Riding a motorcycle is not easy. When The Rake’s founder put me up to the task of learning so I could report on last year’s Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride I was slightly on edge, albeit mostly due to the thought of returning from the ever-glamourous Farnborough test centre a failure. So when I succeeded in failing my category A test due to the outrageous UK law that refuses to permit sensible speeding, I was a little worried. Thankfully a swift re-test and a relaxed accelerator hand allowed me to pass second time around, and like a poor man’s Louis Theroux I attempted to integrate myself into the compelling yet somewhat intimidating world of motorcycling.
Just why motorcycling culture is often viewed as menacing can perhaps be traced back to the ‘rocker’ subculture of the 1950s and ’60s, when leather-clad greasers roamed around on their thunder-inducing two-wheeled steeds, terrorising those unlucky enough to be in their vicinity. Whether accurate or not, that is certainly the image that was portrayed by the media at the time. It is also the perception that Mark Hawwa wanted to eradicate when he conceptualised The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride in 2012. Founded by Hawwa, the DGR’s recipe is simple; ride your classic motorcycle whether it be a café racer, scrambler, bobber or softail; come suitably dressed in your most splendid tailored ensemble; and raise as much money as possible in aid of prostate cancer research and suicide prevention. But also, and very importantly, remain impeccably mannered and polite at all times. There are hundreds of rides that take place across 90 countries around the world all on the same day each year, with the biggest and most popular in New York, Sydney and of course London. The 2016 ride saw the most participants ever, with the total money raised a staggering $3.6million, yet that figure is set to be trumped this year as the total goal is in excess of $5million.
Mr Hawwa first came up with the idea for the DGR when he came across an image of Mad Men’s Don Draper character astride a classic Matchless motorcycle, wearing one of his signature two-piece suits. The contrast between the rugged motorcycle and the suave nature of Draper appealed to him, and he saw this as a potential outlet to remove the negative connotations associated with riding. He explains, “In Australia we’ve got this very difficult mentality where people are assumed to be negative or dangerous or bad because they ride a motorcycle. So for me the first thing was to break down stereotypes and that’s what we tried to do. In the first year we were riding through the heart of each city globally and people were clapping and cheering and kids were high fiving as you drove slowly down the street all dressed up”. It’s clear that this positive mentality is catching on, as evident in the London ride last year. From the moment the event began, when over 1000 riders collated in Stratford’s Olympic Park, there was a welcoming, friendly atmosphere that really embodied the unification that was originally so important to Hawwa. Hundreds of bystanders stood in awe throughout the ride, and many gallant riders paused for photos with energetic tourists and wide-eyed youngsters.