What began under dark clouds in the industrial shadow of London’s Olympic site, ended in warm autumn sunshine and the lush greenery of Regent’s Park. The journey between was a lesson in the camaraderie of the biking community, a stark reminder of the spirit in the scene.
This was my first Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride. I had watched the well-dressed riders depart from a car park close to my North London flat in the first two years, but 2016 was the year it finally all made sense.
Even for the most refined gentleman, being suitably dressed, manicured and waxed by 8.30am on a Sunday morning is a stretch. But arriving in light rain, a steady rumble of exhausts fought for prominence with the five-piece brass band that welcomed each newcomer. And as the lines of bikes grew longer and wider, so too did the queues for strong, hot coffee.
Tweed, khaki, even officer’s uniforms were in abundance, mixed with scarves, jodhpurs, cravats, bow ties and enough varieties of facial hair to have Tom Selleck and ZZ Top nodding approval. This was a fine collection of gentlemen and women, with even the odd gentledog along for the ride.
Two hours in with parking at capacity, DGR founder Mark Hawwa addressed the crowd to talk about the work of the event in raising funds and awareness about prostate cancer.
The crackle and thunder of bikes inching to the start line, bobbing waves of open face helmets and a sea of wide smiles. Somewhere in the middle of the crowd on my Bonneville T120 Black, I tried to keep my helmet-cam still, but it was hard not to turn and look, surrounded as I was by so many wonderful sights.
Out of the Olympic park and south to Poplar, the closely-packed riders took off, owning each lane and stretch of tarmac in front of them. The physical proximity of each bike was remarkable. Mirrors filled with everything from vintage customs to smoking pipes and pin badges, brake lights flickering in unison. I was struck by how each section of participants moved as a single unit, swarming around slow moving cars then spitting them out behind. And with each rider looking out for those around him (we’d all been warned by Dutch not to wheelie!), it all felt remarkably safe.
The convoy turned west past the Tower of London, along the embankment, past Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament where hundreds of international visitors pointed, smiled, waved and even saluted. The sight of 1,000 well dressed gentlefolk and their finest mechanical efforts created unexpected memories as tourists turned their cameras and phones away from the architecture to the road.
As we passed 10 Downing Street on Whitehall, Prime Minister Teresa May’s Sunday roast was doubtless interrupted by some of the baffle-free silencers, and from Trafalgar Square, riders skirted Buckingham Palace to Hyde Park Corner. Each turn was marked by a volunteer rider waving DGR flags, and each red light gave way to a cacophony of sound and energy as it turned green.
In it together, handlebar to handlebar, moustache to goatee, DGR 2016 was complete.Greg Parmley
North past Park Lane’s five-star hotels, the route took a quick dip onto Oxford Street to mix with the Sunday shoppers and lines of red buses. There were more cameras, more waves, and the realisation that what makes DGR unique is its celebration of individuality amongst the biking community of both the rides and the riders.
By uniting them once a year in all of their weird and wonderful forms, encouraging eccentricity and difference, the scene owes a great debt to Mark Hawwa for creating it.
And it was this thought that stuck most in my mind during the final stretch up to Regent’s Park as the waiting DGR organisers waved us over the line. With a light breeze on our backs, riders chatted and admired each other’s machines.
And along the line of parked bikes that seemingly stretched for miles, there was a palpable sense of camaraderie. In it together, handlebar to handlebar, moustache to goatee, DGR 2016 was complete.
* Come back to FTR soon for a virtual 360-degree DGR ride through London.