Craig Vittorio, a host of New Haven’s Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride, picked up his freshly-pressed suit on the morning of Sept. 23 and rushed to replace his old pair of dress shoes with the worn-out soles. He and about 20 other well-dressed motorcyclists from all over Connecticut and even New York gathered the following day in front of Blue State Coffee on Wall Street to ride 40 miles around New Haven and raise funds for men’s health.

New Haven’s chapter of the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride hosted its annual event on Sunday, where motorcyclists dressed in formal wear came together to ride classic or custom-style bikes for men’s health causes. The New Haven ride is one of more than 600 throughout the world that raise funds for the Movember Foundation, the world’s largest men’s health organization. The proceeds go to prostate cancer biomedical research and awareness of men’s mental health, specifically male suicide prevention.

“This whole event is based on community,” said Ramsey Sayed, the Australia-based global events coordinator for DGR. “Every year that we participate and raise awareness, more people catch on and start to join.”

The organization, originally formed to raise awareness of motorcyclists in general, is the brainchild of Mark Hawwa, who was inspired in 2012 by a photo of Don Draper from the popular television show Mad Men, sitting on a classic 1957 Manchester motorcycle in full suit and tie. From that moment, the connection between dapper dressing and vintage-style bikes was born.

DGR has grown exponentially from its humble beginnings in Sydney, Australia, culminating in this year’s global fundraising goal of $5 million, nearly all of which has already been raised, according to the DGR website. The most successful cities in terms of philanthropy are Sydney, London, and this year, New York City, Sayed said, where $143,961 has been raised so far.

“Before those cities, Sydney was the most improved yet,” Sayed said. “We’ve now lost that title, but we’re happy to give it up because it’s amazing to see the rest of the world taking this really motivating initiative and doing something that’s unique in each different city and making it their own.”

In smaller cities and towns, such as New Haven, contributions from rides are not as staggering. With 20 New Haven riders, the program raised $1,400 — an increase from the $400 raised last year.

Vittorio, who has hosted New Haven’s annual rides, said he participated in the event because he was looking for a community of not-so-serious bikers with whom he could ride.

“I’d be lying if I said the reason I started this is because I wanted to make a difference in men’s health and awareness,” Vittorio said. “These old-style bikes are definitely my niche.”

Most of those who gathered this past Sunday either found out about the event from the interconnected bike community on social media or by word of mouth.

For many of the participants, the New Haven ride is simply a way to connect with other bikers. For Vittorio, the social connections that the DGR offers are more attractive than the philanthropy.

But for others, the cause is more central to their lives. One such participant in the New Haven ride, Kurt Leunis, survived prostate cancer and came out Sunday for his first ride after hearing about the event on Instagram.

In an interview with the News, Leunis reflected on his illness, saying cancer transformed his outlook on life. He had young children at the time, and shortly after his recovery, he and his wife were divorced.

“Prostate cancer changed me, physically and mentally,” he said. After it was done, I had a better attitude and am appreciating everything life has to offer and taking advantage of it.”

Despite not being gender exclusive, the New Haven event attracted significantly more male riders than female riders. The only two women riders at the New Haven event were accompanying their significant others, who were the ones riding.

Riders from other cities noted the gender makeup at New Haven’s event contrasted with other events they have attended.

“At the New York one there were also a lot of women bikers,” said Laurie Stone, who was on her fourth DGR ride. “It wasn’t just women riding with men; they had their own bikes. There was even a Pink Lady brigade.”

DGR is working to increase the number of women who participate in its events, Sayed said.

“The more we show people this is not an event just for men, more women start turning up,” he said. “We are trying to push that communication through social media. It’s something we hope will continue to change gradually in the future. Women are welcome. We accept all genders.”

Sunday’s ride was New Haven’s second DGR event ever.

 

Gaby Mencio | gaby.mencio@yale.edu