Ho Chi Minh City’s gentlefolk congregate on the streets to share their love of motorcycles and support for prostate cancer research in Vietnam’s first-ever Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride. By Ruben Luong. Photos courtesy of Phung Nguyen Tuan Anh.
For just one day each year, distinguished gentlemen and genteel ladyfolk all over the world press their cravats, polish their oxfords and don their most dapper tweed, gearing up astride two-wheeled beauties to raise funds for prostate cancer research and awareness.
Together they kickstart the annual Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride (DGR) which, this year, took place on 28 September. It’s the first year in which the DGR has taken place in Vietnam, where 100 riders in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City collectively raised USD $4,003.
DGR had its beginnings two years ago with 2,500 riders in 64 cities, and participation quadrupled last year with 10,000 riders in 145 cities. This year, over 220 cities raised more than USD $1.5 million, well-surpassing DGR’s goal of USD $1 million.
Initially, the event was inspired by a photo of Mad Men’s Don Draper wearing his finest suit on a classic bike. The suave ad exec became DGR’s muse to dispell the negative stereotype of men on motorcycles.
But DGR has evolved into a curated assortment of hobbies and causes, combining sartorial interests with men’s health, charity and – particularly in Ho Chi Minh City – a love of classic, custom or vintage motorcycles.
“I want to introduce Vietnamese bikers and how we customise our motorcycles to everyone in the world,” says Phung Nguyen Tuan Anh, 27, who was a main organiser for the first ride in Ho Chi Minh City. “We want to show we are gentlemen and rebel a little bit at the same time.”
An assembly of young and older Vietnamese in suspenders, bowties and waistcoats – some with GoPros installed on their helmets – occupied the streets at 1pm, congregating on Cafe Racers, Flat Trackers, vintage Vespa scooters and other sweet rides for an afternoon exposition of Saigon cool.
Anh led the riders in a custom camo and maroon Yamaha TW200 from Galaxy Cinema on Nguyen Du Street to Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office, stopping at the Opera House downtown and riding into District 2, then looping back to their starting point for one more round of riding that lasted until 4.30pm.
Four teams were shepherded by riders on special motorcycles. The first featured big bikes led by a Harley Davidson; the second a Triumph motorcycle retailing for USD $23,000 in Vietnam; the third a 1957 BMW motorcycle, the oldest of the bikes that day; and the last a vintage 1960 Honda CB450.
“I was intrigued by the custom bikes and how they put things together. Their ingenuity was unbelievable,” says Anton Sutovsky, 35, a designer and one of the only foreigners in Ho Chi Minh City to participate in the DGR.
Curious passersby were also intrigued by the emerging wolf pack of vintage metal on the road and quickly took to taking photos of the riders and their motorcycles, despite dark skies looming overhead and a heavy rain that followed later that afternoon.
“Rain kind of defines if you really want to go somewhere,” says Sutovsky. “If you’re willing to ride in the rain for whatever cause, you’re really willing to do that, you know?”
Having lost several close friends in his life to cancer, Sutovsky was compelled to contribute to DGR and share his love of motorcycles come rain or shine. With donations from friends and family in his native Detroit, he raised USD $430.
For Anh, DGR wasn’t the first time he’s done charity on wheels. Last year, he and 40 others, including Vietnamese stuntman and actor Johnny Tri Nguyen, toured on 32 custom motorcycles to Phan Thiet and Dalat to distribute backpack giftsets for young students.
It’s their spirit of philanthrophy that will continue to represent the ideals of the DGR each year – finesse, manners and class. But riders here also can’t resist admiring a beautiful custom motorcycle when they see one. They ultimately reflect the riders themselves, and fuel their desire to dress to impress.
“My friend called me because he wanted to borrow a suit,” Anh says. “He’s never worn a suit in Ho Chi Minh City because it’s so hot. He wore everything: a suit, shirt, gillet, red bowtie and a white-and-red-striped helmet.”
“I was impressed by the riders’ style,” Sutovsky says. “Their proportions are also beautiful. Vietnamese-size build is usually smaller than their bike, so if they sit on a bigger bike, they’re proportionally beautiful with it. I’m too tall and too fat on a bike, so my proportions aren’t as nice.”
“I remember I was riding next to a guy and he was on a Yamaha SR400. He had on this suede coat. It was really sharp and, coming from a design perspective, he just had such good posture and proportions,” he says. “I looked over, and I was just like, ‘God, he looks good on that bike.’”