This weekend Mike Andrews will lead hundreds of immaculately suited gentleman on vintage motorcycles on a ride through Auckland. Thousands of riders around the world will be doing the same to raise awareness and money for The Movember Foundation’s prostate cancer research and men’s mental health programmes.
Simon Day spoke with Mike about raising his young son Cooper, attention to detail, and his own struggles with mental health.
Have you always loved motorbikes and working on them?
From the earliest stage you are on a push bike. Cooper will be the same.
There’s a photo my mum has of me down at the Waitakere BMX track as an 80s child, with an open faced helmet, elbow and knee pads, and my bloody rubber jandals. I spent a long time riding downhill, and doing free riding, jumping structures and bits and pieces.
I’ve always fiddled around mechanically. I spent a bit of time and a ridiculous amount of money restoring a car, and swore I would never do that again. The car was a Mark I Escort. I spent nearly 100 grand on that.
So I was looking for something to do in the shed which was much smaller. So I thought I’d by a dirty old bike. That was kind of the beginning of that brat rat, custom Japanese thing. That was kind of the bones of it.
For me the whole idea is creating something that you can’t tell what’s been done. It’s got to look right. It doesn’t matter if you are mechanically minded, or have a design background, the best example I find is to just going shopping; subconsciously when you walking into a space you just know when it’s not right. When something feels comfortable that’s when it’s right.
Do you look at clothes the same way?
I spent eight years wearing suits. Monday to Friday suit and tie. The title was Corporate Identity Manager, for Hyundai. I was responsible for bringing the dealer network, both the building and the dealers, into its proposition, where a Hyundai is very much a considered and desired purchase. We worked the brand to become refined and confident. I was working with building owners and redeveloping sites, and making sure the network staff understood what it was to communicate that product.
Most recently I moved into a retail design role, which was a much more creative space. It was really interesting going from the client side to a strategy side. I discovered that in this role nobody trusted a suit. - however a nicely tailored shirt and jacket became the standard!
At the same time is there is something about a suit that taps into the idea of flawlessness and seamless?
To steal that term “refined and confident”, you can’t put a man in a suit, and not watch him stand straight, shoulders back There is something about a suit that gives you this presence. It is not blind arrogance, it is this sense of finish - a calm quiet confidence
It is almost like a diamond. It’s a jeweler that makes the diamond shine, it’s the suit that makes the man shine.
I do love a good suit. But they are not the most suitable thing when you are bending over trying to pick up kids. They are not designed for physical activity.
What about for riding? What inspired you to wear suits on your bikes?
It was started in 2012 in Sydney by Mark Hawwa, a member of the Sydney cafe racer club. He was inspired by a photo of Don Draper, from Mad Men, sitting in a suit on a vintage bike. That’s how it started. Getting together on the day dressed like gents and going for a ride across town. A year later, 10 or 12 cities across the world were involved. We were involved from 2013.
It is a really interesting juxtaposition. There are those stereotypes of riding, it is all dark and dirty and grimy because generally we have all grown up with people on bikes in black leather. The whole idea of the ride was to change that.
What I find really interesting on the ride, and I’ve never been in the pack, I am always up front, is the noise that pack makes, it gives people a fright. You hear it long before you see it. When we are cruising around the waterfront on a Sunday morning, and mum and dad and their kids are out, you see parents grab their kids. As you roll past relatively slowly you are tooting and waving.
The first 50 bikes to go through, people are a bit dumbfounded about what’s going on. I guess visually it doesn't make sense. When you turn around to look again, people are waiting and waving. It is quite a piece of theatre, vintage bikes, people dressed in suits.
The premise of the ride is to keep this the best kept secret in town - the result for the public is “what are all these people doing in suits on bikes”. And that is where the conversation starts.
It has had an really interesting journey. It was not quite underground, but the way it was started was always kept quiet, and all the cool cats played. And now they are expecting 70,000 riders around the world this year.
When did it turn from a cool thing to do to the charitable side?
In its second year in 2013. There was a ground swell that we - the riding community - could make this work for something. The natural fit, because it was generally the gentleman’s ride, it was originally prostate cancer worldwide.
In 2015 one of the ride hosts in another country lost his battle with depression, and Mark and his team got together and said we can’t have this, and this is when the transition was made to the Movember Foundation. Movember Foundation stopping men dying too young, supports research into a cure to prostate cancer, and developing tools and creating a forum for men’s mental health.
In our corner of this global thing, depression and suicide is our elephant in our room. As a nation we have a serious problem with our rates of depression and suicide.
It seems really important for you?
I attempted suicide five years ago.
I was never diagnosed with depression, but when you look back, it was part of my world for a really long time. So it is a really personal thing for me to be involved, and to help create a forum.
The Distinguished Gentleman’s ride has a start and a finish, and in the first couple of years we would end up at a bar amongst the Sunday patrons and there wasn’t really an opportunity for anyone to celebrate the support or the journey each person had been on, or the fundraising that had been made.
So in 2015, we decided to throw this after party, and that is how we got on board with Barkers, we did a suit for a raffle prize. The first year was at MOTAT, and we had a band and food and beer, and everybody said “this works”. What has come out of that, is that if there were 300 people there, we have each made 300 connections.
Last year was probably the most confronting one for me. The entire weekend was storm weather, and we started to get people coming through on the Facebook page asking if the thing is going to be cancelled, and this guy wrote on the page “I hope not, I have just ridden down from Paihia, and I am just trying to find a place to dry my suit out.”
I didn’t think anything of it other than he’s committed. The morning of the ride I had this moment, we started down at Britomart and I was able to stand on one of those light shafts down to the train station to address the ladies and gents and it was hosing down with rain. There was an energy that morning, I did something different and said for whatever reason you're here, you’re here for something more than the bike ride, let’s have a minute’s silence. I would say 99% of the guys were crying or some were washed with the blank look - obviously remembering; honoring someone dear to them
And that was just spontaneous?
Yeah, and I swore I was never going to do another ride after that. - I stood in an intimate position, I saw what many didn't and I will be forever privileged for that moment.
We ended up at this after party, and this big - he felt 7 foot tall - old guy pulled me aside and said “it was me that messaged you yesterday.”
And he said: “I first found out about the ride in 2015, and it was my wife that found out about it. My wife wanted me to get back on my bike because she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and she wanted me and her to create memories. I buried her four months ago, so I am riding for her.”
That’s what the thing is about. It is the fun factor of doing something silly and wearing a suit, and riding around the city. But it is also the place for people to remember and honour. It’s a privilege to lead that.
When is the ride this year? And why do you think it keeps growing?
It is on the 24th of September.
Our first ride in 2013 we had 70 riders from Auckland and 111 riders across three rides across the country. Last year we had 1028. We had 350 registered riders in Auckland, and that plus some turned up in the rain.
There is a groundswell towards men understanding their health. And I think some people ride to celebrate their loved ones. What is apparent is that the after party provides this forum for people to talk.
I think there is somewhere in men’s psyche, especially Kiwi guys, that you have to be tough. I think that is slowly changing. It doesn’t matter what cancer gets you it robs you of your humility.
My mum had a brain tumour and it was fast. It was probably five months, and that included chemo and surgery. Mum passed away 18th October 2015, Cooper was born 11 October 2016
What is it about motorcycles that attracts people to them?
We live in such a nanny state, on a motorbike there is still this element that still hasn’t changed in 115 years of motorcycling. You are at risk when you get on the bike. It is a risky game to play.
I’ve never felt safer than when I am on a bike. You talk to anyone who rides a bike, you get dialled in. And you don’t trust people in cars, and you shouldn’t. You just don’t trust that they can see you.
If you ride like that you always come home. The first rides I did after Cooper was born that was the driving factor. I needed to make it home
Every person who rides a bike has there own reason for riding, It seems to be an international standard that the motorcycle community seems to be the most passionate when it comes to charities. You put a call out to raise money and ride a bike all sectors turn out, from patched riders, doctors lawyers and even stay at home dads will raise money.
What do you ride?
I’ve got a Suzuki GSX750 Retro classic, I call it my scooter. I use it to ride around town. But 750cc four cylinders, that’s some people’s big bike.
The other one that I am building, It’s a 20 year old bike. It hadn’t really been loved. It was ugly.
I’ve been building it for two years.I’ve hated it, I’ve loved it.I’ve wanted to burn it. There’s been nights drinking beer in the shed and just staring at it. It got me away of my reality of mum. And it’s just about finished. And it’s a 1300cc bike so it’s a monster.
That segues into motorbikes and fashion. How are they similar?
It’s about the detail. You can buy a $100 suit, and you know it’s a $100 suit.
To me, it is the stitching, the fabric, the finish. That is what draws, you to a fine suit, it is also what draws people to a motorcycle
You can’t hide much on a bike. It is there in front of you. You can see right through it. That has been the challenge, how to make all that stuff sit on a bike. Balance and proportions, motorcycle designers are like tailors, the detail on a great bike will alway be great detail, just like a suit; a stitch will identify a great suit
How have you found stopping work to be a stay at home dad?
I get to watch Cooper develop every day, and in that day there are a million things he figures out between getting up in the morning and the end of the day.
It can be quite a lonely experience as well. I have music on all the time to break that white noise. When you are constantly working with him it’s amazing, but you miss that adult conversation. Some days it can feel like a prison cell.
My background is in project management, he is sometimes the most challenging project I’ve had. I’ve never had a responsibility like it. I am incredibly privileged that I am in a position to do it.
Do you see many other men doing it?
I had this moment the other day at MOTAT. It was during the week. And there was another dad with a pram. Fuck it was the funniest thing in the world. We walked quite close to each other but we weren’t brave enough to say to each other let’s go and have a coffee. We just kept doing our own thing.
I think the man coffee group thing is a little bit harder to find.
How do you define your sense of style?
I dress honestly. I don’t really prescribe to wearing something that identifies me to a stranger in the street. It could be a five dollar t-shirt, with a nice neck on it, but it is how you wear it. I’ve got Chuck Taylors, I’ve got dress shoes.
And I’ve got a pair of Red Wings. They’re famous for the fact they are still a family owned business and they dressed the American Rangers in the Second World War. They’re really hard to beat up, so when you beat them up they tell a story of time and memories.
Mine have done 5000 miles around America, they’ve been within 30kms of the North Korean border. I wore them in the middle of the Grand Canyon.
I guess that’s my style, under the radar, with some heritage. Heritage is something you can’t buy.
And I love a well cut suit. And I don’t get a chance to wear them other than going to weddings, funerals or on bike rides.
Want to learn more about the ride? Check out their website here.