“On Sunday, September 25th 2016, tens of thousands of distinguished gentlefolk in hundreds of cities worldwide will don their cravats, tweak their moustaches, press their tweed and sit astride their classic and vintage styled motorcycles to raise funds and awareness for men’s health, specifically prostate cancer research and suicide prevention.”
That is the opening paragraph of The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride story. DGR began with a quirky idea by an Aussie bloke, Mark Hawwa, for a social club for men who ride motorbikes – men who bike together in very dapper attire. Why dapper attire? Because that’s how Ron Draper did it.
DGR has become a worldwide phenomenon and it is now much more than a social club.
Last year, 37,000 Distinguished Gentlemen in 410 cities in 79 countries raised over US$2.3M for prostate cancer research. DGR has raised more than US$4M since it began in 2012.
This year, DGR wants to break through the US$5M wall and the money raised will go to both prostate cancer research and suicide prevention through The Movember Foundation.
And more than 700 of this year’s Distinguished Gentlemen will ride in Sydney, crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge on Bobbers, Scramblers and Cafe Racers.
Mark Hawwa tells the story of the worldwide phenomenon that is DGR:
The Stable: Why did you launch DGR?
Mark Hawwa: Initially it was to create communities. Niche communities around a style of bike that I am passionate about. I fell in love with the custom bike culture in Japan and on returning to Sydney, bought a bike and customised it. Riding the streets thinking I was rad great for a few weeks. But being a social little butterfly, I got bored and wanted to ride with people, so I formed a niche style motorcycle group called Sydney Cafe Racers.
My network grew massively through that group. It was being being followed and we made contacts globally. We started other groups in Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and all across Australia. And it was all about community. Any shirt sales went straight to beers and shared events for the riders in the group. All the contacts we made globally through a Facebook following became friends. When I started DGR, I put the idea out to all these friends on Facebook and in the first year we had 64 rides across over 20 countries. After that first year, I knew it was going to be big. There was no reason for it not to grow.
I felt it had a strong formula of originality. Sartorial riding, classic bikes, clapping from strangers and high-fives from children as we rode slowly through the heart of the city. It was really fun for all those involved and for the spectators. And to top it all off, DGR is all for a good cause.
TS: Why and how did DGR take on prostate cancer as its cause?
MH: I just felt it was the right thing to do.
Everyone expects a story about a loved one, but the truth is no one in my family has ever had prostate cancer – it just made sense. Usually that response confuses people, but seriously, are we only expected to act on issues if they affect us personally? We were breaking stereotypes, we were spreading merriment and we were creating communities. I felt as though all that was great, but it could be more. We could save lives in the process. So I decided to focus on men’s health. I take part in heaps of fundraising events for female focused causes, but there are a lot fewer for men. So I decided take up the challenge and own some of the space.
TS: How did you turn an idea into a global event? Who helped you along the way?
MH: Good old Facebook – with a side of Instagram and other social media channels. Not to forget a helluva lot of hard work, late night office kebabs and sleeping under my desk with blown out office windows. So for the next four years of my life I ended up volunteering full time. I’d have to say my parents helped me the most, giving me a roof over my head while I did nothing but focus on this addiction to promoting the event in an effort to save men’s lives.
In our second year, I was contacted by a rider who said if it wasn’t for DGR he would have been dead. DGR had motivated him to get checked. He got checked and was found to have prostate cancer. Because he got it early, he was fine after an operation. That feeling is addictive. you can’t put a price on it. DGR is in 550 rides across 91 countries this year. Help along the way is the only reason it exists. From the ride hosts, to the insurance companies, to our risk assessor, our legal team, graphic designers, charity partners and the 60,000 participants that will take part in the event this year – it’s a very long list. Some paid, most not. We do everything we can to operate as lean as possible.
TS: How did DGR come to include suicide prevention in its reason for being?
MH: Last year, a host of one of our rides decided to take his life. He was very passionate about The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride and our team had no idea of his battles. After his death, we started to look into how we could amplify our message and become an event that looks after men as a whole rather than just being about prostate cancer. We decided to partner up with The Movember Foundation, as they focus on some key areas that we also wanted to grow into. This year we have allocated 90% towards prostate cancer and 10% towards male suicide prevention, and it will evolve as we continue to educate our riders year on year.
TS: What are your goals for the 2016 ride?
MH: There are plenty!! of goals. In no particular order: save lives, raise funds, start conversations, break stereotypes, get classic bike enthusiasts together, make people smile and have some fun. All while giving hipster haters lots of ammunition to keep their lives occupied for a little longer.
TS: And after it?
Get working on 2017’s event. DGR is massive and there is this misconception that we are a well-oiled machine with a huge team. The fact of the matter is we are a team that fluctuates between 4 and 6people managing an event that is way too big for us. So after the event, we will start the reconciliation process with Movember, start to filter through the 10,000 pieces of feedback from the rides and begin work on making 2017’s ride stronger and more educational.