Inspiration: Interview

USA’s top DGR fundraiser

Vincent Nicolai's story

One of DGR’s top fundraisers has made a huge impact – raising more than £19,000 and still looking for donations. From St Tropez to New York City, Vincent’s story is one of graft and commitment. Our New York writer, Jake Szufnarowski, reports.

Bitten by the bug

Growing up in St Tropez, in the south of France, getting your own two wheels wasn’t a luxury. The sleepy seaside hamlet of 9,000 villagers swelled to 500,000 in the summer months, virtually gridlocking the roads and requiring a nimble sort of transport to wind your way to work through the throngs.

A motorcycle wasn’t just a key to his freedom to work but significantly more important

And work Vincent did. As a child his father told him he would need to earn his own money if he wanted to graduate from his brother’s hand-me-down scooter to a fully fledged motorcycle. 

Vincent was no dummy. He instinctively knew that a motorcycle wasn’t just a key to his freedom to work but significantly more important, it was the key that would twist the ignition switch that would turn this boy into a man. 

So Vincent started working the farmer’s market produce stands that lined the streets of St Tropez and began learning English, which soon led to friendships, tips and, ultimately, set him on his course as a master networker. He befriended a variety of folk from around the world, but he took a special liking to the Americans who not only left the biggest tips, which was unheard of in France, but they gave him gifts too.

A Yankee shirt here, a Chicago White Sox hat there and then access into the golden circle. Invites into the gilded gated villas to play tennis with the beautiful ladies of the manors. Well then, it’s no wonder that America had a great impact on him!

 

American dreams

After getting a taste of the wild life, his parents decided to move the family to a small fishing village island off the west coast of France called Île De Ré. As the old saying goes, ‘How you gonna keep em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paris’ or in this case, developed a taste for America.

So Vincent kicked around some restaurant and hotel gigs in Nice and being the master networker that he was, befriended a visiting head chef of Les Halles in Washington DC. He was given an offer to decamp there for work. Vincent seized the opportunity and bought a one-way plane ticket to the new world.

Less than a week into his stay in DC, Vincent jumped at his first chance to make a break for it to the Big Apple, New York City. Once there, Vincent didn’t waste any time threading himself into the tightly woven tapestry of the New York City restaurant scene.

His first night in town, he secured a job at the famed French bistro L’Actuel. Within a month he was managing the joint and filling vacant jobs with other French friends he was quickly making in NYC and calling back to his homeland for more and more reinforcements.

Before long, Vincent and his French culinary legion had overtaken a rooming house in Hell’s Kitchen where they occupied the majority of its 60 rooms. It was, quite simply, heaven on earth; a young Frenchman let loose in the anything-goes hospitality scene of the Bourdain-era NYC of the 90s. Partying was not an occasional occurence, it was de rigueur. Cook, drink, rinse, repeat.  Sleep when you could. IF you could.

Maria and motorcycles

Then, in keeping with the theme of Vincent’s exceptionally unpredictable life’s journey, one night in June 2002 everything changed in an instant. This time for the better. While lying out in the courtyard of his apartment building in Queens, in the darkness of night a gorgeous back-lit shape appeared on a balcony above and invited him up for some tea.

That apparition was Maria, who quickly became the love of his life. The rest, as they say, is history. They moved in together a few months later and, after she was crazy enough to say yes, they were married within a couple of years.

As they settled into their new life together, Vincent realised there was only one thing missing. A motorcycle. He had been living such a fast life in the big city that it wasn’t until he slowed down that he was able to grasp that since arriving in America, while he had been living fast, he hadn’t been riding fast.

Photo by Rahoul Ghose

So after discussing it with Maria, and promising her he would take out a very large life insurance policy, they decided he was going to get back up on two wheels. A few days later he was walking by the Triumph shop in Manhattan when he spotted the second love of his life.

A gorgeous red and silver 2008 T100. Before long it had been taken apart, stripped down and lovingly built back up, painted and customized and turned into the beautiful machine it is today. One that will eventually be passed on to his young son Enzo.

First he tackled the Saddlesore 1,000, riding 1,000 miles in 24 hours, which took him through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia

As soon as he got back to riding he made up for lost time. Within a month of buying it, and scrambling to get a US motorcycle licence (through the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, of course – www.msf-usa.org) he saddled up and rode 5,000 miles in 13 days… from New York City to Santa Monica and back via the old Route 66. 

After a tune up and a change of tyres, he set his sights on some riding milestones, and went after a couple of the Iron Butt milestones. First he tackled the Saddlesore 1,000, riding 1,000 miles in 24 hours, which took him through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia. Then just four months later he tackled the Bun Burner 1,500, logging 1,500 miles in 36 hours! 

For that journey he charted out a route that took him through those same states but culminated in the most famed motorcycle road in the US of A; Tail of the Dragon at Deal’s Gap, North Carolina, with its 318 intense mountain curves in 11 miles.

When this guy sets out to do something, he certainly doesn’t do it half-assed! So far he’s logged over 50,000 miles on that T100.

Help Vincent help others

Which is why it’s no surprise that he is such a leader in his fundraising efforts for the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride. He’s led the NYC fundraisers every year for the past four years, and come in 5th, 4th and 4th worldwide for the past three years, doubling his dollar amounts every year since he started. This year he’s aiming to hit his goal of $30,000 (more than £20,000) and if he does, he’s agreed to shave his beard for 10 months. Yes, the symbol of his manhood. The beard that his son has never seen him without. It’s obvious that with such a heart of gold, this certified bad-ass has a baby face under that bushy beard and we cannot wait for the world to see it, especially because it will mean that he’s once again led the pack for this amazing charitable cause. 

Vincent Nicolai may be a one percenter as a motorcyclist, but he is nothing if not 100% man. Which is why it’s so important for him to help out this wonderful cause for men’s health. He’s out to reverse the trend of strong men not wanting to talk about their health and he urges men to stand up for themselves. Prostate cancer and mental health are two of the most daunting health issues facing men in these modern times and Vincent aims to de-stigmatize them both.

“Strong men don’t want to talk about health, especially when it comes to the butts,” he told us.

All you have to do is make a donation to the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride. And then go and get yourself  a check-up. It just might save your life.

Head to www.gentlemansride.com and help Vincent reach his fundraising goal. You can still donate until 14/10/18.

Help Vincent reach his goal:

Be a gentleman

Donate now