Review: Distinguished Gentleman's Ride

GSXRs need not apply

DOES being fed up with charity make me a bad person? 

Actually, it's not charity so much as the way everyone seems to be chucking a bucket of ice water over their head in the name of it. Or my recent favourite, Sober October, which works on the premise that not drinking or smoking for a month is some enormous achievement, ignoring the millions of people who abstain anyway.

I have no objection to raising money for a good cause. I'm just not sure it should be used as a thin veil for seeking attention on Facebook.

If it's to be an excuse for winning friends, why not do it the old-fashioned way, by taking part in a real social event, like the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride? As I did.

It’s a yearly charity rideout that last year involved over 11,000 riders in 145 cities worldwide and raised £170,000 for the Prostate Cancer Foundation at the same time.

But that was last year. This year saw over £900,000 raised globally and a huge increase in rider turnout. And not one bucket of ice water was to be found either.

Here’s the premise of the idea: dust off that Shoreditch-erised custom bike, raise some money, then find your nearest rideout location dressed up in your most spiffing gentleman’s outfit - think monocles, trimmed moustaches, silk vests, crisp shirts and tailored suits.

Being a Londoner - and with the whole event supported by Triumph - I bimbled down to the nearest meet point early Sunday morning on a ‘Brooklands Green’ Thruxton.

The venue was located in the heart of London with unbeatable views of The Shard as the morning sun crept up its spine. Add to that 700 bikes venting a cocktail of exhaust fumes and noise - it was difficult not to smile; this is what biking is all about.

The day will no doubt be labeled by many as a hipster convention, and to be honest, there’s probably an element of truth in there somewhere. But on the whole, most gentleman (and indeed ‘genteel ladyfolk’) who attended seemed to know their stuff. I can confess now to turning up armed with a camcorder, eager to unearth the faux bikers, coaxing them into saying stupid things, vigilante style. It didn’t work.

After a short briefing, a prize giveaway and a small speech by comedian Rufus Hound, we thumbed our starters and set off down the Embankment towards Chelsea. The route took us along the river and over London Bridge, prompting hundreds of smartphone-clad tourists to stop in their tracks for a quick picture.

The DGR website says a focal point of the themed ride is to combat the often-negative stereotype of motorcyclists being intimidating. From where I was sitting they’d achieved their goal very early on in the day. Other than a few drivers fed up of London traffic, passers-by were smiling and showing genuine interest.

Needless to say the participants were all having fun too. One chap on a Norton pulled up alongside me in hysterical laughter: ‘What a laugh! WHAT A LAUGH!’ he said. I think he was drunk.

The ride made me appreciate my Thruxton loan bike more too. A modern retro may not have quite the same charisma as an old BSA or Velocette, but what they lack in authenticity they make up for in reliability. Stuck in traffic on a sunny day is the last place you want to be when riding an old aircooled bike, as many owners found out.

On the plus side it was almost impossible to get lost. Just follow the trail of boiling coolant and you’d be sure to regroup with other riders.

After an hour or so of riding we all pulled back into the meet area at Borough Market, chatting bikes, engines and other nonsense.

‘What a laugh!’ I agree Mr. Norton. See you there next year. 

Video: London 2014 DGR