I am not alone when I say, when I think of motorcycle culture, specifically vintage motorcycle culture in Chicago, I think of Larry Fletcher, or Fletch as we all like to call him.
Larry Fletcher has ridden Triumphs his whole life. Not because that’s what he could afford. Not because that’s what was passed down to
him from his father, who rode motorcycles before starting their family. No, Larry has ridden Triumphs his whole life because his dad took him to see The Great Escape, The Wild One, and Coogans Bluff. “Steve McQueen, Marlon Brando, Clint Eastwood, those guys were the coolest of the cool.” Larry was a frequent visitor to Santa Fe Speedway on Chicago's south side in the late 60's and early 70's. Where Gene Romero and Gary Nixon tore up the dirt oval on Triumphs. Gary and Gene were both AMA Grand National Champions during that era and were both featured in On Any Sunday. Not to mention, Larry watched Evel Kenevel jump (and crash) a Triumph over the fountains at Cesars Palace in Las Vegas. “That was the time I grew up, and that is what I was influenced by. So it is not surprising that I wanted a Triumph as my first bike.”
Fletch’s riding career started when he was 10, his home was located near the entrance to some woods and the neighborhood kids were all
riding their father’s British bikes that were set up for dirt. His friends were happy to share their motorcycles with him. It was not until the mid 80’s, when Larry relocated to Chicago, that he finally found his first bike,” A beautiful 65 Bonnie, black with 9’s on the side covers .The 9’s were in honor of Gary Nixon - his national racing number. Unfortunately, it was stolen, but it was quickly replaced with a totally stock and original ‘65 Bonnie.”
At the time, the vintage motorcycle scene in Chicago was not really developed. There was a Vincent MC that would meet at the Bucktown Pub
every Wednesday, but “eventually the Harley riders started showing up, and that was the beginning of the end.” The Vincent Club took their bike night private, and began meeting at a private shop on Goose Island.
As a self proclaimed Triumph Geek, Fletch booked a trip to London in 1994. He had 3 specific goals for that trip. A visit to the Triumph
factory in Hinckley, to attend the Chelsey Bridge Rockers Reunion, and to check out the Stafford Swap Meet Motorcycle Show. While on his trip, Fletch visited the site of the original Ace Café London, and instantly found inspiration to open the Ace Café Chicago.
The Ace Café Chicago was opened 3 years later. The first event the café hosted was called The Battle of Brighton, and it was an instant success. Then came the Vintage Motorcycle and Scooter Show, and event that most riders in Chicagoland aught not miss.” What I enjoyed most about the café, was hosting the events.” Eventually, the Ace Café Chicago closed, but the events did not stop. In fact, they multiplied in number and in attendees.
In 2005,The Vintage Motorcycle and Scooter Show turned in to an event called Mods vs. Rockers. There were over 200 attendees at the first
annual event. It is still going on today, and has grown every year. Somehow it is able to maintain the same pure vintage culture it had when it began 6 years earlier. The estimated attendance for the 2011 event was over 1000. Also in 2011, Mods vs. Rockers had it’s first huge unsolicited sponsor. Triumph Motorcycles sponsored the event.
I asked Larry what it meant to him to go from daydreaming about riding his first Triumph as a child while watching motorcycle movies about outlaw bikers, to having that very company be the marquee sponsor of an event that he created almost 30 years later. “I thought it was great, I had seen Triumph at the forefront of the industry in the 60’s, then almost distancing themselves from their past when they returned with new bikes in the early 90’s. Now it is very clear they are embracing their heritage again, and I love seeing that and being a part of it.
Mods vs. Rockers gets its name from its history in England of the clash between the Mods, who were typically fashionable well dressed art
students, who were into Jazz music and rode scooters. Rockers modeled the “American Greasers” and were typically dirty, dressed in leather, listened to Rock and Roll, and rode motorcycles. There were feuds between these two groups, which eventually led to riots in Brighton. The riots were highlighted by the film Quadrophenia.
Mods vs. Rockers is one of many events that Larry and his
crew host throughout the year, others include:
-(1st Monday of each month, May - November at Five Star Bar)
(Early May each year at Ace Motorcycle & Scooter with Live Rockabilly and BBQ)
Pints & Pistons
- Bikes & Burlesque (Wednesday evenings at Holiday Club)
Rockerbox Run -
The Official Chicago ride to Rockerbox
and scooter Rally
Hell Rider - Our
Halloween Party...This year it's called Hell Rider vs. Godzilla...At Ace and the Bottom Lounge
In 2009 Larry started the Steel Toe Press and created Mods vs. Rockers Comics. They just released issue Number 4. The T-Shirt and apparel
line is called Mods vs. Rockers Gear and can be purchased at www.mvrgear.com.
I look forward to attending many more of his events. So does local business owner and Triumph dealer Johnny Scheff. Johnny and Fletch have
worked together on several events, and this is what Mr. Scheff had to say about Larry.” Larry has nurtured and grown the vintage motorcycle scene in Chicago, with no motive other than fun and love. He is the real deal. He loves the bikes, loves the people, and loves the culture. He is the common denominator that bridges the gap between little cliques to make the best events.”
I asked Larry what was next for him, he said he is not ready to quit his day job as a beer importer, which he loves. But, he is secretly
hoping that Quentin Tarantino will make a movie based on the Mods vs. Rockers comic books.
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