Mods And Rockers. Are We Seeing A Revival Of Both Subcultures?

modsrockers1modsrockers2Shades of the ’60s are everywhere in our motorcycle industry. From Scooters making a huge come back in big cities to Old British Iron being renovated or used as the basis of new customs, from Scooter Clubs to Cafe Racers meetings, it looks like the Mods and Rockers subcultures may be back. Not only in their birthplace of England but all over Europe and somewhat in the US. In the mid-sixties you had to be a Mod or a Rocker to be anything. For those who were one or the other  (it means that like me you are baby boomer…) and for those who are now inheriting or imitating their lifestyle,  below is a short history of these important 2-wheeler movements.   

modsrockers3The Mods. Post World War II England saw the end of rationing, military service had been abolished, economy was booming, people had money to spend on clothes and bikes. The Mods were essentially from London and the South East and were complete followers of the latest fashion. They were discovering new sounds, rhythm and blues,  new jazz, rich exotic sounds like Ska brought over with the Caribbean immigrants (while mainstream England was listening to the Beatles). They were ultra hip subterranean night club dwellers. Mods held down well paid office jobs (whereas Rockers tended to be more rural and manual workers), were arrogant, strutting kids and loving to create confrontation in nightclubs. The green shapeless army surplus Parka coat became the uniform. It was adopted to protect their expensive weekend suits from the damp London climate and to keep warm when riding their scooters, predominantly Italian brands like Vespa and Lambretta. Because police was harassing them for insufficient lighting and size of mirrors, in derision they decided to install numerous headlights, crash bars, white wall tires and high backrest seats, each Mod competing to have the chicest ride and modsrockers4the hottest chick riding behind. Amphetamine was the Mods drug of choice, pot not fitting their ideology (Pot was slowing you down, amphetamine kept you hyperactive for days without need to sleep between office hours and nightclubbing). Their influence on the London music scene was such that the Mod subculture resulted in the creation of new bands like the Small Faces, the Yardbirds and the High Numbers, known later as The Who, the band who defined the Mods with the song “My Generation”. Mods hated Rockers that they saw as out of touch and grubby. Rockers saw Mods as arrogant and young effeminate snobs. Scuffles occurred wherever they happened upon each other. To protect themselves some Mods went to sew fish hooks into the backs of their lapels to shred the fingers of Rockers assailants.


modsrockers5The Rockers
. The Rockers movement started sooner in Liverpool during the late fifties. Illegal import of rare rock and roll vinyl albums coming from the sea trade with the US created a scene of teen agers in black leather jackets be bopping in night clubs. They rode motorcycles, listened to Elvis ad Gene Vincent. and were rebellious. To the uninitiated, a Rocker looked like trouble, Typical rocker outfit was black leather, a white scarf tightly wound around mouth and neck when riding, a pair of Levi’s jeans or black leather pants and sometimes wool white socks folded over the top of their boots (a look borrowed from the World War I aviation pilots). They are credited for influencing rock stars of the mid sixties in wearing leather. It is also believed that it is at this time that the gay community adopted leather to copy the image of the manly Rockers. New ring roads were built around cities and for Rockers they became tracks to race their machines. Trucker cafés on these roads were meeting places, the most famous of them being the London Ace Cafe still in existence. Rockers main love affair was speeding on their bikes, something that modsrockers6they thought was very glamourous and a way to defy a very puritan and rigid English society. Rockers were a very tight group extremely supportive of each other. The rivalry with the Mods came to a culminant point in May 1964 during the Bank Holiday weekend. Traditionally, Londoners head for the seaside resorts of Margate, Broadstairs and Brighton. A large number of Rockers and Mods had the same holiday plan. Inevitably fights between the 2 groups started all along England south coast resorts, the most serious acts of violence happening in Brighton. Many protagonists on both sides were arrested and heavily fined. These serious riots were later immortalized in the cult film “Quadrophenia” (in it, a very young and next to be famous musician and singer called Sting, playing a Mod character)

The Rocker movement vanished in the 70’s. Then in the early eighties a few remaining Rockers organized meetings that would progressively become again very popular. The reunions include many too young to have been around in the early days. The lifestyle is still very appealing with groups all over Europe, in Japan and to a marginal degree in the US. At the end of the 60’s the Quadropheniamovie1Mod scene also disappeared. During these last years, as a consequence of the high price of gas, many have rediscovered the Scooter as  primary mode of transportation. White collar Baby boomers just remembered the Mods and their children are looking for reference codes. For the 1st time in 4 decades it is not uncommon to see in Europe and America Scooter Clubs organizing meetings where members wear the traditional green Mod Parka and ride Italian Vespa decked out with multiple oversized headlights. At the same time the Cafe Racer culture is alive again and attracting a new generation of bikers with the number of participating Rockers growing more at each London Ace Cafe reunion. Could it be that we are seeing the beginning of a revival of both subcultures? Not sure, yet. But at least one thing is certain. The respective lifestyles are now based on nostalgia more than on rebellion and consequently both movements could grow again without any risk of confrontation. The potential benefit? More motorcycling and more customizing.

Added November 23, 09: “Hi Cyril, “The Ace Cafe was built and opened in 1938. During the blitz on London in WWII, the cafe was entirely destroyed in a night time air raid November 1940. Following this air raid a temporary cafe, consisting of a prefabricated concrete air raid shelter was put on the site and operated as a cafe for the duration of the war. At end of war a new cafe was erected, this being the building that still operates today. I feel I should add that the target of the enemy air raid of November 1940, was the numerous railway bridges adjacent to the cafe and not the cafe itself!…..they never got the bridges.  It is also my understanding that no one was killed in the strike on the cafe. More info about the cafe, together with historic photos, can be found on the website’s history section. Kind Regards” Mark Wilsmore, Ace Cafe London.

Zipper's

32 Responses to “Mods And Rockers. Are We Seeing A Revival Of Both Subcultures?”


  1. 1 Joey Nov 16th, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    Cyril. Great story. And I didn’t know.

  2. 2 Fluke Nov 16th, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    I grew up in the UK in the 80s, OK, I came of age in the 80s bike wise. It was the same back then, half my school friends walking around with ex -army greatcoats with Union Jacks or The Who logos on the back pretending to be mods while the wannabe rockers were into black leather and 60’s glam (slightly odd 60’s glam even I will admit, but hey, we were kids in the age of the Dynasty shoulder pads and giant hair) .Our view of dream like America back then was the Monkees TV show and Happy Days repeats.

    I lived about 5 miles form the Ace Café mentioned above, but I never even knew what it was when I went past. You live amongst history and have no idea at the time.

    I should add one point, according to my mom who actually lived them, the Brighton mod/rocker fights so immortalised nowadays were quite a short and less exciting phenomenon. One of those things where pop culture history is a lot more interesting than the actual reality.

  3. 3 RM Nov 16th, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    I was around for the big Mods n Rockers revival fueled by the release of Quadrophenia in England in the late 70’s. Scooters were my first introduction to bikes and the vast majority of my old mates are still in to them and have been religiously attending scooter rallies since then. We just flew to the UK to attend our club’s (Glevum Stax SC) 30th Anniversary bash and had the BEST time. Scooterboys sure know how to party!

  4. 4 rocker aka shirts. Nov 16th, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    Rockers, we never disapeared we just had a long lay in, I was there in the 1960’s it was a exciting time, we hung around cafes like the Ace cafe, Busy bee cafe we were in clubs like the 59 club we modified our motorbikes to get more speed, we raced from cafe to cafe to see who would get there first or reach that elusive ton or 100mph the bikes got the nickname of cafe racers because thats what we did raced from cafe to cafe, we listened to Rock n roll and yes we clashed with the Mods at a number of seaside resorts hay we were young but it sure was fun.
    Its good to see more folks are getting them old brit bikes out and having fun as we did way back then.
    Real good Blog Cyril, keep it up.

    shirts.

  5. 5 ian Nov 16th, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    Brighton is still host to two of my favourite day rallies both of which feature plenty of classic British Bikes and tricked out vespas and Lambrettas – Brightona http://www.brightona.brighton-rock.net/
    and The Ace Cafe Reunion http://www.ace-cafe-london.com/Reunion.aspx

    But we are all friends these days and there hasn’t been any south coast trouble since the days of punks in the late 70’s.

  6. 6 Jim F Nov 16th, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    Not from the UK, but Boston MA, USA. Me and 4 friends did our best to copy the Rocker thing that we read about in UK magazines (one + of living there, lots of Int’l publications readily available). To of us had Triumphs, one had a BSA and a Norton, one had a BSA and the last guy rode a HD Sportster (we still loved him!). Our primary haunt was Route 128, which circled Boston. We’d run from one truck stop or Howard Johnson’s (roadside restaurant) to the next, then back again. One plus, there weren’t a lot of scooter riders around, except near some of the university and college areas.

    Good times!

  7. 7 jeez louise! Nov 16th, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    “the moon is bright above, oh, what a night for luv, and as I ‘old you near, and wisper in your ear…Igot 750 cc outside my door, I ain’t no bus stop cowboy that’s for sure, try and stop me,catch me if you can…. I’ll be a Rocker, yes I’m a Rocker till die…. too fast to live, too young to die…” words of a song by Chas ‘n’ Dave, makes me smile every time I think about it… I’m in Canada now, still riding a cafe-racer, still got the ‘sideburns’ A Rocker ain’t just a weekend cowboy like them bleedin’ tarts mods… Stirrin’ it up as always….

  8. 8 alan Nov 16th, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    IF THIS HAPPEN I WILL JUST SAY IT’S ABOUT TIME
    I LOVE THAT
    NO MORE CHROME AND COVER FOR NOTHING JUST ABOUT MOTORCYCLE AND FUN
    AND ALSO GOOD MUSIC

  9. 9 Canajun Nov 16th, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    Great summary. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  10. 10 Colin Dresner Nov 16th, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    2 subcultures that Americans don’t know very well. Very interesting. Thanks Cyril.

  11. 11 Cranky Phillip Nov 16th, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    Love the story and old pics. Rock n’ Roll, baby. Going to listen to some Gene Vincent.

  12. 12 nicker Nov 16th, 2009 at 9:22 pm

    Old is New………… 🙂

    -nicker-

  13. 13 nicker Nov 16th, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    -BTW-
    Rockers were the first contemporary Custom bike builders.
    Gear head working class kids who created two wheel hot rods of iconic proportions.
    And their creations were immortalized as:
    – Norvins
    – Tritons
    – TriBSAs
    And in California
    – Grumphs
    No production customs in those days. If ya had to have one, ya had to build it.
    Every real Rocker was a gear head.
    I

    People are still building these “standards” today.
    And gear heads “must” create…………. it’s in their DNA …………….. 🙂

    -nicker-

  14. 14 1550tc Nov 16th, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    Cyril

    everything old is new

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xrOek4z32Vg

  15. 15 Bigalyts Nov 17th, 2009 at 9:14 am

    GREAT RE CAP CYRIL, THE NEW NAMES OF THE TIMES OF NOW ARE “CRUISERS” ,”CROTCHERS”, & “NERDERS” (No matter how you cut it, you look like a nerd riding a scoot).

  16. 16 Scotty Nov 17th, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    Before my time but cool reading about it.

  17. 17 Doc Robinson Nov 17th, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    We had the same scene in Australia, a virtual copy of the UK. A mate of mine decided to pull up on his Triumph out the front of an Adelaide nightclub full of mods (and with plently milling about outside) to give them the finger, which he did. Then promptly stalled his bike. Before he could kick it over to restart it, he was swamped with angry mods. He has worn a complete set of false teeth since that day!

  18. 18 jatinder pal Nov 18th, 2009 at 4:17 am

    Old pics are always my favourite…they say it all.the time and era just looks so cool…

  19. 19 gustian Nov 18th, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    My youth is coming back to my mind, with tears in my eyes……
    The most frustrating is that my sisters daughter (30 years old) is still wearing my old leather jacket.
    That stuff is over here a cool item again.
    No mather what I try, she dont want to give it back……(lol)

    Figure I have to buy a new “old” jacket for myself, if I want to hit the road again in a 70ties look .

    Young at 53 , cooooooool.

    Peace Gustian

    PS my “wheels” in those times was a Rickman with a 750 Four with four in one Marschall. (Pushed to 90 HP)

  20. 20 Thomas Nov 18th, 2009 at 7:20 pm

    Nice piece but a very few minor inaccuracies – all forgiven except one being that the Ace Cafe is now at a different location – it is in exactly the same spot, and is the same building albeit with a few slight (mostly cosmetic) modifications over the years. Before it reopened it was a tyre shop, and a taxi cab office I think.

    I live down the street where Jimmy lived in Quadrophenia… but I’m a rocker and it’s manor now!

  21. 21 Thomas Nov 19th, 2009 at 4:10 am

    I meant to say it’s MY manor now!

  22. 22 john reed Nov 19th, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    I look back at my life, there has been a lot of good things, but there are some that I feel ashamed about.
    In England late 70’s, two mods were riding on the road between Didcot and Wallingford , they were cruising along side by side about 45mph on their scooters when a dick in a leather jacket rode between them at 70 miles an hour on a Vincent with 2″ pipes it made them jump so much they fell into the ditch on each side of the road.
    It was me , I thought it was funny when I did it, but years later I realized that even tho I thought they looked stupid riding along with their feet out the side on scooters covered in lights they were still bikers, they didnt do anything to me but I screwed up their day and after all these years I still feel a little guilty .
    I must be getting mellow.

  23. 23 Steve CARPY Carpenter Nov 23rd, 2009 at 11:12 am

    Rockers Reunion:

    Hey There
    Well i now reside in the USA and have done since 1997, but have always been into the Rockers Scene, my Dad was a rocker in the late 50’s and hung out at the Ace and Busy Bee, he met my mum whilst racing around London on his 500 matchless and I guess the Cafe Racer is in my blood, as I build these cool rides over here.

    I am 47 and in the 70’s when unemployment was at its highest, seaside resorts on Bank holidays always ended up with Mods and Rockers turning up and of course, we all got into a few punch ups.
    The scene is just as strong today but we all get along now and thats a cool thing.
    The Rockers were really the early Motorcycle Custom Creators, and the Mods were in a way too, Rockers made bikes faster, lighter and sleeker for the elimant of speed.
    Mods tricked theirs out with paint, chrome and they were also more fashion concious.

    I will always have a passion for any Cafe Racer, be it Brit, Japanese or italian, I love it all.

    There is a big following for the Cafe Racer lifestyle here in the USA and around the globe and boy am I all revved up about it, very cool indeed.

    Peace and Grease
    Carpy

  24. 24 Steve CARPY Carpenter Nov 23rd, 2009 at 11:20 am
  25. 25 Rick the Mod Nov 23rd, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    I came of age in the 60s and gave up riding old BSA A7 and A10s to buy a Lambretta as my friend reckoned I had more chance of scoring on a scooter. He was right too, so I went the whole nine yards and had the Mod haircut and wore a suit and a parka with fur trim on the hood. My scooter was a GT 200 with the usual array of mirrors and other chrome doodads all over it. I never lost my love of real motorcycles though and got back on an old Triumph as soon as I had graduated from Uni.and got a regular job. It was one of the last 650 five speed bikes with the oil in the frame and although it was old and somewhat less than reliable I loved it.Now I have a 2008 HD Softail, my sixth Harley since I left the UK for a job overseas. I ride year round in mostly warm, sunny weather but I still miss taking the Bonnie out on winding English country roads. I wonder what happened to Barbara, my first Mod girlfriend? I reckon she would love riding the Softail as much as she loved riding the Lambretta!

  26. 26 rocker girl barb Nov 29th, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    I BEGAN MY ROCKER GIRL LIFE IN THE 1950S AGE 6 BEGING MY OLDER BROTHERS FREINDS FOR RIDES ON THERE BIKES AND DROVE THEM ALL MAD UNTIL ONE OF THEM PERSUADED MY MOTHER TO LET HIM TAKE ME WITH THE INTENTION THAT IT WOULD PUT ME OFF AND I WOULD LEAVE THEM ALONE . THIS WAS NOT TO BE JUST THE OPPOSIT IT MADE ME WORSE.
    NEXT IN MY EARLY TEENS IN THE MID 1960S OF I WOULD GO TO ALL THE LOCAL NOTTINGHAM BIKER CAFES WITH MY FRIENDS AND SOON BECAME ONE OF THE GANG OFTEN HAVING TO PINCH MY BROTHERS LEATHER JACKET AND HELMET UNTIL I GOT MY OWN.
    SOON TO PROGRESS TO ALL THE BIKER PUBS IN NOTTINGHAM THE MAIN ONE WAS THE WHITE HART AT LENTON THE BIG BICKER PUB IN NOTTINGHAM IN THE 60S AND 70 ALSO BELONGING TO SEVERAL BIKE CLUBS AROUND TOO 59, 41, AND MANY MORE.
    MET MY HUSBAND ALSO A ROCKER AT 14 STARTED GOING OUT WITH HIM AT 17 AND EVENTUALLY GOT MARRIED AT 22 AND STAYED ON THE SCENE UNTIL HAVING OUR FIRST BABY BUT HAVE ALLWAYS KEPT IN TOUCH WITH ALL OUR BIKER MATES AND NOW ARE VERY MUCH BACK ON THE BIKE TRACKS AGAIN BUT DUE TO MY DISABILITY DO NOT HAVE A BIKE. WE HAVE JUST REOPENED OUR BIKER BAR AT THE WHITE HART AGAIN SO ANY OF YOU BIKERS OUT THERE FANCY A RIDE OUT SOMEWERE NEW BUT OLD COME AND SEE US A WARM WELCOME AWAITS ANY ROCKERS OR MODS IF THEY WISH TO COME AND CHECK IT OUT.

    BEST WISHES AND THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES

    BARB

  27. 27 Business Dec 20th, 2009 at 5:28 am

    yeah, Their influence on the London music scene was such that the Mod subculture resulted in the creation of new bands.

  28. 28 mark Jan 25th, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    Nice article. We’re having our 4th event in Dallas coming March 26-28, 2010. There’s enough of a rivalry between the scoots and the bikes to be fun, but we mostly just take the piss out of each other and talk a bunch of trash. Between our event and the British Biker Burnup’s that Ralph puts on, some amazing bikes come out of the woodwork.

  29. 29 Joel Aug 18th, 2011 at 9:32 am

    Hi my name is Joel and I live in the north of England, I am 16 years old and I like to consider my self as a rocker. I’m mainly into classic 80’s rock and have a great interest in motorbikes, this influence has come from my parents and uncles who were rockers during the late 70’s and all through the 80’s. Most people my age in my area don’t like the music I’m into or the clothes that I wear as it is not what they call “fashion”, but its what I feel most comfortable as, I feel very unique as there isn’t a lot of rockers that are my age in my area, and most people my age are into shitty music like techno. I would like to hear from fellow rockers no matter what age you are as I feel like I’m the only rocker there is in my area.

  30. 30 Martin Oct 6th, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    Great nostalgic article. I’m another who was there with my mates in the 60’s, in the south of England. In the mid 60’s I had both scooters and bikes (two 1958 LD Lambrettas, an NSU Prima, then a triumph and then an old thumping 1948 Matchless 500 single). Those were the days of modifications, grease and girls, Beatles, Stones, Yardbirds, Dave Clark Five, Animals and Kinks – amongst many many other groups of course, great memories. Could never afford a new bike then, so rarely a day went by without being on, near, or wrapped around one old bike or another.

    Yes, the mad tearing from one place to another. Bikers just seemed to be everywhere, always ready for a race (burn up) to one place or another.

    Managed to avoid the more serious fights in the south but did see some bad road accidents in those years where several friends got mangled up. Guess I was lucky.

  31. 31 testbells Nov 17th, 2011 at 4:49 am

    Though Cohen admits that mods and rockers had both fights in the mid-1960s, he argues that they were no diverse to the eventide brawls that occurred between youths throughout the 1950s and earlier 1960s, both at coast resorts and after football games. He claims that the UK media reversed the mod subculture into a disconfirming symbolization of due and deviant state.

  1. 1 Cafe Racer Love Affair at Cyril Huze Blog – Custom Motorcycle News Pingback on May 31st, 2010 at 6:30 am
Comments are currently closed.
S&S
S&S

Subscribe

Socialize

Facebook Google+ Twitter