Words: Peter Howarth
‘You’re in a gang!’ So said a friend of mine, responding to a picture I posted on Instagram in which I am pictured with a group of bikers about to take part in The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride in Milan. The gang-ness was not due to our matching leathers, but instead to the outfits we had been provided with by Italian fashion house Pal Zileri – navy-blue woollen jackets with a subtle ‘pixelated’ pattern, paired with mustard turtlenecks. Clutching our crash helmets, the effect was a cross between a school photo and a cult film poster, reminiscent of Quadrophenia. OK, make that a school photo.
Which is actually quite appropriate. Because the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride is nothing if not civilised – the opposite of a biker rally and decidedly more Gatsby than Wild One. It is the brainchild of Mark Hawwa, who founded it in Sydney, Australia, in 2012. Apparently inspired by a photo of Mad Men‘s Don Draper in a suit, sitting on a classic bike, the aim was to redefine the way bikers are viewed – often negatively, as stereotypical bad boys and rebels. The first ride brought together more than 2,500 riders across 64 cities. This year’s saw nearly 37,000 dandified motorcyclists in over 400 cities in 79 countries.
The aim of today’s ride is also to raise money for prostate-cancer research. When we last heard, 2015′s event had raised $2,261,248 million, with donations still being counted, hugely overtaking last year’s total of around $1.5 million.
The ride is sponsored globally by Triumph Motorcycles, and the lady from Triumph in Milan, who I met at the alfresco lunch organised for the participants (red checked tablecloths in an industrial complex – kind of Mad Max meets Tuscan idyll), thought the Italian city was playing host to some 1,000 bikes. It certainly felt (and sounded) like that, and the local police seemed to think the scale of the rally justified closing the roads and the accompaniment of outriders and a police car, siren blaring, at the back.
But the real action was in the wardrobe department. While my ‘gang’ was attired by an Italian design house becoming known for its idiosyncratic approach to tailoring-based menswear, the order of the day was largely more tweedy and dressy. Pipes, moustaches, trimmed beards and good manners accompanied the machines, which were mainly in the style of classic custom motorcycles – an eclectic collection of café racers, bobbers, scramblers, flat-trackers, vintage classics and quirky, hard-to-define two-wheeled creations.
As for me and the boys (and girls) in Pal Zileri, I was on a beautiful Triumph Bonneville Spirit Special Edition in pale blue and cream; Italian musician Saturnino rode a custom Harley Davidson; and our host, Paolo Roviera, Pal Zileri’s CEO, was putting his new toy through its paces – a lovely early 1970s Harley that he couldn’t resist buying for the occasion. I have to admit, as fashion accessories go, Paolo’s new machine had to rank as one of the best ever.
Discover more at PalZileri.com