Acting Like Gentlemen Will Help Us Grow Motorcycling Everywhere

A public spat between Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride organizers and Union Garage NYC may be the tipping point we need

The Distinguished Gentleman's Ride (DGR) is taking place on September 24/25, 2017 all over the world. It pairs the Instagram-proven recipe of men in suits, retro motorcycles, and pretty photography in a charity ride that raises tons of money for men's health issues like prostate cancer and suicide prevention. It's a great cause, but this year it's on the wrong side of some drama in the New York motorcycle scene and it's highlighting one of the biggest problems with why motorcycling as a whole won't grow.

The beef:

Union Garage NYC, a Brooklyn motorcycle clothing/riding apparel shop, decided that after three years of looking dapper and posing for pics, it was going to use the same weekend to head for the hills for their own charity ride.

A September 10th blog post on the UGNYC event page claims its crew is not only sort of bored with riding the same style bikes to the same photo stops, but that it also doesn't agree with the DGR's stance toward non-retro bikes (they ask sportbike, cruiser, ADV, and other types of riders not to participate) and want to use the most of a short riding season and a Sunday where many riders won’t be riding the fun roads (because they'll be participating in the DGR).

distinguished gentlemen's ride
2016 LA Distinguished Gentlemen's RideZach Cohen

Then the post goes on to talk about how great the DGR is and how, if interested, people should absolutely attend, and then a ton of content created by UGNYC around the DGR is shared to show what a cool event it can be.

The post itself is a little too honest and doesn't paint the DGR event in the most positive light. It's easy to see why it ruffled some feathers and wasn't taken well, but does not come off (to me) as a jab or intentional attack. It definitely could have been more tactful and serves as the instigation of this whole thing.

The UGNYC blog didn't take long to start pissing people off.

Mark Hawwa, the founder of the DGR, posted this to his Facebook page:

"A back handed compliment if ever we've received one. Thanks Union. It's one thing to quietly decide to have a break as many riders do year to year. It's another to blog about it publicly while taking the opportunity to run an event on the exact same date under the guise that the roads will be quiet. There are 51 other weekends in a year."

His post had 166 comments by the time I saw it around 9 a.m. the following morning, with more comments from Hawwa littered through it. Many included his encouragement of other commenters saying they won't be returning to Union Garage or accusing UGNYC of being passive-aggressive or attacking them for being bored of a charity event.

distinguished gentlemen's ride
2016 LA Distinguished Gentlemen's RideZach Cohen

My beef:

I've met Hawwa before and find him a lovely human. I get that this event is his baby, but he's on the wrong side of this one and this fairly insignificant altercation is an example of why motorcycling has had such a hard time adding to its ranks.

Planning a charity event where there is a theme everyone has to adhere to is a smart tactic to gain more publicity and potentially grow your event—for people who are into that sort of thing. The DGR turns away riders of other types of bikes to keep their numbers down, but also so that the photos it produces and press it receives are "on brand." But you can't play the "how dare you be too bored for charity" card while also playing the "sorry sportbike/ADV/cruiser/scooter/supermoto/dual-sport riders, we don't want your money" card. Espeically when just two years ago, representatives from the DGR told a prostate cancer survivor that he and his wife were unwelcome to participate because their Harley-Davidson wasn't the right kind of bike.

Another DGR participant in the Facebook comments told me "it's an event we throw with a charity attached." That is also fine, but also means you don't get to play the morality card when people don't love your event with a charity attached.

Because we’re friendly, I responded to Hawwa's post, stating that I believed he was on the wrong side of this and that, while I understood he was protective of his baby, he was handling it really poorly and should support people wanting to give others a place to go who didn't want to be a part of his event. The responses from Hawwa and company ranged from everything to passive-aggressive comments on my reading comprehension to downright name calling (his brother called me a stupid c*nt). Fortunately, our own Facebook and Youtube audience have given me and my skinny jeans and dumb hair and tattoos a thick skin.

distinguished gentlemen's ride
2016 LA Distinguished Gentlemen's RideZach Cohen

But the whole incident got me thinking about how so much of the motorcycle community feels immature and combative because motorcycling as a whole has had a difficult time at making riding cool and attractive in other ways.

There is this aura of coolness around it that lends itself to an "us versus them" attitude that keeps us from growing our numbers. Like middle schoolers in a lunchroom, we look for ways to differentiate and rank ourselves so we know where we stand and who we stand with (and who we don't), because there can be no cool without uncool.

That attitude may keep motorcycles in ads and commercials, but it won’t add to our numbers. It permeates our culture so much that it's unwelcoming to would-be new riders, or keeps current riders from trying new types of riding. Becoming a motorcyclist is already difficult enough given other barriers to entry like cost, safety concerns, and places to ride.

The good news is that people are finally starting to wise up to what UGNYC owner Chris Lesser calls the "big tent" approach.

The "big tent" approach at Aether's Urban Adventure rideSean MacDonald

I was impressed when I attended a weekend ride with the guys from Aether, a brand that sells incredibly nice but incredibly expensive riding apparel to the big adventure bike crowd alongside premium Schuberth helmets and bike outfit with every farkle you could ever want. The founders were the guys passing out donuts and sharing stories of being miserable while caught out on a trip on old Honda XR650Ls rather than talking about the latest new gadget they'd been given an exclusive preview of or what fancy brand they were partnering with. They sell things often found on the wealthiest and exclusive of riders, but had one of the most inclusive and fun-loving attitudes of any group ride I've been on.

Or when I was in Deus Ex Machina one time and asked their thoughts on a brand who recently reached out to send me some T-shirts that were a direct rip-off of their brand, only to hear "Hey man, we can't own a style, more power to anyone trying to make something they love for motorcycle riders. All we care about is making stuff we like and helping more people fall in love with motorcycles. We even tried to pair up with them for an event in their country because the more the merrier."

Aether, Deus Ex Machina, The Bike Shed, Union Garage, and several other companies using a positive and welcoming stance toward building community is the only way we're going to grow motorcycling. Sharing motorcycling with non-riders in a way that makes it welcoming—like Roland Sands is doing with his upcoming Moto Beach Classic event is how we're going to grow motorcycling.

Last year, I wrote a blog about how there was no right or wrong way to be a motorcyclist. That I started riding awful bikes 10 years ago only to look cool and meet girls. My friends chose to let me do my thing and offer me new experiences on different kinds of motorcycles, instead of telling me I was a douche bag. That's how I fell in love with sportbikes and dirtbikes and adventure bikes and ATV and side by sides and personal watercraft and...well, you get the point.

Just like there is no wrong way to be a motorcyclist, there is no wrong way to host a motorcycle charity event. Even if it was a direct rip-off of the DGR event, the DGR team claims its numbers are often too big to manage and another event raising money for charity should be seen as a positive (unless it's also about glorifying the event and those at the helm).

distinguished gentlemen's ride
2016 LA Distinguished Gentlemen's RideZach Cohen

To many people's surprise (because everyone assumes I love all things hipster), I've never attended a DGR event. Maybe I'm a terrible human, but the idea of riding slowly in a huge pack of riders sounds like my introverted nightmare. For a guy like me, an event like the one UGNYC is hosting would get help get me out of my anti-social shell and participating in something for a good cause.

Sadly, after Hawwa's initial post about being hurt by the UGNYC blog and his subsequent parody post listing the reasons why he won't be attending the UGNYC event, DGR fans have taken to social media to further punish Lesser by leaving negative reviews for the store and encouraging people to boycott. Lesser amended his blog with an apology, owning his part in the whole debacle.

Riding motorcycles is awesome and doing so for a good cause is even better. If you want to dress up like a stud and have access to a cafe racer or scrambler or some beautiful retro bike, you should absolutely participate in the Distinguished Gentleman's Ride despite how some of its members are handling this. It really is a great cause and it doesn't even really matter that the organizers not being the most mature right now. I know some of the guys helping out with the Orange County one that begins at Newport Beach Ducati/Triumph and they're stellar guys and have some cool things planned.

If that isn't your thing, you should still go ride or—better yet (and if possible)—participate in a different charity event. Maybe even the one by the Lesser at Union Garage NYC. Just don't forget to be nice to each other and that—while the guy/gal riding next to you might not be doing it like you—he or she isn't doing it wrong.