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28th April 2014

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The Distinguished Gentleman's Ride

Last autumn, Duncan Cooper experienced the Distinguished Gentleman's Ride, and suggests you should start preparing your dapper self for the 2014 occasion...

The Distinguished Gentleman's Ride is a recent arrival on the scene of excuses to get out and enjoy the Queen's Highway aboard your trusty steed. The 2013 event was only the second DGR, but already it has reached 110 cities worldwide with the admirable aims of spreading merriment, getting people out onto their bikes and raising awareness of men's health issues. You can even raise funds for charities such as Prostate Cancer UK by getting your ride sponsored.

Participants dress to the nines (some to the tens!) in strikingly distinguished attire and then ride in a gentlemanly way as they make gallant progress along the thoroughfares of whatever fine land they happen to be progressing, smiling and waving whilst displaying their sartorial elegance to the admiring natives. This should not, however, be mistaken for an exclusive event. By the Lord Harry, no! You couldn't find a more inclusively egalitarian event - even Australians are allowed (they actually devised the event, truth to tell). It doesn't matter where you come from, or what you ride, if you can cobble together a suit, monocle, pipe and handlebar moustache, you're in! Even the fairer sex can join in (if suitably distinguished). With regard to your chosen motorcycle, its provenance matters not one jot. Desmodromic or variomatic is equally worthy when ridden with the panache of a Distinguished Gentleman.

The Distinguished Gentleman's Ride

The event takes place at the end of September on the same day worldwide and in 2013 there were two English rides: London and Sheffield. I managed to replace a wheel bearing and scrounge some halfway suitable clobber just in time to take part in the Sheffield run. Now those who only know Sheffield from 'The Full Monty' may wonder at my choice but the town is in fact awash with fashionable bars, bistros and coffee shops serving the huge student population. Moreover, it's a gateway to the discerning motorcyclist's delight that is the Peak District National Park, and on this occasion the gateway was going to be opened by Corpses from Hell Motorcycle Gang (a nicer pair of distinguished young gentlemen you couldn't wish to meet), steeped in local lore and champions of the road less travelled. Gang leader Richard Baybutt (international photographer and dapper man of mystery) was our guide and, as the rest of the gang were in France, his dad came along to help out.

The Distinguished Gentleman's Ride Assembling at Sheffield, in the Tamper coffee bar court yard

The rendezvous for our group of gentlemen was 'Tamper' on Arundel Street - one of the aforementioned fashionable coffee bars. Spirits fell a little as I turned my old BMW into the road. The place was deserted. As I nosed the bike slowly down the silent street a rolling tumble weed caught my attention, but when I looked up I was relieved to see Richard B's infamous Honda Helix oval racer standing sentinel outside what did indeed turn out to be the Tamper bar. It looked like a sparse turn-out until I was ushered through an archway into a courtyard where the rest of the participants' bikes were parked. I should have expected as much - parking one's motorcycle on the street would have been far too ostentatious for distinguished gentlemen such as we.

I mentioned that this is an inclusive event and that was certainly shown by the machinery gathered together on that bright Sunday morning. An open mind clearly runs in the Baybutt line as, whilst Richard B rides the 1980s cubist contrivance that is the Honda Helix, Robert B (Baybutt Senior) had arrived upon a Trak turbo diesel (Smart car three-cylinder engine, KTM running gear. I think) to compliment his Bigglesesque attire.

The Distinguished Gentleman's Ride The text suggests that the Honda Helix was held together by stickers, but this photo shows the truth. It's actually held together by stickers and cable-ties Distinguished Bikes on Now...

These fine fellows adopted 'Skipper' and 'Tail End Charlie' positions as we set out under a clear blue sky, the other members of the crew including: Myself on a 1970's R80 (slightly leaking oil from a push rod tube I'm afraid), Johnny Malco on a modern BMW (with slipping clutch), Stuart Turner on a Yamaha XJR (tweeded up to the eyeballs), Paul Brown on a Honda CB125 (new cylinder just fitted, but Chinese and 'made of cheese' hence using oil like a gorgonzola super tanker), the Benchdonkees adding some colour on an Armstrong flat-tracker, Honda café-racer and 70's Kawasaki twin (obscuring some of the colour with smoke boiling from its exhausts), and a father and son team on 70's Yamaha twin (a bit reluctant to start) and 80's Honda CBX250. But whilst some of our mounts may have been a bit shaky, our splendid stiff-upper-lips more than compensated, cleaving our way through the crisp morning air (and Kawasaki fumes).

CFH's preparation was mainly excellent, having booked fine weather and a fall in fuel prices, but there was a slight glitch in them allowing the Sheffield cycle race to take place on the same day. This was a tiny problem as it barred our exit from Sheffield by all fathomable routes. But wait! Skipper Baybutt was also a native guide so, on point, enabled us to hack our way through the urban jungle and eventually break out onto the Peak District's rural roads with shining tors and glistening lakes all around.

The Distinguished Gentleman's Ride

Frankly, with the promise of a locally guided tour of this admirably motorcycle suited national park I was surprised that our company of men was so 'select'. I've happily trundled across this part of the country for years but Richard B led us onto deserted country roads that I wouldn't even have seen the turning for, let alone considered using. They looked like a slight break in the hedgerow but once through lead us up to the fells, past grit-stone outcrops and to vistas that revealed the rolling green fields and lakes below. So few were the sightings of other vehicles or habitation that I wondered if crossing the hedge-event-horizon had taken us back in time, back to a more gentlemanly and distinguished period in history.

The Peak District certainly has plenty of history, from Neolithic forts to the reservoirs used by the Dam Busters for 'practice'. Appropriately enough I'd chosen 'flying jacket and silk scarf' as my interpretation of 'distinguished gentleman' suited attire, but if we had indeed travelled back to the Dam Busters era I would probably have been shot as a spy for riding a BMW. Unless, that is, the leaking oil convinced the sentry that this was in fact a British bike - a big Douglas or Wooler, something like that, maybe.

We turned south and headed briefly back to reality down the Derwent Valley, stopping for a comfort break at a hostelry on the banks of the Ladybower Reservoir. As some members of our group slipped discreetly inside to relieve their coffee-swollen bladders I, who never touch the filthy stuff, gleefully basked in the warm sunshine and marvelled at the fantastic weather we'd been blessed with at a time of year when summer should have dwindled away.

The Distinguished Gentleman's Ride

Relieved, refreshed and definitely more distinguished we started out engines (a run-and-jump-start for the Yamaha, clearly showing its racing pedigree), smiled and waved for a hundred yards of A-road before turning off, through another hedge. Or maybe it was a wardrobe we went through, as the shady forest we found ourselves sauntering through looked distinctly like Narnia, or possibly Middle-Earth. The wildlife was very discreet so I'm not sure if it was a Faun or Hobbit peering from the shadows of the trees at our gentlemanly splendour. We emerged from the forest near(ish) to Hope and used what now seemed a huge B-road to get to Tideswell, just south of which our numbers were swelled by another fine gentleman, Andrew Lorentz, on a BSA recently bereft of its sidecar. Continuing onwards to Bakewell, famed for its tarts, we passed another group of keen motorcyclists heading the other way. This turned out to be the Honda C90 Club, who were certainly mighty in number and jolly in demeanour.

We alighted in the centre of town and, although now on foot, couldn't break the habit of following Richard B so when he strolled off purposefully into town we were drawn inexorably after him. It turned out Richard was heading to what purported to be the original Bakewell Pudding shop. Yes, you read that correctly, 'Pudding' not 'Tart'. The pudding is apparently the genuine article, pre-dating the showy, iced topping of the tart. But, mind you, there may be some controversy about this. So as not to take sides I bought a large chocolate brownie.

On returning to the bikes there was talk of 'proper' food but just as we considering entering the public house we had parked besides Robert B (Baybutt Senior) stumbled out of the door, ashen faced behind his dashing silk scarf and goggles: 'Even the sandwiches are five pounds in there!' he gasped. Sometimes a gentleman has to make a stand, so we sat down (on our bikes) and got behind Robert on his quest to find a much more distinguished café he knew in Monyash, just a few miles up the road.

The Distinguished Gentleman's Ride A combination of new Chinese barrel and old orange string got Paul's 125 up the hill to Monyash

Unfortunately for some, 'up' was the operative word and the Yamaha's throttle cable broke on the steep hill out of town so its rider, and his son on the Honda 250, elected to stay in the comfort and safety of Bakewell to await their breakdown service. Meanwhile, Paul's 125 lagged a little behind the rest of the troop as it climbed the hill to Monyash, but ultimately it proved to be a staunch little steed and carried him to an arrival at the café only a few seconds behind the rest, with the orange twine that secured the rear ancillaries still holding fast. With substantial sustenance secured the atmosphere of a garden party descended and we lounged on the village green whilst discussing the charms of sidecars, and what excuses you could use to fit one. Andrew looked wistful and explained that, for him, the best thing about sidecars was that they rendered his children effectively silent.

Although currently a solo, his BSA's suspension was still set up for child-crate lugging duties: rock solid at the rear and auxiliary springs at the front. Hence he was finding the surface of the back-roads we were using rather too characterful. I heard him ask Richard B if we would be using larger, smoother roads from now on. I didn't hear the reply but as we pulled away from lunch Richard lead us onto an unashamedly single track road, with the odd bit grass sticking out of it. In fairness to Richard's choice of route, I don't think anyone riding a bike with 'normal' suspension noticed any undue undulation of the road surface. Although, now I think about it, back in Middle Earth my seating was somewhat unsettled by bouncing over a large hobbit-hole. Unsettled enough such that the BMW's seat came loose and adopted a rather more jaunty angle than I felt suited a gentleman's motorcycle. But you get such obstacles on even the 'best' roads these days.

The back roads from Monyash lead us past Bakewell by a different route from our outward ride and we kept on going to our ultimate destination of Chatsworth House, a suitable setting to take a group photograph of our massed gentlemanlyness. With that done we thanked Richard for leading us on such an esoteric journey through the deserted back roads of a packed national park before splitting up and going our different ways through the sun warmed air. As I headed back over snake-pass towards the satanic mills of Manchester I was damn glad that the DGR had given me the impetus to fix the bike and get off my arse for a spirit-lifting ride when all that seemed ahead was a dark and wet winter.

The Distinguished Gentleman's Ride

DGR organisers of the world, this gentleman salutes you!

The DGR takes place at the end of September each year and you can put as much or little effort into it as you are comfortable with (I didn't even have a pipe!) but this September I'd very much recommend that you do at least make the effort to take part. Especially if the lead bike is a Honda Helix held together by stickers.

The Distinguished Gentleman's Ride

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