Balloon Repair Station

Toffs on bikes – The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride

These days I’m not one for going on bike rides for the sake of it, or riding in groups come to that. You need a purpose I reckon, even if you just make it up, to brave the pot-holed roads of Merry England, and I’ve got a dog that gets humpy if she is left behind! A sidecar would be a solution but then with another wheel you’d have a car and you can’t cut up the outside of a traffic jam! There are of course plenty of exceptions to any rule and in 2016 Barry introduced me to the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride. The event is run on a single day in towns, cities and regions around the world. Mark Hawwa, from Sydney dreampt up the idea in 2012 having been inspired by a photo of ‘Mad Men’s’ Don Draper straddling a classic bike and wearing his finest suit in a matching classic luvvie pose. He (Mark that is) reckoned a worldwide themed ride featuring dapper, well-dressed bikers, would be a great way to combat the often ‘bad egg’ image of ‘the biker’ and, as he says, ‘bring the many niche motorcycle communities together’ (sort of thing).

The first run attracted 2,500 like-minded riders (including dapper ladies) and involved 64 cities. This was way beyond his expectations and he quickly realised that it could be used to support a worthy cause or two. Being blokey it was decided that, through the event, money could be raised to support Prostate Cancer Research and by my arrival in 2016, the figures had risen to 56,000 riders, in 505 cities and 90 countries and collected $3.6M (US). With such a huge figure being raised, ‘Supporting men’s mental health programmes’, in partnership with the Movember Foundation, was added. There probably isn’t anyone that hasn’t been affected by prostate cancer, one way or the other. Everyone seems to know someone that has it, has had it. You might have had it or unknowingly have it. Caught early the survival rate is very good and that seems to be the crux of the problem. Its all about education and getting the message out there. If you are over 50 get checked out, even if you have no symptoms. No question. Chances are that you won’t have it. There is a wealth of information and support to be had, much of it a result of the many fund-raising events that go on throughout the world. Switching for a moment and going sideways on account of the monies raised, tragically, little is promoted on the increasing number of suicides or mental problems that affect the male population, especially amongst young adults. Raising funds to help support this increasing problem is now making a huge difference. The DGR, as it is known to participants, is therefore now on a serious mission made fun by dressing up smartly and riding your classic bike, chopper, oddity, or whatever, in a very Gentlemany upper-crust fashion, preferably sporting a moustache, and raising money for a very good cause or two. It is truly one the world’s most friendly and happy events. “Count me in,” I told Barry. Now all I had to do was sort a suitable bike that would blat round Oxford. How hard could it be? Grow a beard or moustache? Unlikely!

As it happened I had not long become the proud owner of a BSA B31 named ‘The Breeze’ on account of a typo. It’s a long story but I really do think that of all the singles built the BSA B-series engines look the best. Its that pushrod column you see. The example I had was ex-military and dated from 1947 with a rigid frame but with telescopic forks, rather than the dreaded girders. It came from a very fine gentleman in Southampton who had kept it ‘as is’ so’s to speak. It needed a bit of sorting, like the front mudguard which promply fell off and was beyond welding, charging made to work and a bit of fettling. As it is with these things, most of the work was done in time but, the night before, it still needed a rack fitting and putting back together. Red lead was slapped about and a drop of Hammerite applied here and there. Barry had an old Moto Guzzi rack so that got sawn up and rewelded to fit. By heck we were in business. Barry chose to ride his Guzzi California and we arranged to meet up on the bridge over the A40 at Wheatley. Well I had got suitably attired in me best Henley jacket (made by Mark Shem’s missus), cravat and moleys and, as it was a tad grey, chucked me trusty Dry-as-Bone over the top. I was, I must admit, pretty shattered by the time I’d ridden the 20 miles over the hills and through Thame and arrived at Wheatley looking rather war-weary. I had by then fully remembered why I had stopped riding rigid-framed bikes and why I had built a hog based on a plunger frame many years ago!

By the time we’d made it to the Oxford Ring-Road though, spirits had risen and we joined a whole bunch of like-minded individuals descending on Pear Tree Services. There was every make and model of old bike and plenty of menopausal Harleys (an attitude I would revise later). There were also Honda 50s, scooters and dressed up old skool hacks. Everyone had dressed for the part and soon over 400 gentlefolk were spilling out towards Oxford City Centre with outriders (mainly on big Harleys)  checking the traffic and shepherding the throng. It was truly brilliant despite the old girl having a moment before we’d even got onto the road! The noise of all those bikes is the thing. I couldn’t hear me own engine and promptly stalled it! Once recovered, on the road and into third, the old BSA blatted along, bounced and skipped about. Then it started raining. Still we were still blatting along but as we stopped and started through the streets of Oxford, scattering bemused and puzzled Japanese tourists, it cut out three or four times but was somehow coaxed back to life. There is a support trailer for the unfortunate but inevitable breakdowns and I was following it on one occasion! The rain decided to up the anti and it got serious. Veritably it poured down. Everyone was dripping wet, suits and uniforms alike. False moustaches came adrift and littered the road, but the smiles never faded, and yet there were still plenty of onlookers waving and cheering us on. The rain sort of stopped, eventually, and at last we were running in nearly sunshine and drying off (a bit). Actually we were all quietly steaming. This, I decided, was really the best fun chaps, then after a ‘halfway’ fag, pipe and cigar break, it looked like the old campaigner was all done in. She refused to fire despite the most vigorous kicking but suddenly she banged into life once more and we overtook the rescue Landie and caught up with the throng, including a bloke on a fold-up bike. Ace and headed for The Victoria Arms at Marston and a well earned pint. Now close to the back of the well spread out gaggle, in the company of other fragile machines, the dear old blat blat ceased within yards of the pub. “You can push it from here mate”, some wag shouted. “I say, that’s not very British!” I retorted, kicking for all I was worth. Laughter ensued. Kick, kick, fiddle, twiddle and she was off again. We were well and truly amongst the last home, but, not on a trailer, running the last fifty yards with ease, parked and left to recover. You see what I hadn’t really considered was cooling. The run involves an awful lot of stopping and starting, wobbling and braking and the old girl just kept getting hot and getting fuel starvation. The cause was confirmed by an uneventful run back, despite a serious hailstorm being encountered!

I reckon I’d seen Barry but only a couple of times during the ride, so if you think you will ride all the way round in the company of the same person then forget it. I’m not sure who was the most relieved! After a few setbakcs I rode a lot of the time with the  fellow on a folding 50cc jobbie and a bloke on  Danish inline four cylinder something that covered me in oil, both of whom I got to know quite well on account of our erratic ride.

What a laugh. “2017 then?” enquired Barry the following Pork Pie Friday in the Swan. Silly boy, plans were already afoot. I called Robert, the former owner of The Breeze, to let him know of the bike’s latest adventure and guess what? He was just back from riding in the Solent DGR on his Matchless, purchased to replace the Beezer. Clearly a proper gentleman. Chuffed? I’d say so.

The time was approaching for the 2017 run. As with all the best laid plans of men and machines things don’t always go quite to plan. First off my decision to have a more comfortable ride on the McCandless Thunderbird was thwarted by a split in the tank developing a week or so before, along with a desire to chuck oil out the breather on account of a deteriorating oil pump, so she was grounded. That left the Bonnie (T140V), which I had intended selling following a rebuild but kept on account of the grin it gave me, but wasn’t good in slow traffic. Some time ago it was decided to convert it over to twin throttle cables on account that the two into one system that comes as standard is awkward (at the best) to adjust. It also needed a good sorting. With the best will in the world I wasn’t going to get time, so over to Dave Rogers and Ian for a work over and MOT. That would do.

Couple of days before the Ride the weather was looking very promising but then Barry went down with something generally known as unpleasant. Bummer. Now Shannon, who lives in the old Hartley Farm farmhouse, has a Harley Hog. Not really my thing but it is pretty basic and black so actually quite acceptable. He was well up for the jaunt and so all was sorted and he disappeared off to find his tux. Doubting our professionalism his missus went and hired a bike trailer. It was too short for the Hog and we explained that we wouldn’t be needing it anyway! Come the day, two smartly dressed gentlemen headed for Oxford in glorious sunshine. Couldn’t have been better. The Harley politely loud and the Bonnie raucous. The ride over was trouble free but the Triumph was having problems with the clutch making gear changing a bit hit and miss. Nothing new there but it seemed worse than normal. I took all the slack out of the cable and hoped for the best.

It was immediately apparent that there were a lot more bikes than last year as we pulled into the Peartree Services, including Mark Shem, complete with the Virgin rig returning from a morning flight which took him further than he had wished meaning he wouldn’t be joining us. There was always next year. Shannon’s missus Nicole arrived in their pickup with a camera, Tuesday the dog and Mars bars (sugar but no trailer). The dress of the assembled throng was, as ever, bonkers, tasteful, smart and appropriate. After inspecting the other mounts and complimenting each other on attire various we were away and heading into town, the route a tad different on account that Oxford Council had dug a lot of roads up, like they do!

By the halfway mark there were quite a few bikes suffering from the heat including the Bonnie. One of the carbs stuck open which was exciting for a moment or two and the clutch was getting decidedly weary. Carb sorted with a bash and gentle throttle openings and the clutch by making fewer gear changes. The Bonnie made it to the end alongside the charming fellow on the folding Citybike from last year now dressed as a Royal Navy Commander, who declared it was truly cooked. He’d be needing a lift back! I hadn’t seen Shannon more than a couple of times, he’d been in a bunch of Harleys up the front. We parked up in the shade of a large oak tree at the Victoria Arms and adjourned for an ale overlooking the river. The grins said it all. The weather had been fantastic and the Run, as promised, caused flies on teeth all round. What a fine old day. Somewhere in the melee we bumped into Double-Barrel and his mate. What a laugh. We raised glass (or two) to Barry.

Now, about Harleys. There is a big Harley presence, must be to do with age and all that, but there is also a huge variety of the monsters and many of the outriders that protect junctions and roundabouts to ensure a safe passage ride them like polo ponies. Shannon’s bike ran perfectly, not missing a beat. He didn’t look that comfortable though. The Bonnie suffered from stopping, going and idling (truly Brit bike then) but was comfortable. As predicted, and having cooled down, the run back was uneventful! It was a couple of happy fellows that raised a bottle or two in the yard later that afternoon.

Sadly events construed such that I missed the 2018 DGR but I will be there for this years’ event. For 2019 then? The Whippet would fall to bits and I’m not sure about the Thunderbird, but it has a cast iron barrel and head so should be OK. If I was really desperate there is always the Mercette as it has pedals but I don’t think I could cope with it for that long, if indeed it ran for that long! Perhaps I’ll build something around the derelict Dunkley Popular utilising the Suffolk Punch lawnmower engine I have found down the end of Jane’s dad’s garden, but that may well upset the purists. Whatever, I won’t be missing it. It is such a friendly event and everyone makes the effort. Doesn’t really matter what you turn up on, or whether you are male or female, or sport L-plates come to that, but you won’t see many plastic missiles or riders in flashy one piece leathers. Having said that there was a nice gaggle of Morgans mostly driven by fighter pilots with handlebar moustaches and sporting pithe helmets, which was rather nice. Should you decide to enter then you do need to get sponsored but then you can always sponsor yourself. Official figures for 2017 for Oxford was an amazing 461 riders raising £27,629.00. Last year there were 390 riders who raised £26120.00. If you want to join in I can highly recommend it but you’ll need to register first. You’ll not find a more dapper bunch of fine fellows on two wheels. Eligible bikes are defined as Cafe Racer, Bobber, Classic, Tracker, Scrambler, Old School Chopper, Modern Classic, Sidecar, Classic Scooter, or Brat-Styled motorcycle and includes old commuter bikes. If what you have doesn’t fit that mould just make it up but be dapper! There is a dress code and dapper ladies are most welcome. Thinking about it the sidecar option sounds good. I could take me dog.
Pics courtesy of Barry and Nicole.
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