It’s hard to believe that the first London Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride was back in 2012, and that this is our seventh ride. The first London ride group met behind the Dirty Burger in Kentish Town, and had just 77 riders – which seemed huge back then.
I’ve been privileged enough to be the London host and leader rider at every event so far, but as time goes on, that’s become the easiest part. A hoard of marshals and volunteers now manage the route and mark every corner, while the Movember crew take care of the start/finish venues and all the entertainment, hospitality and sponsor activity. That’s not to say there’s no pressure. However well I know London, and the routes we put together, it’s amazing how you can arrive at a junction you’ve used dozens of times, with 1,000 bikes behind you, and suddenly have a moment if insecurity about which way to turn. It’s also a bit lonely at the front. However slowly I ride people always leave a gap behind me, and as I ride without mirrors, it sometimes feels like I’m on my own. I’d actually love to be mid-pack, enjoying the crowd. However the biggest part of the job is to set the pace, set a good example, and speak for the riders as a whole.
When the ride first began my motivation for taking part was simple. I love the idea of a motorcycle event that showed bikers and motorcycle riders in a better light. While biking is always seen as cool in movies and advertising, it’s also often portrayed a bit self-indulgent and most reality TV that features bikes is all about speeding, moped crime and biker gangs. It’s pretty annoying, as the majority of bike riders are amongst the best type of people you could ever meet; independent, pro-active, adventurous and always happy to help others. The DGR allows us to present ourselves as gentlemanly, or ladylike, with a friendly-face, riding for a noble cause. It’s possibly the only good grass-roots positive PR we get.
The charity side wasn’t a big deal for me until more recently. Prostate Cancer is now becoming alarmingly common, and it was a shock to learn that the primary cause of death in men under 50 is suicide. These issues need addressing, and men’s health is not as attention-grabbing or emotive as other charitable causes, so we need to do something for ourselves. This year we decided that the London ride would demand a £50 minimum donation, and while we knew it might push many riders to other rides, with no obligation to contribute, we’d get a more focussed crowd, and less gatecrashers on the wrong bike or not appropriately dressed.
Every year there is a bit of a row about why we don’t let bikes of all types take part in the event, which baffles me. The DGR originated as an idea from the custom, retro and modern classic bike scene, which suits the dapper attire. If someone just wants to raise money for a good cause on another bike, then they can do so. This ride, is – and always was – built around a certain vision, inspired by an image of actor John Hamm, on a BSA, in a suit. … We just thought it was really cool and represented something different, but somehow of it’s time in the emerging new wave bike culture. Turning up on the wrong bike or not dressed dapper is about as appropriate as turning up at a Harley event on a Honda, or taking a cricket bat to a tennis match and then complaining people won’t let you play. Weird.
This year’s event was also adapted from the usual global formula to accommodate London’s peculiarities. Instead of a long pre-ride meet, with prizes, speeches, entertainment and sponsor activity before the ride, we opted for a fast meet-up and an early departure, with all the fun stuff at the end. This was so we would miss more of London’s horrendous Sunday morning traffic, for a smoother flowing ride, and to give people a reason to stay till the end, and not peel off before reaching the finish venue, as has happened it previous years.
It worked on all counts. Numbers were probably down on last year, where we accommodated around 1,400 riders, but we raised more money for the cause, and the ride was smoother, more fun, and more dapper, with only one or two people trying to ride on the wrong bike or in the wrong attire.
The photos speak for themselves, but what I take away from this event is two things. Firstly, how amazing our crowd is. Great people, on a shared mission, creating a unique spirit. Secondly, just how big this new scene has become. Not only did the London ride still attract a huge crowd – despite our new rules and restrictions – we also saw other rides nearby swell in numbers.
If you haven’t taken part in the DGR before, you are missing out on a wonderful biking event, and hanging out with a fantastic crowd of friendly, inclusive people who love two wheels, coming together for a truly worthy cause.
And it’s not too late to find out more and donate.
Click on these images by sidecar snapper Dan Jones for the full size versions.