In the summer of 1964, the English seaside resort town of Brighton was the battleground for two rival motorcycle gangs: the Mods and the Rockers. Almost five decades later, Rockers Larry Fletcher and Martin Cimek continues the infamous ‘Battle of Brighton’ by hosting the 9th annual Mods vs. Rockers Vintage Motorcycle and Scooter Rally in Chicago.
The relationship between the two factions has changed since they met on the south shore of England.
On Thursday, the Rockers parked their Triumph and Ducati motorbikes next to the Mod’s Vespa and Lambretta scooters outside the Isle of Man clothing shop and gallery on North Lincoln Avenue. They gathered for an art show featuring work by German photographer Horst Fredricks on the two subcultures.
“This year we kind of hit the homerun by bringing the music and culture to the motorcycle show, and it is something we’ve been trying to do for years,” Cimek said.
Fletcher and Cimek make up the Steel Toe Press, an event company dedicated to keeping the vintage motorbikes community in high gear. They have organized motorcycle shows since 2005, but this is the first year where they will expand the Mods vs. Rockers Rally to include the culture surrounding these machines. This weekend’s event will include hot rod exhibitions, motorcycle stunt shows, a vintage fashion contest and a Rockabilly concert featuring performers such as Reverend Horton Heat and Lee Rocker.
“A lot of these bikes that are invited to these events are simply machines you don’t get to see anymore, and I think everybody is fascinated by that aspect of it,” Cimek said. “They are beautiful and influenced by a lot of different things that happened throughout different eras that we’ve seen throughout pop culture.”
Fletcher and Cimek have both loved bikes since they were kids, revelling in the daredevilry of Evel Knievel and aspiring to be Steve McQueen escaping Nazi soldiers on his Triumph TR6 Trophy motorcycle in The Great Escape. A trip to England in the mid-’90s inspired Fletcher to start the Ace Cafe in Chicago, copying a North London motorcycle cafe of the same name.
“In 1994, I went to a Rocker’s reunion in London. It was at the Chelsea Bridge,” Fletcher said. “That was how I was first exposed to real Rocker culture ‘cause they still have a strong Rocker culture in the U.K. When I was there, I thought this was really cool and I would like to recreate this in the U.S.”
The cafe closed 18 months later, but Fletcher continues to organize motorcycle events which has attracted as many as 4,000 attendees. Cimek expects this weekend’s event to top 5,000 motorcycle enthusiasts.
Fletcher estimates that the number of Rockers outnumber Mods four to one at previous events, but this weekend’s rally might challenge their status quo.
“We have Mods coming from Canada, from Ireland,” Fletcher said. “We have a big contingent of Mods coming from Texas. So we’ve already been warned that the rumble might be on.”
Cimek says the Rockers and the Mods do not ride together, but they have learned to tolerate each other in recent years.
“We still don’t understand how they can feel macho and ride with their knees together,” Fletcher said.
The Mods vs. Rockers Vintage Motorcycle and Scooter Rally will be held at the Aragon Entertainment Center on 1106 W. Lawrence Ave on June 15.
For more information, visit modsvsrockerschicago.com.
Lee Jian Chung is a WBEZ arts and culture intern. Follow him @jclee89.