Detroit Gets Dapper-The 2017 Distinguished Gentleman's Ride
Classic bikes, retro styles, and searing heat in the Motor City
Ride Photos by Larry Ripari, Trevor Dernai, and Albert Alimpich
"Welp, that didn't take long," I thought as I pushed the Yamaha out of traffic and up onto the sidewalk at the corner of Woodward and Witherell. Not five miles into the 30-odd mile route of 2017's Distinguished Gentleman's Ride, my 40-year-old triple died on me as I rolled up to the light. Vapor lock. Now, in all fairness, it was one million degrees in the Motor City that Sunday and we'd been burbling through stop-and-go Lions traffic on Woodward for about a half an hour by that point, but still.
So there I was, standing in the middle of the sidewalk, desperately trying to kick the triple over while the rest of the DGR pack rode merrily on its way, when a presence over my right shoulder made me look up...right into the face of a Detroit cop. "Oh, it's gonna be one of those days..."
The day had started well enough. Sunday dawned bright and clear and it was already a balmy 80 degrees at 09:30 as I walked out to the garage. I'd spent a few hours the day before getting my bike – a modified, well-used 1980 XS850 that's been my daily rider for nearly 20 years – ready for the DGR by doing a bit of much needed maintenance. I changed the oil and the middle and final gear drives with fancy new fluids courtesy of MOTUL, aired up my forks, gave the bike a wash with MOTUL's degreasing bike wash spray (probably the first time I've ever washed this bike), and touched up the bike's rattlecan paint job here and there. I even finally got around to adding a little detail to the paint that I'd been dragging my feet on for years. As far as I was concerned, everything was good to go.
The old Yamaha started on the first kick that morning, a good omen for the day. After the usual warm-up time, the old triple mill is pretty cold-blooded even on warm days, I left my north-central Detroit neighborhood and headed south for the DGR meetup. Instead of the scenic route down Woodward and through town to reach the rally point, I opted for a quick, high-speed thrash down I-75 and the Lodge Freeway to get the blood flowing. Fifteen minutes later I was pulling into the parking lot at the rally point.
If you don't know, the Distinguished Gentleman's Ride is a charity ride was founded in 2012 in Sydney, Australia, by a guy named Mark Hawwa. Inspired by a photo of actor John Hamm sitting a classic bike in a fancy suit, Hawwa decided that a themed ride featuring classic bikes and well-dressed riders would go a long way in dispelling some of the more negative stereotypes of motorcyclists. That first ride in 2012 brought together nearly 3,000 riders in 64 cities world wide, and was a surprising success. That success encouraged Hawwa to figure out a way to use the ride to support good causes, and the next year an even larger DGR rode to raise money for prostate cancer research.
By 2016, the DGR had grown to almost 60,000 riders in 505 across the world. The riders raised over $3.6 million USD in funds for prostate cancer research and, in collaboration with the Movember Foundation, for men's mental health programs. By all indications, 2017 is set to smash those records with even more riders and more money raised.
Look, this is as dapper as the Yamaha or I get.
This year Detroit's DGR rally point was Batch Brewing in Corktown, the city's oldest extant neighborhood. Batch is a tiny little nano-brewery on Porter with great beers and fantastic food.The place itself is intimate and comfortable, with long trestle tables and benches inside and a pretty nice patio outside shaded by creeping hop plants. It even has a cozy private events/dining room made from an old boxcar. It's a pretty cool place and the guys who run it are some of the friendliest, most generous dudes you'd ever want to meet. It was the perfect place to start the day's ride.
I showed up about ten minutes before the official start of the event and there were already a handful of bikes in Batch's lot. I pulled in, parked next to a new-ish Triumph Bonneville, got out of my riding gear, and wandered over to the patio where a small crowd of well-dressed men and women were gathered around my good friend and bandmate Monique Czarnecki, the event's organizer.
Mo, who rides a very clean '75 CB550K in metallic green, has been the head of Detroit's DGR since the original founder Ron Arnold passed her the reins a few years ago. she's an absolute force of nature, a fast-talking, quick-thinking, charismatic firebrand with a million-watt smile and an incredible talent for organization. Her leadership skills are top notch, as I've experienced over and over again when she runs events for our band, and it's always a pleasure to take part in any of her events.
Our fearless leader.
Over the next couple of hours, bikes poured into Batch's lot by the dozen. There was a coffee bar provided by one of our sponsors, Ashe Supply Co., and the brewery opened the kitchen around 11:00 for light snacks and brunch fare. My good buddy Todd Ethridge, who wrote the Cycleweird article on the Phelon & Moore Panther a few weeks back, showed up on his mint '72 Norton and we set about socializing and nerding out about motorcycles.
Todd and his very dapper Norton.
Eventually, it was time to get the show on the road. Mo gathered us all up to introduce us to the DGR team and to give us the lowdown on the day's festivities. Afterwards, we all queued up to get our official portraits taken, then it was time to roll out. There were roughly 240 bikes in attendance at this year's ride, so everything took some doing to get started. Mo and the team handled it really well though, and we were provided with all the information, plans, maps, backup plans, and backups for the backup plans we could ever need. It was refreshing how well organized and smooth everything was.
Ladies and gentlemen, the 80s.
Our first stop after leaving Batch was the old Michigan Central Station. Abandoned for thirty years now, the massive train station is one of Detroit's most famous empty buildings and was the perfect backdrop for a group photo. We cruised west through Mexicantown (probably my favorite neighborhood in the city) and lined up in front of the station for some pictures.
Riding in formation down Bagley with one of my new best riding buddies.
Thankfully there was plenty of shade at the train station, because it was pushing 90 degrees by that point and bikes were already starting to act up due to the heat. Most of us kept our gear on, since we were only supposed to be there a few minutes, but a few riders took the opportunity to relax or shoot their own pictures while the official stuff was going on elsewhere.
Jessica and her big Triumph Thunderbird Storm taking it easy at the train station.
READ MORE: The 2014 Distinguished Gentleman's Ride
After a good ten minutes at Michigan Central, we were off once again. We headed east down Michigan Ave. into downtown proper, which was the most challenging part of the ride. At the heart of downtown is a central square called Campus Martius surrounded by a traffic circle. It was busy downtown, with a couple different events and a Lions game, so it was thronged with people. Getting 240 bikes around Campus Martius with other traffic and a slew of pedestrians and gawkers standing around was a big hurdle, and probably the biggest worry Mo had that day. Thankfully, we got around the circle without a hitch and looked great doing it.
Off to town we go.
Once we got through Campus Martius, we headed north on Woodward toward our second stop – the Roma Cafe in Eastern Market. This is where my part of the story diverges from the rest of the DGR. Remember how I mentioned that vapor lock earlier? Yeah, this is the part of the story where that happened.
Northbound on Woodward.
A few blocks north of Campus Martius, at the corner of Woodward and Witherell, the Yamaha just died. I knew it had vapor locked, since that's a trick it likes to play when it's really hot outside, so like I said I pushed the bike up on to the sidewalk and the rest of the ride carried on toward Eastern Market. That's when the cop approached me while I was desperately trying to get the old bike restarted.
Now, I kind of have a thing about cops which stems from the problem with authority I inherited from my old man, himself an old-school rider, wrencher, and discipline problem. I was more than a bit startled by the cop, and readied myself for the worst, when his face split into a huge smile and he said,
"Hey, man, where'd you get that cool jacket?"
Turns out this cop, a young black guy who looked like he was about twelve years old, fresh out of the academy and doing scut work directing traffic for the Lions game, was a budding rider himself. He told me about signing up for his first MSF course and how he was excited to learn, then asked me about different places to buy bikes and gear around the metro area. He also told me that he hopes to become a Detroit motorcycle cop once he gets more experience riding, and honestly, I hope he makes it. He was just so excited about bikes and riding.
After our chat, I ended up taking a walk of shame around the corner to Broadway where I left the Yamaha on the sidewalk in the shade of a jewelry store and walked into Detroit Beer Co. for a cold one and some lunch. I knew the triple would start as soon as it cooled down, so I enjoyed a chill lunch on DBC's patio while it did so. Meanwhile, all my new riding buddies were up in Eastern Market having fun without me.
These Enfields didn't break down once and I did. Talk about galling.
Not wanting to linger too long downtown and miss out on the rest of the ride, I cashed out, got the bike started again, and blasted up I-75 to the market. I got there just in time to meet the ride as they were saddling up to leave for the next stop. My triple was still struggling, though. It absolutely refused to idle without throttle, so I had to keep the revs up around 1,500 if I wanted to stay running. This wasn't too much of a problem, since we were heading into the easiest, breeziest, and longest stretch of continuous riding in the rally – the run down to Belle Isle.
He bought that Bonneville new in 1979, and has been riding it ever since.
Belle Isle is a huge, 982 acre island in the Detroit River. It's been a city park for more than a century, but recently it was converted to a state park run by Michigan's Department of Natural Resources due to Detroit's ongoing financial woes. The island features numerous trails, beaches, museums, an aquarium, fountains, playgrounds, a giant slide, picnic shelters, and all kinds of great stuff. It's a great place for a picnic or a family reunion or just a pleasant evening stroll and I couldn't wait to get there.
Belle Isle from the air.
We crept out of Eastern Market the back way through warehouses and empty factories and blasted down Grand Boulevard to reach the island. Once across the MacArthur Bridge, we tooled along the outer ring road at a leisurely 25 miles per hour, taking in the scenery and generally enjoying ourselves. The drive around the island was my favorite part of the ride. Well, save for the tar snakes on the road in the northeast corner of the island that softened up in the heat and made the riding a little, shall we say, challenging in the corners.
We had a little air support once we got out on to the island.
After our tour around Belle Isle, we crossed back over the bridge and headed toward our final stop, Atwater Brewing. We were all a little hot and thirsty by this point, so the riding was pretty spirited on Jefferson Avenue as we laughed and chased each other along the river.
READ MORE: 2017 Triumph Bonneville Bobber - First Ride
This is DGR.jpg right here. Look at that joy.
We finally made it though, and as we pulled into the brewery the 2017 Distinguished Gentleman's Ride came to an end. Well, at least the riding part did. The folks at Atwater Brewing greeted us with ice cold beer and a special, event-only menu. The post-ride party was great, lots of fellowshipping and laughing and just enjoying the afterglow of a good ride for a good cause.
Our last stop, Atwater Brewing.
I finally made it home exhausted, sweaty, and happy around 16:30. I parked the bike, cracked open an ice-cold Topo Chico, and sat in the shade of my big maple tree admiring the Yamaha and thinking about the day's events. I had fun, made new friends, went on a motorcycle ride, and raised a bunch of money for charity. A pretty good way to spend a Sunday.
Monique and the Detroit DGR team did a hell of a job. The event went off without a hitch, no one was hurt or arrested, and everyone had a blast. Later Sunday evening, the DGR team retreated to the Dorais Velodrome for some well-deserved beers and motorcycle shenanigans. Thanks a million you guys, I can't wait for next year.
So you remember that vapor lock situation I had during the ride? On Monday, I went out to the garage on my lunch break to have a look at the bike to see if I could ameliorate that problem and, uh, this happened...
Looks like it's new project time! You guys'll be hearing more about this in the near future.
Between three shooters there are about 14 billion shots from the DGR last weekend. Since I can't put them all here, I figured I'd share a selection of my favorites from the day.
This mint early-60s Dream was one of my favorite bikes at the rally.
This custom '72 Norton with its hand-made fiberglass body was the 70s-est thing
The Family that Urals together stays together
I'm pretty sure this guy and his Beemer are time travelers
Here's Ron representing the Mods
Nona and Dan were pretty in pink
Look at how awesome this Thruxton is
There's no school like the old school
YOU GUYS THERE WAS ANOTHER XS850 THERE!
Another old school offering. Peep that paint job.
Also, check out this sweet video AJ put together