It’s nice to be around at the birth of a new tradition—and even nicer to have actually helped birth that new tradition. The new tradition is an event called the “Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride,” started in Sydney, Australia in 2012 by a local classic-bike enthusiast named Mark Hawwa. Hawwa was inspired by a photo of “Mad Men” actor Jon Hamm astride a vintage Matchless, wearing a predictably beautiful suit and looking quite distinguished—and if you have a vintage motorcycle and a suit and tie in your closet, do you need any more excuse to go for a ride? The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride was born.
Every ride could use a cause, if not a good reason, and Hawwa found one: prostate cancer. Riders would raise money for prostate cancer awareness, with funds going to the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, and so far the events—held in 110 cities around the globe—have raised $266,952 Australian dollars, which is a lot, even in real money.
Hawwa wanted to see the ride become an event all over the world. I read a post about it on the Pipeburn blog, so I challenged our local rider community to organize a DGR here in San Francisco. Incredibly, someone stepped up, and the ride was well-attended for an inaugural event—about 15 motorcycles and scooters were on the route at any one time, with some leaving early and others joining late.
The original organizer stepped down for 2013, so Wisconsin native Brian Schroeder stepped up. “I had a good time last year in Minneapolis,” he said, and wanted to attend the event in San Francisco. “So I emailed the HQ in Australia to find out who was running it this year and they said, ‘you are!’” Schroeder soon stumbled upon S.F. native Sean Cottrell, and along with the help of local publication CityBike magazine Publisher Kenyon Wills, publicized the event and planned the route.
My plan was to ride my CB350, but we haven’t been seeing eye to eye on things lately. Approaching the Bay Bridge toll plaza on the way to San Francisco from my home in Oakland, the CB decided it didn’t want to go after all, and stopped running at high rpm, even though it knew I had to shell out $60 for a babysitter that day. I limped home at a painful 62 mph. Amazingly, I had an appropriate spare in the garage, a brand-new cafe-style Moto Guzzi V7 Racer, but I was still nervous I would be shunned for having a cheater bike. The rules say suits, cafe racers and vintage machines.
I needn’t have worried. The event was stunningly well-attended, with “modern classic” bikes like the Racer the norm rather than the exception. There were lots of modern motorcycles, as well as ’80s superbikes, custom V-Twins, a trio of BSAs (and two of them even made it to the end!) and about 60 other bikes of all kinds. A thuggy-looking posse on pimped-out Honda Ruckeses was also in attendance. Dress ranged from what you’d find at an 8th-grade dance to a guy scandalously sporting a silk smoking jacket. Before dinner.
The ride was conducted at a gentlemanly pace with few problems or incidents. However, we lacked permits, so a few riders took it on themselves to (illegally, but in a classy fashion) block traffic from side streets so the ride could pass uninterrupted. But San Franciscans, notoriously impatient and inattentive drivers that they are, didn’t mind the intrusion into their busy Sunday, cheering, honking and snapping camera-phone snapshots as we roared and sputtered past.
I was impressed by the variety of folks on the ride. Plenty of usual-suspect Baby Boomers, sure, but there were a lot of younger new faces too. Theo Litto, who was riding on his first bike—a ’73 Honda CL350 Scrambler—said he was there because it “seemed like a fun ride and a good cause.” I talked to several other guys in their 20s, there to meet other riders and show off their new bikes. “I’m here to meet the people,” Hans (the cat with the smoking jacket) told me. “San Francisco’s such an amazing city to ride, so it’s always nice to experience that. It’s a unique twist. It’s different, but I love it.”
Follow the DGR Site to find out about next year’s ride. And if there isn’t one in your town—start one of your own!
Gabe Ets-Hokin is the Editor of City Bike magazine, and a frequent freelance contributor to MotorcycleDaily.com