The streets around Cobra Lounge (235 N. Ashland Ave.) will be overrun by Mods and Rockers for Motoblot, a three-day motorcycle and scooter rally, this weekend.
The rally, which includes a pig roast, film festival, and live music like many other street fests, veers off the beaten path with an impressive display of bikes (and accompanying Best in Show competition), vintage-inspired pin-up competition, bike build-off, and more.
“We call it an urban street rally, which brings all the riders together from different clubs, different cultures in motorcycling. It’s kind of a gathering of the tribes,” says Larry Fletcher, who owns Gearheads United and is co-organizer of Motoblot.
That was the initial conceit of the event, which began as a rally that included group rides across the city, started by Fletcher and art director Martin Cimek in 2005. Jokingly named "Mods vs. Rockers," the event brought together gearheads inspired by the two groups that clashed often in the U.K. in the 1960s.
The Rockers trace their style to 1950s British teenagers who were into American rock 'n' roll like Gene Vincent and wore leather boots, cuffed blue jeans, and plain white T-shirts. Modern Rockers continue the tradition of slicked-back hair, rockabilly tunes, and cafe racer motorcycles, which are modified for speed and handling rather than comfort.
As for the Mods, “a lot of people who ride vintage scooters follow the British subculture of the Mods," explains Debbie Benjamin-Koller, a member of Chicago's Mayday Scooter Club. "They’re just really into vintage Italian bikes, like Vespas and Lambrettas. They tend to work on their bikes themselves." Mods often look like they walked off a set of Quadrophenia and love to dance to R&B and soul like The Marvelettes.
As the Mods vs. Rockers event got more popular, the group rides became harder to organize, so Fletcher and Cimek renamed the event Motoblot and anchored it at Cobra Lounge in 2014. Now, it attracts about 10,000 people a year, including other subcultures like 1950s American greaser/hot rod lovers and Peter Fonda-inspired "easy riders."
“We bring everyone together, the fashion, the music, and the bikes,” says Fletcher. “An urban motorcycle show like this is kind of a rarity across the country. You don’t see a lot of them, especially in metropolises the size of Chicago, having an event like this.”
The festival officially kicks off today at the corner of Fulton and Ashland, with single day passes going for $15; onlookers can check out the array of vintage motorcycles, hot rods, mopeds, and scooters parked in designated areas nearby.
New this year is a film screening area at Justine and Fulton that will show 28 films focused on riding culture from around the world, Fletcher says. And on Saturday, the rally will pay tribute to Riot Fest founder and Cobra Lounge owner Sean McKeough, who died last year at the age of 42.
“Sean was our partner. We started this without him but we brought it here [to Cobra Lounge] and we did it with him the past couple years. He really was the driving force and had a true passion for this,” says Fletcher. “He came from the hot rod culture end of it, but he had a true love of punk rock. We have heavy hearts this year, but we’re going to do something special for him.”