Rocker (subculture)

Rocker (subculture)

:"For the movie, see Rockers (film). For the professional wrestling tag team, see The Rockers."

Rockers are members of a subculture that started in the United Kingdom in the 1960s among motorcycle riding youths. Before that time, young motorcyclists had not been grouped together and labelled as such. Rockers are different from greasers, rockabillies, Teddy Boys, psychobillies and punks. However, rockers in the 1960s were commonly referred to as "greasers" or "grease" as an insult by mods and skinheads, and today the British use of the terms "greasers" and "rockers" are fairly interchangeable.

Origins and characteristics

The rocker subculture came about due to factors such as the end of Post-World War II rationing in the UK and a general rise in prosperity for working class youths, the recent availability of credit and financing for young people, the influence of American popular music and film, the construction of race track-like new arterial ring roads around British cities, and the development of transport cafes (pronounced "caffs" by rockers of that period) that became their haunts. These factors coincided with a peak in British motorcycle engineering.(These heavy bikes often needed rocking to and fro to get the standing leg to retract,hence the name). Although rocker-style youths existed in the 1950s, they were known as the "Ton Up Boys" because "ton-up" was English slang for driving 100 mph (160 km/h). It wasn't until the 1960s that they became known as rockers and they were immersed in rockabilly music and fashions and began to be known as much for their devotion to rock and roll music as they were for their motorcycles.

Rockers generally bought standard factory-made motorcycles and stripped them down, tuned them up and modified them to appear like racing bikes. They raced them on public roads and travelled to cafes such as The Ace Cafe, Chelsea Bridge tea stall, Ace of Spades, Busy Bee and Johnsons. Largely due to their clothing styles and dirtiness, the rockers were not widely welcomed by venues such as pubs and dance halls. This attitude remained prevalent in the UK until the early 1990s, when there was a notable change in the demographics of motorcycle riders in the country. Rockers were generally reviled by the British motorcycle industry and general enthusiasts as being bad for the industry and the sport. Originally, many rockers opposed recreational drug use, and according to Johnny Stuart,

[t] hey had no knowledge of the different sorts of drugs. To them amphetamines, cannabis, heroin were all drugs - something to be hated. Their ritual hatred of Mods and other sub-cultures was based in part on the fact that these people were believed to take drugs and were therefore regarded as sissies. Their dislike of anyone connected with drugs was intense. ["Rockers! Kings of the Road"]

Rockers became defined as the antitheses of their scooter-riding contemporaries, the mods. The mods and rockers conflict attracted attention in 1964 because of sensationalistic media coverage of fights between the two groups. Mods and rockers became known for Bank Holiday clashes in the southern English holiday resorts of Clacton, Margate and Brighton.

Fashion and music

The first rockers were primarily known for their motorcycles, but by the 1960s, their subculture became associated with a specific music genre and clothing style. Many rockers mostly favored 1950s and early-1960s rock and roll by artists such as Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Elvis Presley.

The rocker fashion style was born out of necessity and practicality. They wore heavily-decorated leather motorcycle jackets; often adorned with metal studs, patches, pin badges, and sometimes an ESSO "gas man" trinket. When they rode their motorcycles, they usually also wore a classic open-face helmet, aviator goggles, and a white silk scarf (to protect them from the elements). Other common items included: leather caps called "Kagneys", Levi's jeans, leather trousers, tall motorcycle boots (often made by Lewis Leathers), engineer boots, brothel creepers, T-shirts and "Daddy-O"-style shirts. Also popular was a patch declaring membership to the 59 Club of England, a church-based youth organization that later formed into a genuine motorcycle club with members all over the world. The rocker hairstyle, kept in place with Brylcreem pomade, was usually a tame or exaggerated pompadour hairstyle; as was popular with some 1950s rock 'n' roll musicians.

Cafe Racers

The term originated in the 1950s and 1960s,when Rockers often frequented cafes, using them as starting and finishing points for daring road races. A cafe racer is a motorcycle that has been modified for speed and good handling rather than for comfort. Features include a single racing seat, low handle bars (such as ace bars or one-sided clip-ons mounted directly onto the front forks for control and aerodynamics), half or full race fairings, large racing petrol tanks (often left unpainted), swept-back exhaust pipes, and rearset footpegs (to give better clearance while cornering at high speeds). These motorcycles were lean, light and handled various road surfaces well. The most defining machine of the rocker heyday was the Triton, which was a custom motorcycle made of a Norton Featherbed frame and a Triumph Bonneville engine. It used the most common and fastest racing engine combined with the best handling frame of its day.

The term "cafe racer" is now also used to describe motorcycle riders who prefer vintage British, Italian or Japanese motorbikes from the 1950s to late 1970s. These individuals don't resemble the rockers of earlier decades, and they dress in a more modern and comfortable style; with only a hint of likeness to the rocker style. Levi's jeans, generic motorcycle jackets and modern helmets are the norm, instead of the specific brand names and styles favoured by 1960s rockers. These cafe racers have taken elements of American greaser, British rocker and modern motorcycle rider styles to create a look of their own.

The term "cafe racer" also refers to a specific lightweight leather motorcycle jacket that originated in the 1950s and that may have been designed as more casual non-biking wear, such as the "cafe racer" jacket by Schott.

1970s revival

In the early 1970s, the British rocker and hardcore motorcycle scene fractured and evolved under new influences coming in from California; the hippies and the Hells Angels. The remaining rockers became known as greasers, and the scene had all but died out in form, but not in spirit. However, in the early 1980s, The Rocker Reunion Club was started by Len Paterson and a handful of original Chelsea Bridge Boys who held nostalgic rocker reunion dances and motorcycle runs to historic destinations such as Brighton Beach. Within a few years, these attracted 10,000 to 12,000 revivalists, and gained widespread media attention and new converts until Paterson sold his rights to the name. The rockers' look and attitude was adopted by many street gangs and crews such as The Savage Nomads, The Skulls, and The Seven Immortals, in New York City and other large cities and rough neighborhoods across the country. It was also worn by punk rock bands and fans in the late 1970s. In the 2000s, the rocker subculture is an influence on the rockabilly revival and psychobilly scenes. The modern-day rocker-style has followings all over the world, especially in Japan (where it was originally led by Koji Baba, who attended the rocker reunions), and also in the United States and Australia.

2000s revivals

In the 2000s, many rockers still wear engineer boots or full-length motorcycle boots, but Winkle Pickers (sharp pointed shoes) are no longer common. Some rockers in the 2000s wear Dr. Martens boots, brothel creepers (originally worn by Teddy Boys), or military combat boots. Rockers have continued to wear motorcycle jackets, leather trousers and white silk scarves while riding their bikes. Leather caps adorned with metal studs and chains, common among rockers in the 1950s and 1960s, are rarely ever seen any more. In its place, some contemporary rockers wear a classic wool English driving cap. Rockers in the 2000s tend to ride classic British motorcycles such as a Triumph, Norton, or Triton motorcycle hybrid of the two. Other popular motorcycle brands include BSA, Royal Enfield and Matchless from the 1960s. Classically-styled European cafe racers are now also seen; sometimes using Moto Guzzi, Ducati or classic Japanese engines with British-made frames, such as those made by Rickman.

Other uses of the term rocker

The term "rocker" is also used more generically in the North America to describe rock music, musicians, music celebrities or long-haired fans, also known as 'Metal Heads'.. In Jamaica, the term "rocker" is used to describe a devotee of 1970s-era reggae music. In Germany, the term "rocker" has been used to describe members of specific cult-like backpatch motorcycle clubs. Interpol used the term "rocker" as a code word during a widescale investigation into outlaw biker gangs.

Australian rockers

During the 1980s in South Australia, and possibly other Australian regions, young men who would probably be classified as bogan now were called rockers. A softer less hard version of the rocker, who wore less black was sometimes called an "Aussie Ocker".

Australian rockers typically wore flannelette shirts, usually in a blue or occasionally red check pattern, worn over a T-shirt or singlet tank top - nearly always black, although plain white T-shirts were seen, especially among the Italian/Greek varieties of rockers Sometimes they wore navy blue singlets. Trousers were usually black, or occasionally denim jeans. Jeans were worn tight, often with the legs taken in. Some rockers were known to actually sew their jeans on (i.e. take in their jeans while wearing them, to make them as tight as possible) for the weekends. Popular jackets included red Holden or blue Ford jackets with the logos of local car manufacturers emblazoned accross the back. The other relatively common jacket was the denim jacket (or vest), and occasionally a leather motorcycle jacket.

The iconic rocker footwear was the black ripple soled suede shoe ("Ripples" or "Rollers"). Alternatives included ankle-high work boots (often steel capped), Addidas Officials (a black leather trainer/sneaker especially popular with Greek and Italian rockers) and the Ciak casual shoe(usually black). Headgear, if worn, was typically a black knitted beanie (US name: watch cap, Canadian name: tuque). Hair was often long and often with no destinct style. A few rockers had shaved heads. Greek and Italian varieties of rockers would often wear their hair neater, and often coiffed in a quiff or slicked back with gel, brillcream of some other hair cream, thus the derogatory terms of the period "greasy wog". Tatoos including, "bum tatts" ( amateur tattoos), were common among Australian rockers. Harder rockers often had small red stars with black/blue outlines tattooed on their faces (usually cheeks) and ears. These tattooed stars were known as "rocker stars".

Rockers were typically working class and fairly reactionary, having a dislike for other subcultures, such as mods, skinheads, punks, grungies (post punks/swampies/prototypical goths). Typical interests were alcohol, girls, music, drugs and cars. Rockers listened to hard rock and heavy metal music by bands such as AC/DC, The Angels, Midnight Oil (before they became more overtly political), Iron Maiden, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple. Holden, Ford and Chevrolet were the car brands of choice. Cars were probably the main mode of transport, but there was a smaller element of motorcycle riders.


*"Eddie and the Cruisers"
*"The Lords of Flatbush"
*"The Wild One"
*"A Hard Day's Night"
*"The Leather Boys"



*Stanley Cohen; (1972). "Folk Devils and Moral Panics; The Creation of the Mods and Rockers". Routledge. ISBN 0-85965-125-8.
*Johnny Stuart; (1987). "Rockers!". Plexus Publishing Ltd. ISBN 0-85965-125-8
*Danny Lyons; (2003). "the Bikeriders". Wild Palms 1968, Chronicle Books ISBN 0-8118-4160
*Winston Ramsey; (2002). "the Ace Cafe then and now". After the Battle, ISBN 1-8700067-43-6
*Ted Polhemus; (1994). "Street Style". Thames and Hudson / V&A museum ISBN 0-500-27794-X
*Steve Wilson;(2000). "Down the Road". Haynes ISBN 1-85960-651-2

See also

*59 Club
*The Ace Cafe
*Café racer
*Greaser (subculture)
*Mods and Rockers
*Mod (lifestyle)
*Motorcycle club
*Punk subculture
*Rock and roll
*Teddy Boy

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