Motorcycles evoke many things.
Leather, oil and rebellion. Chrome, death and glory.
Tweed, moustache and a pipe?
In this country, motorcycles, suits and stylish gentlemen is not a winning combination. Two wheeled transport didn’t start out this way however, it used to be the preserve of the raffish gentleman, for whom a shiny motor bicycle was a beast to be tamed. A hobby and a sporting venture, it was a means to impress the young ladies with your daring while at the same time absorbing a healthy portion of your spare cash. Nothing like riding around on a 100mph machine to wake up the gin addled senses. With little between you and certain death than a set of brakes which would now would be considered insufficient for a cheap Halfords mountain bike, only a rich gent could afford the lengthy hospital stay which was undoubtedly due. These were expensive, beautiful creatures and so were the bikes that they rode.
Over the years motorbikes got procured and bastardised by a less civilised demographic and these young rebels dirtied and sexed them up until the more gentle early era was forgotten, to be replaced by a rough and ready glamour that would be used to sell anything from denim to cigarettes for years to come. Even in the heydeys of the Brit bikes when Triumph still ruled the world even then the stylish ones were not the rockers but the mods. Part of the attraction of scooters was that with a parka over the top your suit could remain pristine, no oil leaks, and no foot controls to fuck up your loafers. The bikes themselves became more everyday just as the jeans and leather jacket became the uniform for any man trying to project an image of sexy rebellion, from boy band to banker.
Times change, and fashion is circular, and these days, bikes are expensive, clean and classy once more. It should be no surprise that people are therefore attempting to reclaim that original voguish charm, none more so than the esteemed chaps of the Distinguished Gentllemans Ride who you can see pictured here. Accompanying a wide array of bikes with an equally discerning selection of fine tailoring. As these gents prove a brough superior can go just as well with a tweed jacket as a battered leather one. If it was good enough for Laurence of Arabia it’s certainly good enough for a trip down the embankment.
The truth is we’re only slowly getting past the time when turning up in motorbike gear would instantly denounce you as someone with a package to drop off. Now when leathers usually cost considerably more than an off the peg business suit, perhaps people should be looking at this growing demographic in a different light?
It’s not just a social thing. There’s many practical reasons why the mix of suit and bike has never taken off. Our weather has to take a lot of the blame. It’s pretty hard to be stylish on two wheels when your head to toe in goretex. In most of continental Europe they don’t have this problem and there, particularly in France and Italy, it’s not unusual for a stylish man to make his way to work atop the latest unreliable product from Bologna bedecked in a suit and tie
A whole range of products has sprung up in order to cater for this man. Shoe savers that slip over the gear lever, full body rugs attached permanently to the bike. I am going to ignore for obvious reasons, the horrible behemoths that result when motorcycle manufacturers try and adda roof to keep the elements out. I expect even tom ford would fail to look gentlemanly in a bmw c125. Perhaps if we had access to these products over here then the two wheeled aficionado in the UK wouldn’t always have to choose between aping a hells angel or a power ranger
Please though don’t try and imitate this look and end up like Chris Eubank in jodphurs on a Harley. What these distinguished gents are proving is that you can be a dapper dan astride your iron horse. All we need now is for someone to invent a Kevlar lined goretex coated, harris tweed riding suit.
Words by Ted May, photography by Richard Stow