You could say Serge Bueno has come a long way on several levels.
At 14, he was zipping around Paris, France, aboard a 50cc Yamaha. He would go on to race motocross for 15 years, including the 2001 Rally of Tunisia, a 2,000-mile, 11-day desert run where he was one of the 60 who finished out of the 300 who started. And for decades he's been tracking down ultra-rare, historic motorcycles and restoring them to perfection.
Four years ago, Serge packed up lock, stock and motorcycle barrels, and moved from France to the U.S. He then built his Los Angeles, California, shop, Heroes Motorcycles, literally with his own hands, opening its doors on the day before Christmas 2014, during which he "unwrapped" a treasure trove of antique, vintage and classic machines, along with a fully equipped restoration facility.
It had been some 30 years since he opened his first motorcycle shop in Paris, specializing in unique racing machines from roughly the 1910-1950 era. He had also established a second location on the Normandy coast, an hour from Paris. His passion for unique motorcycles found him scouring the planet for machines, including the hunt for the rare parts needed to complete their restorations. By current count, he's resurrected over 100 rare bikes, aided by his training as an engineer working with a variety of metals, during which he also mastered old school painting techniques using rare pigments. Those skills translated well to the design and crafting of his own unique custom bikes, blending the best of the past, present and the future. The oval aluminum dashboard is fitted with matching large face Jaeger speedometer and clock in Roman numerals plus an ammeter and lighting selector switch. Other Majestic models had less elaborate "faces," some were built without the instrument panel altogether.
Coming to America
As for the motivation behind his trans-Atlantic/trans-cultural move to Southern California, Serge says, "Paris is a beautiful place, but Los Angeles is the place for my motorcycle work. So I sold my company in Paris and brought my wife with our four children and 40 motorcycles, and then began building my garage/workshop here on South La Brea Avenue." Word of mouth and social media brought customers in search of Serge's restoration magic or to purchase one of his completed bikes, and within six months he had sold 15 rare beauties just to get things rolling.
That was some three years ago, and he was already looking toward the future and his goal to see his shop become a motorcycle focal point in L.A., a place to be enjoyed by visitors from around the globe. Which brings us to his second Heroes Motorcycles location, recently established on L.A.'s upscale, poshy Melrose Avenue to serve as the showcase for the restorations completed at the original workshop on La Brea Avenue.
Currently on display is his latest restoration, a motorcycle so rare and exotic, it's certainly earned its name: the Majestic. And yes, it is French, through and through.
Although often unrecognized, the French created a wealth of beautiful bikes, most of them prior to World War II. Hundreds of different marques sprouted in France over the years, including the less remembered Albatross, the Genial-Lucifer, the Blotto and the Hasty... but also recognized milestones like the De Dion-Bouton, Hildebrand & Wolfmüller (OK, so it was actually German, but they were also built in Paris), Terot, Peugeot, Motobécane and Majestic.
The Majestic was "knitted together" by Monsieur Georges Roy, whose real business was knitting machines. In the early 1920s, and apparently as a hobby, he began focusing on motorcycle frame design. As an engineer, he wondered what he could create that would upgrade the prevailing but somewhat flexy tubular frame designs. Motorcycles were gaining increased power, and thus suffering from increased metal fatigue from vibration as well as the road conditions of the day, often resulting in frame cracking.
Engineer Roy initially drew up a design for a new type of chassis that solved the flex problem, adding stability as well as protection from the elements to some degree. A French term enters the picture at this point: monocoque, the structural system whereby loads are distressed via the object's surface skin, relieving pressures on the internal frame. Originally employed in boat building, the method was later transferred to early aircraft design. Technically the word means "single shell" and relates to nature's super effective creation, the egg shell.
Roy's innovative approach would not trickle down to car racing until 1962 with the Lotus 25 Formula One, and not until 1967 for motorcycles when Spanish builder OSSA developed a monocoque race bike for the 1967 Grand Prix race season.
Roy's initial design work took place in 1923, in the midst of the era of Art Deco, with its highly stylized new spin on classical motifs. The Art Deco movement influenced the likes of Picasso as well as designers of boats, planes, cars, trains, furniture, toasters, advertising, textiles and even buildings like the Chrysler Building in New York City.
When he had pieced together his creation Roy applied for a patent, in December 1926, apparently wanting to give the world a Christmas present of a new motorcycle. In fact, he called his new machine the "New Motorcycle." Long lines did not form, but Roy pressed on, fine-tuning his concept with the Majestic, which he unveiled at the prestigious 1929 Paris Automotive Show. There, finally, he got some rave reviews.
The Paris show bike was equipped with an American-made Cleveland 4-cylinder engine and 3-speed transmission. A 500cc single-cylinder French-made Chaise overhead-valve engine was specified for the production Majestic, although various other engines were used, as well.
Unlike the New Motorcycle, the Majestic was not a full monocoque. Beneath the swoopy panels was a steel box-section pressed-steel frame with twin side rails riveted together via crossmembers, along with front and rear bulkheads and floor pans rigidifying the chassis.
Although beefy looking, the bodywork was thin pressed steel, so the bike was actually relatively lightweight, around 350 pounds when fitted with the Chaise single-cylinder engine. The gas tank is hidden from view, sequestered under the front fender, forward of the engine.
The unorthodox front suspension used a hub-center steering design similar to that used on the Ner-A-Car, but with the addition of sliding pillar suspension similar to that used on the contemporary 3-wheeled Morgan cyclecar.
Production versions were apparently available in short and standard chassis versions, the latter measuring 64 inches overall. A review in the July 10, 1929, MotorCycling noted that while the Majestic looked like it had "an abnormally long wheelbase," the review called this "an optical illusion," saying it was in fact no longer than several other motorcycles then available. Contemporary test reviews of a Chaise-engined Majestic reported that "town speeds" of 35-40mph produced no vibration from the bodywork, with the steering "agile, rather than rock steady."
Oddly enough, after Roy had built his piece de resistance, he refocused on his knitting industry activities, and in 1930, the year Serge's machine was first built, he sold the Majestic rights to another French motorcycle concern, Delachanal, which built motorcycles under the Dollar name. A year later, with the world gripped by the Great Depression, Delachanal was taken over by Metallurgical and Industrial Omnium, builders of Chaise engines. The Majestic continued in limited production, but the general public didn't clamor for Roy's novel and expensive Grand Routier ("grand tourer") although by any measure it was, and is, quite grand.
An estimated 100 machines were produced, most powered by either 350cc or 500cc single-cylinder engines produced by Chaise. Some were also apparently fitted with a JAP V-twin, and 4-cylinder engines from both Chaise and Cleveland. The last Majestic is dated to 1933.
Roy was definitely dancing to a different drummer when he designed the Majestic. And while he came up with a somewhat streamlined effect, with aero design elements like the louvers and air intakes, the front fender was a bit gaping, no doubt to accommodate the center-hub/sliding pillar steering assembly he used on the Majestic.
The legacy of the Majestic motorcycle was brought to the public's attention some 60-plus years later, when it was chosen to be one of the 114 milestone machines spotlighted at the highly successful 1998-1999 Guggenheim Museum's The Art of the Motorcycle exhibition as seen in New York, Chicago,
Las Vegas and Bilbao, Spain. Serge spent several years coaxing the elderly French owner to part with this machine, and then hung onto it for nearly 30 years before recently launching into an intensive six-month-long restoration, bringing it back to its original luster along with a French-made Bernardet sidecar, the perfect match for the Majestic. Powering the duo is a 500cc overhead valve Chaise single-cylinder engine fed by an Amal carburetor.
This is the second Majestic restored by Serge, who plans to show the bike at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, Aug. 26, 2018. MC