Youth Culture - Greasers/Rockers
Greasers are a working class youth subculture that originated in the 1950s among young northeastern and southern United States street gangs. The style and subculture then became popular among other types of people, as an expression of rebellion.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, these youths were known as hoods. The name greaser came from their greased-back hairstyle, which involved combing back hair with wax, gel, creams, tonics or pomade. The term greaser reappeared in later decades as part of a revival of 1950s popular culture. One of the first manifestations of this revival was a 1971 American 7 Up television commercial that featured a 1950s greaser saying "Hey remember me? I'm the teen angel." The music act Sha Na Na also played a major role in the revival.
Although the greaser subculture was largely an American youth phenomenon, there were similar subcultures in the United Kingdom, Australia and Sweden. The 1950s British equivalents were the ton-up boys, who evolved into the rockers in the 1960s. Members of rival subcultures in the UK, such as skinheads, sometimes referred to greasers simply as grease.
Unlike British rockers, American greasers were known more for their love of hot rod cars, not necessarily motorcycles, although both subcultures are known to be fans of classic motorcycles, as well as being fans of 1950s rockabilly music. The equivalent subculture in Australia was the Bodgies and Widgies.
Rockers, leather boys or ton-up boys are members of a biker subculture that originated in the United Kingdom during the 1950s. It was mainly centred around British cafe racer motorcycles and rock and roll music.
By 1965 the term greaser had also become common and, since then, the terms greaser and rocker have become synonymous within the British Isles although used differently in North America and elsewhere. Rockers were also derisively known as Coffee Bar Cowboys. Their Japanese equivalent was called the Kaminari-zoku (Thunder Tribe).
Until the post-World War II period motorcycling held a prestigious position and enjoyed a positive image in British society, being associated with wealth and glamour. Starting in the 1950s, the middle classes were able to buy inexpensive motorcars so that motorcycles became transport for the poor.
The rocker subculture came about due to factors such as: the end of post-war rationing in the UK, 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 films, the construction of race track-like arterial roads around British cities, the development of transport cafes and a peak in British motorcycle engineering.
Rocker-style youths existed in the 1950s, but were known as "ton-up boys" because doing a ton was English slang for driving at a speed of 100 mph (160 km/h) or over.
The Teddy boys were considered their "spiritual ancestors". The rockers or ton-up boys took what was essentially a sport and turned it into a lifestyle, dropping out of mainstream society and "rebelling at the points where their will crossed society's". This damaged the public image of motorcycling in the UK and led to the politicisation of the motorcycling community.
The mass media started targeting these socially powerless youths and cast them as "folk devils", creating a moral panic through highly exaggerated and ill-founded portrayals. From the 1960s on, due to the media fury surrounding the mods and rockers, motorcycling youths became more commonly known as rockers, a term previously little known outside small groups. The public came to consider rockers as hopelessly naive, loutish, scruffy, motorized cowboys, loners or outsiders.
Rockers, like the ton-up boys before them, were immersed in 1950s rock and roll music and fashions, and became known as much for their devotion to music as they were to their motorcycles. Many favoured 1950s and early-1960s rock and roll by artists such as Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran and Chuck Berry; music that George Melly called "screw and smash" music.
Two groups emerged, one identifying with Marlon Brando's image in The Wild One, hanging around transport cafes, projecting nomadic romanticism, violence, anti-authoritarianism and anti-domesticity; the other being non-riders, similar in image but less involved in the cult of the motorbike.
The term cafe racer originated in the 1950s, when bikers often frequented transport cafes, using them as starting and finishing points for 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 handlebars (such as ace bars or one-sided clip-ons mounted directly onto the front forks for control and aerodynamics), large racing petrol tanks (aluminum ones were often polished and left unpainted), swept-back exhaust pipes, rear-set footpegs (to give better clearance while cornering at high speeds) with or without half or full race fairings.
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. Other popular motorcycle brands included BSA, Royal Enfield and Matchless.
The term cafe racers 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. These cafe racers have taken elements of American greaser, British rocker and modern motorcycle rider styles to create a look of their own. Rockers in the 2000s tend still to ride classic British motorcycles, however, classically styled European cafe racers are now also seen, such as Moto Guzzi or Ducati, as well as classic Japanese bikes, some with British-made frames such as those made by Rickman.