Classics & HistoricMotoring

The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride: A Decade of Riding Dapper

There is something deeply special about a 40-year-old machine crackling to life and carrying your merry little self all the way across the landscape to places you’ll meet your friends, share a sense of humour and mostly just enjoy good health over a few drinks. These are the people and things we care about.


The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride (DGR) is an awareness and fundraiser for men’s health, which doubles as an excuse to dress smart and ride your painstakingly polished old bike, pretending it’s 1976 all over again.

It all started Down Under ten years ago and has since escalated into a much-loved and protected global phenomenon, meticulously themed to pay tribute to a golden age of thoroughbred motorcycles, good manners and common sense. When people were polite without undercurrents of trying to be politically correct. When the competition was fair and you could still drink the water.

Steven Helm of the Classic Motors Club laid out a course for the veterans. He didn’t expect great numbers, but after a post on Facebook drew a bit of attention, the participant list on this delightfully overcast Johannesburg morning grew to well over 100, to include the likes of Team Tank Girls and some blue-blooded Vesparados.

This was the first year the beloved run took place in our cooler month of May, and the cups of hot drinks spilt over into the backyard betwixt all the classics out on display, some of which liquids also percolated somewhat.

If time machines were a thing, we’d be getting them couriered to our doorsteps left and right! Most of us have some unfinished business from previous lifetimes at least, and many might sit with garages full of project bikes, or immaculate bikes in crates we’re saving for a special occasion. Personally, I’d only go back to my own childhood.

As perfect as it was, it unknowingly lacked the healthy addiction to two-wheelers that I have come to nurture so late in life. We had a chinwag with some positively glowing old souls about these last-century death contraptions.

Steven Helm – 1911 Precision

Officially the oldest motorcycle at The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride! A Scottish gentleman challenged other dapper men with his 1913 Douglas 2 3/4 HP.

Steven rose to the occasion with his British blue 600cc single-speeder, no clutch or gearbox, pedal start and pedal assist on steep hills, because the sprocket is geared more to flat terrain. He explained that “you use a valve lifter to release most of the compression on the motor, and pedal energetically to gain speed, then you drop the lifter to engage the motor to start the engine. The engine is direct-drive to the rear wheel by a belt.

Throttle is two levers of air and fuel which must gel happily to ensure a successful surge in momentum, very tricky.” A bit of wood or similar on the brake rim “suggests” slowing down, but he says his boots have more effect in most instances. You must cut the motor before attempting to brake!

Ian Otridge – 1971 Honda Dax

Sensible choice for a tall fellow. The bike is in 100% original condition – not restored – with 2 000km on the factory tyres and its original toolkit under the seat! Ian has looked after this bike for about five years now, but his eye’s been on it for 30, even though they were never allowed to ride it back in the day! His first bike was a 125cc Vespa which he’d bought in the box for R10. Hey, big spender!

The Vesparados Scooter Club did a stellar job escorting all the little old ladies safely through the streets of Joburg. Such upstanding young men.  

Johan van Wyk – 1994 Suzuki BX120 Superstar

Five years ago, Dapple needed a new home and Skinny needed a champion flat-track racer. It was a match made in seven minutes!

She cheerfully handed over the kick-starting duties and upside-down four-speed gearbox, and left to enjoy the company of something with a happy button. Johan’s DGR almost didn’t happen. First he was going. Then he wasn’t. Then, suddenly, Dapple became available and so he was going again! He took out his grandpa’s old dapperish attire, topped up the fuel tank and added maybe a little too much two-stroke oil (we forgot the measuring spoon at home) and off we all went on an adventure!

The little donkey rides like a dream since his last swanky service. They even had a robot dice or two against Chikita and Bubblegum, but there’s a bit of a power-to-weight disadvantage there… Dapple, dapperer, Dappleste!

Frankly, I can’t think of too many good reasons to time-travel ahead into the unknown. I mean, when you recall your best memories, they’re all in the past, right?

All we know about the future is what we dream of. Plus, of course, over-population, even stricter emissions laws and fossil fuel shortages, battery-powered everything and over-personalised ads. Doing everything online, never going anywhere anymore. Sounds like a nightmare to me.

No thanks; just send me back so I can start my riding career much younger and conceal that gawky teenage phase with a helmet and chest protector…

Nico – 1972 Suzuki RV125

Nico generally collects Vespas and Lambrettas, but he’d found this very rare and rust-free model and has been restoring it for the last six months. An easy project, but due to extremely limited numbers (you had to specifically order the 125s from Suzuki), sourcing parts took some time. It’s a lot of fun to ride, he says. “Rather ridden and not hidden!” That’s it!

Some pit stops were elegantly planted along the circular route, where familiar folks would undoubtedly and affectionately bump into one another.

The plague still runs rampant, and indeed we’re all supposed to be socially distant. In the not-so-distant past though, we’d be gathering in our thousands for this worthy cause, fighting prostate cancer by early detection and keeping our guys mentally fit by riding and rebuilding old motorbikes!

The fundraising aspect of the whole movement is still quite strong internationally, and while we each contribute maybe just a little, it leaves everyone involved with a sense of enormous well-being.

Bouwer Bosch – 1981 BMW R80

A work in progress, this bike is being fitted with an upgraded front suspension, a tubeless conversion and off-road tyres for a TV show wherein he’ll be tackling 13 mountains all over South Africa. Bouwer typically takes the more modern F800GSA on adventure trips.

He says he doesn’t know much about engines, but he is learning plenty from Cytech Motorcycles. Donovan is a legend on the custom motorcycle scene and has helped him a lot since they became friends.

The nobleman in the funky suit said he liked my pants! Legend!

Chikita – 1980 Kawasaki KH110 GTO “Luxurious Sports”

She got him about two years ago for the price of four replacement sparkplugs. He smokes like a locomotive, but luckily pulls like one too!

Some might argue that these antique scoots are so slow, they travel inherently backwards in time. We call that “fashionably late”, while Werner keeps his flamboyant 1800s handlebar moustache in check.

Alexis Basson – 1998 BMW K75 Ultima

Dreaming of a tourer with a driveshaft for easy maintenance, which is affordable and comfortable over 500km+, Alexis found this beautiful bike for sale by a school friend. He’d looked at the images and decided there and then to buy it without inspecting the bike or having the money. He negotiated a payment deal, and then tried to get it running for the first time in four years.

Cleaned up the tank, replaced the fuel pump, a good old service and it sprang into life. Elated, he headed straight to the roadworthy centre until he applied the rear brake. Luckily the front brake prevented the T-junction from turning into a four-way crossing! Time and finances dictated that he had a day and a half to fix the master cylinder himself before its maiden voyage.

A gentleman at Seal Centre advised that Jeyes Fluid removes caked brake fluid from aluminium. Practice revealed that it is an effective paint stripper as well. After a quick test ride, he arrived at the Union Buildings on Sunday morning, donning only his underpants. The seat is comfortable, but gets very hot in the sun (he suspects he sustained long-term thermal damage to headquarters after remounting the bike during the Anti-Pants Anti-Poaching Run). For the rest, the engine is very smooth and the bike points very well.

Being a heavy bike with only a 740cc half-brick engine, it will not win any drag races, but it’s comfortable, confident and reliable. All the pride and all the joy…


Here’s Yuvi Jasti with another veteran, the German Durkopp. Its frame is a 1902-1904 piece, but it runs a 500cc Frank E Baker engine from a 1909 Precision (the Durkopp’s original motor disappeared at some stage). At Truffles Pub everyone got a bite to drink, praised the sun’s eventual arrival, and traded tales about whose primitive automobile took the longest to start that morning.

Crispy (barely escaped Skinny’s flawless strawberry lips) – 1981 Yamaha XT250

The Cherry Bomb was a lucky acquisition from a restorer who had moved onto another project. He was horrified to learn that it was going to be taken off-road.

She specifically hunted down a 250, because they’re renowned for their good ground clearance coupled with a low seat height to give her more confidence as a novice off-roader, plus… Rambo had one! She says her own right leg is starting to look bigger than the left! Having never swung any spanners before, Crispy herself successfully performed a factory recall mod, installing a roll pin in the crankshaft to prevent oil starvation to the head, although she’s pretty sure there are more leaks now, which is why she promptly shoos away smokers…

Classically, there’s always a few unruly sons o’ glitches who refuse to time-travel, yet ironically want to enjoy the exclusivity of this event with their modern vibes and high-viz Facebook arguments.

But only once you’ve done this ride with an old and almost certainly unreliable bike, panicking all day about whether you’ll make it back in time for the future, will you understand what it’s all about. The atmosphere. The fellowship. Perhaps even life itself! These mechanical marvels of bygone times have earned our respect and admiration, lifetimes over.

Claude – 1953 Excelsior Roadmaster

Bought from a collection a few weeks ago, Claude only had to replace the 197cc two-stroke’s battery, polish it up and break out the tweed! He believes this specific unit was imported from England quite a few years ago, and it might be the only one in South Africa! He has managed to hold onto his very first Yamaha YB80 as well as two more YB100s.

Also in the stable is a 1949 Ariel VB600 rigid frame. Claude does some of the work himself, but heartily endorses the talent of William Norris at Bike Craft.

Zoo Lake Bowling Club was last on the list of stopovers, where we met up with even more new and old friends. The awkwardly sheltered time period we presently find ourselves suspended in doesn’t allow for much mingling, so we milked this worldwide shindig to the last drop!

Mhloli – Harley 883 Sportster Mhloli was beaming with ecstasy. He bought the bike in January, loved the ride and looked positively posh. Upon asking him what his first bike was, he replied, “This is it!”


Adam Connor – Soekoe He got it just this year and its 75kph top speed is awfully impressive for a pushbike strapped to a 49cc engine! In the garage is also a Harley and loads of pedal-powered bicycles. This is like a mix between the two, which, to Adam, is the best of both worlds.

Karen – 2017 Suzuki RV125 VanVan Karen rescued her from becoming a bar display item, and they’ve since roamed the Magaliesberg in search of puddles, dongas, rock mountains and shebeens. “VanVan” in Japan sounds like “bang” and means “keep going on”, and boy, does she keep on going with that distinctive fat tekkie at the back!

The DGR allowed the retro Bubble to spruce up a bit, and she relished chasing Smoky Jo through the city streets until the sun went down!

Sebastian – Vespa Sprint (after quick consultation with Dad standing nearby)

Sebastian has been riding since he was three years old. He is eight now. He came on the ride with his old man and little brother, and his own bike is a Suzuki DS80. Asked if he’s quite the professional by now, he said yes, but he doesn’t know yet if he’s going to race or not. We reckon he will.

If you think back to that age when you were fixing appliances in the workshop with Dad, baking oatmeal cookies with Grandma, chasing fireflies, building sophisticated blanket forts, skateboarding into a farm dam, eating mulberries straight from the tree – it almost felt like time was at a standstill, right?

Perhaps therein lies the winning recipe for time-travel: staying young at heart! Old bikes absolutely have the power to transport us back to those carefree days. And that’s why we celebrate them!

Skinny – 1953 BMW R50/5

Since we were one bike short, Skinny pleaded with Alexis to gallop through the Joeys streets on one of his smooth-mouthed mares.

Permission was granted to use the slow and sexy old girl, with an instruction list of mostly donts and which wire to cut should a fire break out.

Being a particularly cold morning, we tried everything to get her heart beating, but in the end, it took a run down the hill to blow fire through her pipes. Surprisingly, a very easily manoeuvrable machine with an unexpected top kick on the open straights.

However, heels had to be applied whenever a quick stop was demanded. There are many more centuries of riding left in this stately old steed.

We ended up at the Jolly Rodger for one last hurrah. And then we had to get our lubricated limbs back home!

Time-travel, ladies and gentlemen, is one hell of a ride!

It is hard to tell if we adore these old bikes because they have a soul or because they assist us with ours. *Martin Jack Rosenblum*

This contribution to the biking fraternities’ entertainment was wholeheartedly compiled by the stupendous biker and far-better-speller, Chikita! Heartfelt thanks to Anti-Pants Anti-Poaching posterboy, Alexis Basson, for graciously affording Skinny his 1953 BMW R50/5 and taking fabulous photographs!


Maybe we’ll win the Lotto tomorrow and we know that nobody cares if we were broke yesterday…  But right now, a few copper pennies will be greatly appreciated.

If you’re familiar with the rural concept of the honesty bar, this honesty newsletter ain’t much different… I’m a completely un-paid journalist, relying instead on readers using the honour system. You read the newsletter and then leave an amount you see fit for the entertainment you’ve received.

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