The year 2020 has forced many a moto event organizer to shift focus – steering into the skid, so to speak – with the COVID-19 crisis forcing cancelations, year-long postponements, and major logistical adjustments.
For Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride founder and director Mark Hawwa, the decision to either cancel or move forward with DGR this year was a tough one, weighing global health concerns for the tens of thousands of riders – who annually raise funds for prostate cancer research and men’s mental health resources – against the positive impact the dapper ride has on participants and the communities they ride in.
The 35-year-old Sydney, Australia-based moto enthusiast said it ultimately came down to two things: the power of motorcycles as therapy in a time of need, and the timeliness of a charity which supports mental health initiatives.
The latest research into the effects of the global Coronavirus pandemic has shown, beyond the physical symptoms, that many people are suffering from depression, anxiety, increased substance abuse and even suicidal thoughts, a burden most often seen in young adults and members of the Black and Latino communities.
“I wasn’t even going to put on DGR this season … I’d made the decision that I didn’t think it was a smart move for the good will of the actual event itself,” Hawwa said in a recent interview from DGR HQ in Sydney, Australia. “You see the struggle and pain people are having in places like New York (which has been) massively affected, and the last thing you want to do is come across as insensitive by putting on a big group event.”
“But then I thought really, it’s still important for those who can go out for a ride, for you to jump on your bike, and clear your head, from a mental health perspective.”
We will have to wait unit 2021 for DGR's group ride format to return — Rahoul Ghose
There are people who don’t have money right now, there’s a lot of job loss … unemployment rates are growing globally, but for us – as important as the fundraising is – it hasn’t always been what DGR has been about.
Hence, the ‘Ride Solo Together’ format was kickstarted.
This year, the ninth anniversary of DGR, will see participants dressing up and riding alone (or with a pillion) through the heart of their city for men’s health, and hopefully capturing a photo or two of the experience to share with the world through social media.
It’s not the pomp and circumstance of hundreds of riders on vintage and classic motorcycles, dressed in suits, parading through city centers around the world. But it still gives participants and fundraisers the opportunity to throw out some style, dress up and ride for a great cause.
In deference to the current economic climate, Hawwa is purposely placing the event’s message above anticipated fundraising tallies this year as well.
“There are people who don’t have money right now, there’s a lot of job loss … unemployment rates are growing globally, but for us – as important as the fundraising is – it hasn’t always been what DGR has been about,” he said.
Hawwa points to the event’s historical emphasis on education, in the case of prostate cancer, getting men to not only openly talk about the issue, but also consider being tested early to make detection easier and treatment a more successful proposition.
DGR NYC has always reflected the cultural diversity that is ingrained in the city's identity — Rahoul Ghose
If you look at our ride hosts, they’re every nationality, they’re every gender, every color … transgender. For me when you’re a motorcyclist and you have the helmet on, that’s equality right there.
“In its first year it was about breaking stereotypes, getting us macho motorcycle guys to be a little bit more vulnerable, and getting tested,” he said, adding in recent years DGR has also adopted partner Movember’s mandate to fund men’s mental health resources.
“It’s not about how much money you raise. It’s as simple as during these times if you haven’t checked in with a mate in a while, give him a call, make sure he’s okay.”
One support program the DGR/Movember partnership is currently working on in Australia, with the ambition of launching it globally, trains men how to not just ask that first question ‘Are you okay,’ but also to delve deeper with second and third questions to really get an idea of where a friend is at mentally and assess if help is needed. The added interest may just save someone’s life.
In the US, Black Lives Matter has also brought racial and social inequities to the forefront of public discourse.
For Hawwa, himself of Lebanese/Egyptian descent, the DGR has always embraced the inherent diversity of running a global event in well over 100 countries throughout the Americas, Asia, Europe, Australia and Africa.
“I’ve never seen DGR as being about skin color, age, race or gender … we’re motorcyclists and that’s the great equalizer. When I sit there and think about motorcycling, I’ve met people in their 80s and I haven’t looked at them any differently than I do to the guys that are in their 20s. If you look at our ride hosts, they’re every nationality, they’re every gender, every color … transgender. For me when you’re a motorcyclist and you have the helmet on, that’s equality right there.”
Hawwa hopes that common bond will feed some of the necessary conversations needed to bring about social change in all aspects of life.
The DGR Ride Solo Together format allows you to plan your own route, with or without a pillion — Mark Squitieri
This year people have the opportunity to go on a longer ride … so, by all means do a couple hundred miles, do a dollar for mile initiative.
To date, the global ride has raised more than $25 million for a variety of programs, with just over $520,000 tallied so far this year.
Last year, pre-COVID, DGR raised $6 million with rides in 682 cities and 102 countries, with 120,000 participants.
This year Hawwa expects a 40 to 50 percent decrease in funds raised and overall registered participant levels to be lower. In 2020, 24,500 riders have signed up globally so far, but only 39 from NYC, which topped global standings in 2019 with 800+ riders raising $200K.
“Is there going to be less of an impact from a fundraising aspect? Yes, there will be, but that’s something I’m comfortable with and something Movember is okay with as well. At the end of the day I’ve always run the event for what’s best in the long run.”
Reaction to the Ride Solo Together format has been, for the most part, positive from both riders and sponsors, Hawwa said, with a small minority of past participants decrying the event’s downsizing despite global health concerns and the inherent danger of large public gatherings during a pandemic.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are those who have embraced the idea to create innovative alternatives for raising funds.
“The great thing about DGR this year is that it’s basically open for you to ride as you want to ride. Usually, we’re very structured in how we manage our rides … it’s all about the visual awareness, being gentlefolk on a motorcycle, being courteous and breaking that stereotype while raising funds.”
In the past, that meant large groups of slow riding motorcycles, usually escorted, riding through areas where they are seen by the public.
“This year people have the opportunity to go on a longer ride … so, by all means do a couple hundred miles, do a dollar for mile initiative.”
But Hawwa, adds if that is your thing, hitting highways and twisty roads, he definitely recommends gearing up for those riding conditions with the appropriate protective moto wear.
DGR prizes for top 3 global fundraisers include a Triumph motorcycle, Hedon helmet and Belstaff apparel — gentlemansride.com
If you want to raise funds for DGR, please do, but also understand it important for you to just be there for the people around you … jump on your bike and take some photos, share them on Instagram.
Back this year as major sponsors are Triumph and Hedon, both of which provide prizes for the top fundraisers, including motorcycles and helmets: gentlemansride.com/about/prizes
They are also joined for the first time by Belstaff, who add some refined and fashionable motorcycle apparel items to the kitty which boast both form and function. Word has it the company will have a new shop opening in New York soon.
Budgets are tighter, but everyone is doing their part, Hawwa said.
Ultimately Hawwa says: “If you want to raise funds for DGR, please do, but also understand it important for you to just be there for the people around you … jump on your bike and take some photos, share them on Instagram.”
Lay claim some sort of normalcy, he says.
The Ride Solo Together 2020 edition of the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride hits NYC and the world Sunday, Sept. 27. You can register to ride and raise funds through Movember at gentlemansride.com. A complete list of where those funds have been distributed in past years is available on the site as well: gentlemansride.com/about/programs-we-fund
Stay tuned for updates. Last year, under the tutelage of NYC ride organizers Michael Higgins and Allister Klingensmith, NYC were the top ride city in the world with $200K raised. This was in no small part due to third-placed rider, Vincent Nicolai, who finished with $34,649, and the second-placed global team, New York Classic Riders, with $63,976.
2019 NYC DGR Galleries: nycmotorcyclist.com
You can find out more about DGR, both globally and in NYC online at gentlemansride.com ... or follow the DGR Instagram and Facebook: .