930 Majestic [Yesterdays]
Access to the engine bay is easy with the top panel folded away. The Chaise 350cc OHV motor and Amac carburetor are visible and accessible
How they’re built today; a pair of replica Majestic chassis, showing clearly the contruction. Two mirror-image side rails, held together with riveted cross-members, strengthened by floorpans, and two bulkeads front and rear. The ‘arms’ extending forward hold the front wheel.
Side view of the remarkable Majestic-Bernardet sidecar outfit; the height of French Art Deco elegance [Yesterdays]
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