Mark Fazakerley bought his first motorcycle in the 1960s when he was 17 years old. Fazakerley said he purchased the motorcycle because he couldn’t afford a car.
“It was my first form of transportation and I had so much fun with it,” he said.
Nearly 30 years later, in the 1990s, Fazakerley was looking for a new hobby and a friend suggested antique motorcycles.
Initially Fazakerley was thinking about purchasing something from the 1960s, a Yamaha Big Bear or Scrambler, but fate intervened when he was given the chance to purchase a 1909 Excelsior, which had been owned by the same family since it had been purchased brand new.
“I really didn’t know anything about old bikes, but I was intrigued,” Fazakerley said.
The history of the motorcycle in America began in the early 1900s when innovative men began mounting one-cylinder engines onto conventional bicycles.
Several motorcycle companies sprouted up in those initial years, including Excelsior, which was based on Randolph Street in Chicago.
Fazakerley said what intrigued him about antique motorcycles was the technology. “My first motorcycle doesn’t have a clutch, no transmission, it’s just direct drive. It was fascinating how they would have engineering solutions to tech that was yet to be developed. That started me on a path to looking at other old bikes.”
Since purchasing the 1909 Excelsior, Fazakerley has added six additional motorcycles to his collection, which range from 1909 to 1930.
When the Muskegon Museum of Art began discussing mounting its “American Icon: The Art of the Motorcycle” exhibition, Fazakerley name came up.
Ultimately, three of his motorcycles became part of the exhibit: the 1909 Excelsior, a 1913 Henderson and a 1930 Henderson.
While motorcycles have become synonymous with “rebel culture” and “freedom” over the years, Fazakerley said initially motorcycles were simply a form of transportation.
He noted hundreds of motorcycle companies sprang up in the early 1900s and went out of business just as quickly due to the automobile. “Henry Ford’s Model T put most of them out of business,” he explained.
Later, motorcycles saw a resurgence when World War II veterans began purchasing them from the government at a relatively low cost. And it was then that the motorcycle really began to transform from just a mode of transportation to a cultural icon.
Fazakerley said his seven-bike collection tells a story of motorcycle technology more than anything.
“What I like about those bikes is the progression of technology,” he said. “As I said, my 1909 [bike] doesn’t have a clutch or transmission, it’s direct drive.”
He said almost immediately after the motorcycle was developed, brands like Harley, Indian and Excelsior were forming racing teams and pitting their bikes against one another, “learning how to make bigger, stronger, faster and more powerful bikes.”
“What I enjoy is looking at the changes made year by year,” Fazakerley said, noting that the innovation was rapid with things like a “better carburetor, shifting transmissions and one cylinder to two cylinders” being developed rapidly.
He also said the stylistic innovations were impressive and today many antique bikes are striking in their design.
You can view Fazakerley collection as well as motorcycles from other collectors at the Muskegon Museum of Art through Aug. 12.
Description of “American Icon: The Art of the Motorcycle” Exhibit
American Icon offers a glimpse at the artistry of the motorcycle over the years, through vintage and custom bikes drawn from Muskegon area collections. The display includes motorcycles from Harley-Davidson alongside early, ultra-rare examples from American manufacturers Henderson and Excelsior. American Icon also features portraits and images that highlight the artistry of customized motorcycles and the men and women who ride them by Michigan photographers Bill Chardon and Jennifer Green.
*Photos courtesy of the Muskegon Museum of Art