A year or so ago, Australian Mark Hawwa and his online/riding friends from the Australian Cafe Racers website found a picture of Don Draper - the suave, fictional advertising director from the 1960s set TV drama, Mad Men. In it, the ever-sophisticated Draper sits astride a vintage, ruby red, Matchless motorcycle wearing a sharply-cut, single-breasted suit and with his pocket-square neatly folded exactly where it should be.
It was a photo that instantly resonated with certain members of the antipodean group and within weeks they had organised a small ride through the city of Perth, during which they would wear their most sophisticated, gentlemanly attire.
Eighteen months, a little bit of marketing and online know-how later and this year the ‘Distinguished Gentleman's Ride’ [DGR] saw over 150 cities worldwide taking part and more than 5000 like-minded individuals taking to the streets, riding for prostate cancer awareness and sharing in their love of the gentlemanly pursuit of motorcycling.
I spoke to Mark before this year's event to see just how he felt about his 'little idea' now that it had expanded across the globe.
MCN: Did you ever expect the DGR to grow into the worldwide event in the way that it has?
MARK: I knew the passion behind people in the automotive scene and the connection between a man and his motorcycle and we forecasted for somewhere around 120 cities taking part this year. The fact that it’s in more than this already though, simply astounds me.
MCN: What is it about the style and ‘gentlemanliness’ that resonates so well with people do you think?
MARK: Well, a set-up like this is not without hundreds of hurdles, but we jump hurdles like true gentlemen and find ways around brick walls. That’s part of the charm. We aren’t ‘bikies’, we aren’t hardcore. We’re guys (and girls) that appreciate a finer style of motorcycle (in our own minds). The goal for next year - as always - is to raise more funds for men’s health issues whilst giving people an absolute hoot when taking part in the event.
As I buttoned up my tweed jacket over my Knox under-armour, sparked up the Continental GT and gave my yellow, goggle-lenses a final clean it was hard to know what to expect from the London leg of the DGR. In 2012 around 70 riders turned up for the inaugural run but judging by the amount of chatter online it was clear that this time around was going to be slightly different. Just how varied in comparison this was to the previous year though was to be somewhat of a shock.
A slightly cold and windy jaunt down the A1 at a leisurely 70-or-so mph meant that I had made the first rendezvous point with our photographer and his friend Eric Patterson at the Ace Cafe. Eric had arrived in full white-shirt, black-tie and with his beautiful, daily ridden (yes, daily) Brough Superior attracting a lot of attention from the cafe regulars. With a mug of tea in hand, and as I began fielding questions with regards to the Royal Enfield that I had arrived on, I heard a few people remark as to how busy the Ace Cafe - this mecca of motorcycling - was for 9:30am on a Sunday morning. If these same people had only been with us thirty minutes later as we arrived at the DGR meeting point in Kentish Town they would have been astounded.
Over 350 bikes and riders - on everything from classic ‘59 Bonnevilles, individually-airbrushed Electra Glides and the ultimate in trendy Deus customs - had gathered for a bacon-sarnie, a cup of tea and a quiet, gentle ride through the streets of London. At around 11:30am when we finally began to stream out of the tiny, unprepared car park it was obvious that this was going to be the antithesis of quiet.
The thump and pop of my Royal Enfield single - the overwhelming soundtrack to the entire cafe racer group test just a few days before - was instantly drowned out by the orchestra of engine-turns and exhaust notes emanating and echoing from the quiet back streets of North London as we made our way - en masse - across town to our destination in good old, ‘sarf lahndan’, Wandsworth. As I tightened my tie and raised my goggles atop my open-faced lid so that I could get a clearer view of the riders around me I found myself raising a hand and waving at the passers-by and onlookers who had universally grabbed their smartphones and began to photograph and video-record the source of the growls that must have alerted them several moments earlier. This wasn’t a simple ride across town anymore. It was a parade.
Beautiful pillions in evening dresses and high-heels sat astride their gentleman riders, smiles beaming across their faces at the attention. The too-cool-for-school hipsters with their Ruby lids and perfectly, scruffy beards nodded approvingly at the metal-flaked Harley owner whose entire interpretation of ‘dress dapper’ appeared to be the removal of patches from his denim jacket and a quick rummage around his bottom-drawer that morning to find the one tie that he owned in order to wear it to this event. The fact that it was adorned with a tessellating print of Daffy Duck didn’t seem to matter.
As pockets of motorcycles - expertly managed by London’s road network and traffic light systems - began to arrive at their destination, and as the bewilderment of the locals transformed to join in with the smiles of the riders as they dismounted, the reasons for the global success of an event like this become easy to distill.
The one, simple fact of motorcycling that binds us all is that at it’s heart it’s a universal activity that offers us all a simple, almost unadulterated pleasure. And that sharing any pleasure with others is wonderful thing.
As members of the motorcycling fraternity, we live an age when new, almost forced, marketing segments come and go with an increasing regularity but had Don Draper and his Sterling Cooper agency been around in today’s world they would undoubtedly have tapped into the refreshing knowledge that we also exist in a world where the Internet allows for a seemingly niche activity to find a wealth of like-minded individuals at the click of a mouse. And from here it can instantly be shared with the world.
For more information see:
Helmet: MT Le Mans - http://www.tri-motive.com/Le-Mans/
Goggles: Davida - http://davida.co.uk/type.php?id=D4Vi9A_Goggles
Under Armour: Knox Urbane - http://www.knox-armour.co.uk/product.html?product=urbane
Leg Protection: Draggin' K-Legs - https://www.dragginjeans.net/k-legs.html
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