Stephen Heger doing his bit for prostate cancer research, men’s mental health

Motorcycle instructor the driving force behind East London leg of Distinguished Gentlemen’s Ride

The annual Distinguished Gentlemen's Ride raises funds for prostate cancer research and men's mental health support.
The annual Distinguished Gentlemen's Ride raises funds for prostate cancer research and men's mental health support.

For decades, the biking community has been burdened with the stereotype of gang-related violence and other unsavoury activities. 

This, some bikers say, is due to the history of the pastime and how it is often portrayed in films. 

The annual Distinguished Gentlemen’s Ride (DGR) aims to do away with this narrative while simultaneously raising funds for prostate cancer research and men’s mental health support. 

On Sunday, classic and vintage motorcycle riders from 121 countries, including SA, will dress up in suits and enjoy a ride on their machines, with some 15 East Londoners joining in on the fun. 

Inspired by a photo of TV show Mad Men’s Don Draper astride a classic motorcycle and wearing his finest suit, Australian Mark Hawwa founded the Distinguished Gentlemen’s Ride in Sydney in 2012, initially attracting 3,000 riders from 64 cities.

About four years later, East London biking teacher Stephen Heger started the global gathering in the city as it gained momentum across the world.

Heger is one of this year’s Local Heroes nominees. 

Heger, chief instructor at the Advantage Motorcycle Training School, said he had learnt about the global ride through his network in the retro biking scene which he had been a part of for years while he still lived in the UK. 

“I was familiar with the Distinguished Gentlemen’s Ride when it started back in 2012, though it was small then,” he said.

“I had a friend who did some rider training with me.

“He went and did a tour in India with his buddy, where they discovered the Royal Enfield [bike brand] and they bought a couple and came back all chuffed about it.

“They pulled up in front of my house one day and asked what I thought about it and I asked if they had ever heard of the DGR.

“When I suggested they try it, they suggested I take charge of it. 

“A friend of mine who was very into vintage bikes put me in touch with some people and it grew from there,” Heger said. 

The first ride of the East London leg was held eight years ago with about nine bikes and grew as word-of-mouth spread.

The East Londoners had their biggest ride to date in 2018, with 43 registered riders and 38 on the day, raising $1,169 (now about R20,000).

Since it started, the East London ride has had 236 riders and raised a total of $4,568.81 (R83,000)

Heger said they had kept the initiative exclusive so it was manageable. 

“The challenge we have is that when we say bikers, people already have a preconceived idea.

“As a way to avoid that negative stereotype and keep the vibe different, it’s kept to that old-school flavour of retro or vintage bikes and riders in suits,” he said. 

The Movember Foundation is the global initiative’s primary beneficiary, with all funds raised toward supporting the foundation. 

“Men’s health is an issue which has taken a back seat, probably partly because as men we all like to tough it out and pretend we’re fine until our wives tell us we're not fine. 

“For me, it was never so much about the bikes, though I do love the old-school bikes.

“It was more of a tool to bring people together on one day of the year, not a bike club.”

Before the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, East London retro bikers and vintage car owners would gather on the last Sunday of every month at the Pit-Stop Roadhouse to admire their machines, exchange knowledge and share conversations over drinks.

This, Heger said, was another way supporting men’s mental health through relationships. 

“The whole idea was just for people to rub shoulders and have conversations.

“You might not know how to fix a 1950-something [machine] but maybe that old man just needs company because he doesn’t have kids around any more,” he said. 

Despite its name, Heger said, the ride was not only limited to men. Women with vintage motorcycles were also welcome. 

On Sunday, dapper bikers in suits and ties will ride among East London’s major landmarks with the hope painting smiles on residents’ faces.

Heger said ride logistics would be shared only with registered participants.

Joining the ride is free of charge and riders are encouraged to raise funds for the cause individually.

Interested vintage riders can register on

  • Nominations for 2024 may be submitted by emailing a 500-word motivation to must include the nominee’s name, cellphone number and email address



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