With just under three months until the Distinguished Gentleman's Ride hits NYC again – Sept. 30 to be exact – we decided to poke the DGR bear, so to speak, and strike up a convo with the event's founder and director, Mark Hawwa.
The Aussie is set to participate in the New York ride this year, his first time at a US-based DGR since 2015 , when he graced the Los Angeles event.
Find out what the DGR means to the moto aficionado, what Hawwa's goals are for 2018, where the DGR is heading in the future ... and most importantly what it means to be a gentleman, both on and off two wheels.
1) The last time you participated in a North American-based DGR was 2015 in Los Angeles. Last year it was Milan. Now you’re coming to NYC this September. How did you choose the Big Apple as your next stop, and what do you like about the ride here?
I did the Sydney ride for years after the event began. After the 2014 event, I kept thinking how we change the lives of so many people around the world, and I wanted to visit some of the outstanding people that make up these incredible rides. Basically, I choose where I go based on size of the event and how well established it’s been. I like to get hands-on with the guys who run these events to help out and also meet fellow like-minded riders. Above all though, I’m there to have fun while supporting the cause. I made the decision years ago that I would do LA, then London, Milan and then NYC – so now it’s time for the BIG APPLE! I am absolutely stoked to head over for this ride and absolutely love the enthusiasm shown by riders in the past, and the amazing work of our hosts Mike Higgins and Allister Klingensmith. I especially can’t wait to join the gents for a well-deserved drink after the ride.
2) The event raises funds for prostate cancer research and men’s mental health issues. What makes these two so important to you? Have either affected you personally (family members, friends)? How important is it to get those stories out to encourage people to get tested for cancer and to seek counseling if they are suffering from depression?
When I first started DGR, I had no experience with prostate cancer or men’s mental health issues. I just knew that my fellow male riders had that 'macho' bullshit mentality that would stop them from talking out loud about health testing, and I didn’t want to ride in a group where people couldn’t be open with each other. So I picked the cancer that most men dread talking about due to some of the testing procedures. It worked. Years later, I was hearing my fellow riders share stories of all sorts of cancer and mental health issues, and it felt awesome – so I kept on pushing. I’ve also had my own issues funnily enough (not funny) that have arisen because of my position in DGR. I lost my cousin to suicide last year, and have been dealing with some mental health and physical health issues from being hit by a motorcycle a few years ago. Life is not perfect, and we all leave it with some scars. More men opening up makes it normal to open up. We should all be there for our friends and we should all be there for a stranger that needs someone to talk to. Seeking counseling shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing or something to shy away from. It's no different to going to a dentist to work on your teeth. From time-to-time, our brain needs a little work too.
3) You have also said in the past that the US is the event’s future as the country and many of the participating cities are top fundraisers. Any future plans stateside?
A lot of it comes down to the sheer enthusiasm shown by riders. Every year we are bombarded with positive feedback from America – it’s a big country with a very healthy motorcycling scene. Depending on sponsorship deals, etc., I would love to spend more time there. However Australia is home for me. I enjoy my parents' company way too much to move away from them.
Mark Hawwa — Pete Cagnacci
I’ve actually had a lot of humbling moments, from people directly telling me that they wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for DGR, to people opening up and crying on my shoulder at the effect DGR has had on them. It happens everywhere I go ... lengthy conversations of bikes, mental health, suicide, and how a silly idea to wear suits has kept men and women here for longer.
4) The DGR is heading for its seventh year internationally. What have you learned over the years? What has been your proudest moment? What has been your most humbling moment?
There is a very long list of things I’ve learnt – it isn’t easy running a global charity event – and I’ll continue to learn every single year. Hurdle after hurdle after hurdle, and seven years later – even more hurdles. However many hurdles we face, we will keep on jumping to ensure that DGR sticks around for as long as possible. I’ve actually had a lot of humbling moments, from people directly telling me that they wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for DGR, to people opening up and crying on my shoulder at the effect DGR has had on them. It happens everywhere I go ... lengthy conversations of bikes, mental health, suicide, and how a silly idea to wear suits has kept men and women here for longer. Every day in DGR HQ has a humbling experience, and every day I am more and more proud of the work we do because of the people who open up and tell us their story.
5) What’s new for 2018 and where do you see the DGR going as you head towards a decade of successful events?
The only changes for DGR are more based around web developments and how hosts can communicate with riders. Some of the rides will have limits on participants in the interest of safety and, as always, we have some amazing partnerships that mean some hard-working fundraisers will leave the event with brand new bikes, watches, motorcycle products, and ride experiences! The future of DGR, unfortunately, is always unclear. We live in an age where all it takes is a single accident to shut down an event and to end an insurance policy. So we will continue to do our best to keep the events small, safe, and manageable – to ensure our existence for as long as possible.
6) What are the goals this year in terms of cities/countries participating and funds raised worldwide?
In its first year it was in 64 cities across 15 countries, and this year should be in around 630 cities across 95 countries, with hopefully around 110,000 riders uniting for the cause. We usually have around 50 per cent of participants not raising funds for the cause, so we are hoping to motivate them embrace the event and our goals to fund research. For those who can’t donate, we hope that we educate them on prostate cancer and mental health issues, so that they can recognize the signs and get help when they need it to live happier and healthier lives.
7) What does the term ‘gentleman’ mean to you? Is it a look, a philosophy? Who or what inspires you personally to be that way?
I don’t think being a gentleman has anything to do with a look or style. Yeah, DGR is centered around that prohibition style of dress, which is often associated with being a 'gentleman'. But it’s honestly about helping those around you. Opening a door for the person behind you, volunteering time, picking up that piece of rubbish you found and disposing of it, treating people how you want to be treated, leaving the world a better place then when you entered, or giving your spot on the bus, train, tram to someone who needs it more than you do. It’s all the small things! I don’t have anyone that inspires me to be that person. I’m just me. I’m always trying my best to help those who ask for it, and sometimes I fail just like we all do. I guess my inspirations comes from the idea that you don’t need to look a certain way to be a nice human.
8) I know you have a collection of bikes and cars down under in Australia, including a modified Triumph Thruxton R. But what do you tend to ride when you travel, and in particular at DGR events?
It really depends on the occasion! My go-to bike is currently the Thruxton R. However, I enjoy my GSXR, SR500, Shovelhead and DT250 too. It just depends on my mood and how fast I want to go. It's not hard to guess what brand of motorcycle I would ride at a DGR event =P .
DGR NYC 2017 — Geoff Barrenger
Life is not perfect, and we all leave it with some scars. More men opening up makes it normal to open up. We should all be there for our friends and we should all be there for a stranger that needs someone to talk to. Seeking counseling shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing or something to shy away from. It's no different to going to a dentist to work on your teeth. From time-to-time, our brain needs a little work too.
9) I see Triumph and Zenith Watches are title sponsors again this year … any more sponsor announcements to make at this point?
We have had REV’IT! jump on board as our Safety Apparel Partner this year which is exciting. They’re a perfect fit as they show form and function through some of their latest products targeted towards those who ride to their office. We are also working on trying to lock in a tire brand. But these relationships take a lot of time to conceive, so fingers crossed for 2019!
10) Do you also feel the DGR has helped the public to have a more positive impression of motorcyclists as a force for positive change?
I think every DGR rider globally can attest to this. We can all feel it changing, and see it changing on the day. Everyone is in such high spirits; all these people who would otherwise have no connection at all are coming together to support a cause that means so much to them. The smile that connects each rider to the general public is magical. To see a mother pushing her pram down the street, assuming a gang of riders is approaching, and then to have her turn her head and see hundreds of gentlefolk riding in dapper wear and waving to her and her child is a moment of beauty. Things like this happen on every single ride. It’s infectious.
11) What would you like the Distinguished Gentleman's Ride’s legacy to be?
That’s a tough one! In a lot of countries, the general community and even some governments, frown upon riders. On one hand I want it to be that we showed the world that as riders, we are your brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, friends, and colleagues. To show that we are human, and are every bit as human as everyone else. We have felt loss, and we want to save the world of the issues we have faced. I feel DGR reminds people that behind the helmet, we are all exactly the same. On the other hand though, our team really enjoys saving lives. It is how we were drawn together, and the one reason we are all still here continuing to provide the event. It’s the one reason why our haters will never win. To date, we have had around 40 DGR riders tell us that we saved their lives, and you can’t beat that. So I guess the legacy I’d love see left by DGR is that the world sees motorcyclists a little differently. That they can see who we really are, and that we are all dedicated and loving family members and friends who just want to see our loved ones happier, and around for longer.
12) Define DGR in three words
Toughest question I've ever had, actually ... Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride – I'm joking. Sort of.
DGR NYC 2017 — Geoff Barrenger
The smile that connects each rider to the general public is magical. To see a mother pushing her pram down the street, assuming a gang of riders is approaching, and then to have her turn her head and see hundreds of gentlefolk riding in dapper wear and waving to her and her child is a moment of beauty. Things like this happen on every single ride. It’s infectious.
ON THE LOCAL SCENE: DGR NYC 2018
From NYC DGR Ride co-captain Mike Higgins (with Allister Klingensmith):
"DGR NYC ride planning is in full swing, with plenty new things in the works to make the entire day a worthwhile outing for all. The popularity of the ride has seen it quickly grow to full rider capacity. So the emphasis this year will be to push for that enthusiasm to translate to even better fundraising efforts. Riders for NYC will be capped at 800 this year, so organizers are urging all dapper do-gooders to get registered early and start the fundraising. The DGR 2018 ride is slated to officially be open for registration on August 1 at gentlemansride.com."
Local organizers are also putting a call out for volunteers, including people to help with ride logistics, merchandise sales and general 'feet-on-the-street' coordination.
Potential volunteers and interested local sponsors can contact Higgins at: email@example.com
You can find out more about DGR, both globally and in NYC online at gentlemansride.com ... or follow the DGR Instagram and Facebook: .