Back to The Front…

Covid has had an impact on many things across this planet; peoples’ lives, health, employment, public services and even available stock in the shops – to name but a few; I’m sure you could expand this list without too much effort.

One perhaps trivial change was that after several years as a spectacular social gathering, the annual Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride (DGR) became very much a ‘Billy no mates’ effort, with riders encouraged to participate while riding solo. Which when you’re riding dressed as a fop or a dandy seems a bit strange, especially to those watching you ride past.

I’ve taken part in the DGR every year since 2014, initially in London; but when that particular ride started to become ridiculously oversubscribed, I tried a few different locations. Amsterdam was absolutely brilliant but took a lot of organising, Maidstone in contrast was much easier to get to but rather shambolic, so for 2022 I settled on the West Sussex Ride, starting at Shoreham Airport.

My first West Sussex DGR was in September 2019 – the weather was foul. Torrential rain all day and horizontal winds blowing in from The English Channel. And with two hours tacked on each end to get there and back, call me a fair-weather rider (After more than 45 years of riding in all weathers you can call me whatever you like – I really don’t care…) but it all stacked up to a day of riding in pretty awful conditions.

The following two years were better, but not fantastic. Due to Covid restrictions these rides were more local, crossing the rather bleak Romney Marsh to do a circular route taking in Folkestone, Hythe, Ashford, Tenterden and Dungeness.

In 2020 the weather was less extreme, although it was still blustery, cold and damp, especially noticeable when you’re riding in a suit jacket, shirt and tie. 

The low point for me was getting to ‘The End of The Line’ café in Britain’s only desert – Dungeness, only to be told that I had to sit outside. The picnic benches were all locked up, so I had to sit on a railway sleeper in the car park. It was so windy that my sandwich blew away across the gravel.

2021 was fairly similar, even though the date had been moved to May (to favour riders around the world) it was still far from balmy. I’d be the first to state that taking part in the DGR doesn’t exactly take the same amount of commitment and effort as swimming the channel or running a marathon dressed as a rhinoceros. But doing the DGR on your own isn’t much fun.

That all changed for the better in 2022. The weather forecast was good. I left home near Ashford just before 07:00 to get to the starting point, the Longshore pub at Shoreham for around 09:00. The weather was just right, with just a patch of mist on the outskirts of Lewes; the roads pleasingly empty. It was one of those rides you remember for years as being perfect.

On arrival at the starting point, I was greeted by a wide range of bikes, from the new to the old, the unusual to the more commonplace, with the riders and pillions almost all decked out in their finery. 

One of the rarest bikes I saw was a 1950s Nimbus 4, nicknamed (I believe) ‘The Bumblebee’.

There was also a brace of fine looking Laverdas, and several classic Ducatis. I could try to tell you all about the bikes present, but there were hundreds of them, so I’ll let the photographs do the talking.

There were several stops along the way, including at East Beach car park at Rustington; in 2019 everyone had sheltered behind the appropriately rusty café to hide from the wind and the rain, but in 2022 it was all sunglasses and picnic baskets, as several impromptu parties started.

By sheer luck I happened to be parked near one such party, being hosted by Mark Webber, landlord of The Plough pub at Lower Beeding, near Horsham. Who just happened to be wearing a rather natty deer stalker.

Along with another Triumph, his cruiser was carrying a substantial picnic basket loaded with sandwiches and drinks as well as tasty moustache and bike shaped cheese bakes, which were generously offered round by the ladies.  

One of the bikes even had a bottle of Dow’s Finest Reserve Port on board, to go with the Stilton of course.

Once the canapés had been taken and the port packed away, it was time to saddle up again, and head for the finish line at Chichester, although the usual coastal route had to be abandoned due to a fun run taking place, so instead we headed inland, taking in the picturesque villages of Ford and Yapton, eventually passing glorious Goodwood. 

With the fine weather and good company, even several sets of temporary traffic lights couldn’t spoil the day, and by the time we arrived at Northgate Car Park in Chichester we found vans selling burgers, coffee and ice cream, along with a band playing.

I also had the opportunity to catch up with YouTuber John Bain, host of a growing channel (‘Old Bloke West Sussex’) featuring the day-to-day adventures of a Harley-Davidson riding modern day Jack Hargreaves.

So all in all, a great return to freedom on the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride, where with the generous support of my sponsors I managed to raise more than £650 for Movember. 

The DGR West Sussex Ride raised in excess of £26,000, with 254 riders registered, it’s a worthy cause and despite my weather-related whinges it’s one of the most enjoyable (not to mention easy) forms of fundraising possible.

See you next year, whatever the weather.        

Martin Haskell
Leaders of The Pack
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