Getting the message out about men’s health — physical and mental — has been the guiding force for the annual Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride for the better part of a decade.
A visual feast combining classic motorcycles with a Mad Men’s Don Draper fashion aesthetic, DGR is setting up for Year 8 worldwide this September with a global goal of raising $7 million for prostate cancer research and men’s mental health resources aimed at suicide prevention.
“The ride continues to grow, which is actually scary as we are trying to limit growth to ensure longevity,” says DGR founder and director Mark Hawwa. “For a lot of riders this is the one time a year they get together and they do it for many reasons including as a yearly reminder to get checked. We don’t want to lose that.”
Hawwa, a VIP guest at last year’s NYC ride, returns to his home base this year in Sydney, Australia. He expects the event to include 720 ride cities in 105 countries, with close to 130,000 riders participating Sept. 29. But even with that breadth of participation globally, it’s the personal points of contact that keep Hawwa engaged and motivated.
“It’s the stories, the people who contact us thanking us for them being here still. We receive an incredible amount of phone calls and emails from those whose lives have been changed because of DGR … stories ranging from prostate cancer to suicide. It motivates the entire team here to push hard and further while making sure we also try and manage our mental health and those of the ride hosts.”
On the local front, and for the third year running, the New York DGR will be headed by Michael Higgins and Allister Klingensmith, who have their sights set on upstaging the city’s incredible 2018 performance of just under $200K raised and second in the world, behind London, England. NYC also boasted the second-place fundraiser globally … Vincent Nicolai … and the top non-corporate team … the NY Classic Riders.
Riding in his sixth DGR this year, Higgins’ motivation for getting involved comes from being part of a tight-knit moto community and raising public awareness for subjects like depression and suicide.
“I do think it’s cool that that the DGR sort of gives guys a platform to speak about things like that,” the 40-something Manhattanite and moto enthusiast says. "You know, we’ll talk about our carburetors in depth, but not our feelings. Mental health is an important cause that the DGR picked up on … where it used to be cancer focused, it's kind of shifted more to the mental health aspect."
Mark Hawwa during 2018 DGR in New York City — Taisiya Lazareva
It’s the stories, the people who contact us thanking us for them being here still. We receive an incredible amount of phone calls and emails from those whose lives have been changed because of DGR … stories ranging from prostate cancer to suicide. It motivates the entire team here to push hard and further while making sure we also try and manage our mental health and those of the ride hosts.
Originally from a small farm town near Wichita, KS, Higgins has been more personally affected by the mental health side of things.
“The suicide thing — that touches a little bit closer to home. I certainly have friends that have been depressed, and their lives ended, more in kind of a drug-related way. But it’s still all about understanding the warning signs.”
Riding a motorcycle and being part of the NYC crew has shown him community can make even a huge city like NYC seem manageable.
“The bike definitely does that. It makes New York, which is this crazy big place, it makes it a small town again, because you know everybody, so to speak. And that’s an amazing feeling which goes right at that mental health aspect. You know, talk to each other and have community. And so that’s really what motivates me as much as anything.”
For DGR NYC logistics guru Allister Klingensmith, who deals with the city's vast permiting requirements, the funding for mental health resources is also a prime motivator.
“It strikes me on an almost daily basis how much we all need to do to keep men talking about mental health,” the Bushwick-based off-roading tinkerer says. “Mental health issues aren't just ‘feelin' down’, and they certainly won't just work themselves out with a few beers. Friends, family and loved ones have all dealt with these issues AND their stigmas. Nobody tells you to 'just get over’ your pneumonia — we need to work on people understanding that the same is true of mental health issues. Let’s get this out in the open, let’s talk about it with our buddies, and make sure we do it regularly.”
This year’s New York ride will again be a NYPD-escorted and supported event with the route likely to meander through Manhattan, Queens and parts of Brooklyn.
“We're going to have an awesome NYPD presence again – (we’re) working really closely with them to tidy up the route and make it smoother than last year,” Klingensmith says.
Higgins adds: "We’ll definitely cross a bridge or two … do a little bit of highway, dip into Brooklyn, dip into Manhattan. We’re looking into a few locations, (though) I don’t think we’ll be able to do the museum this year. It’ll be kind of a similar route that mixes in a little bit of highway to get us there, and then streets to get us seen."
The start and end points, and the actual route will be released to those that sign up officially online for the NYC ride at gentlemansride.com, closer to the event date, Sept. 29.
For the third year running, the New York City DGR will be headed by Michael Higgins (left) and Allister Klingensmith (right) — Rahoul Ghose
You know, we’ll talk about our carburetors in depth, but not our feelings. Mental health is an important cause that the DGR picked up on … where it used to be cancer focused, it's kind of shifted more to the mental health aspect.
The sign-up process has changed slightly this year as well, with all those participating required to raise and/or donate a minimum of $50. The London ride started that tradition in 2018.
Past years have seen donations raised from less than 30 per cent of those who signed up, with the remainder raising zero dollars.
“It gets the people that think the event is cool and want to ride in it, but not raise a dollar, from taking the spot of someone that thinks all that, and is going to raise money. At the end of the day this is a charity fundraiser event, so we just want to raise the most we can,” Higgins says. “I think it’ll sort of let the cream rise to the top.”
To keep the group easier to manage, ridership will be capped at 750 this year. But the event will again feature some highlighted local sponsorship to provide prizes for NYC’s top fundraisers and reward the best-dressed participants, male and female, on the day. One standout will be Dapper Tours NYC, who have offered up their four Ural sidecar rigs for the NYC ride to use for filmmakers and photographers. And Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra should be back for a little entertainment.
Expect the Higgins / Klingensmith duo to again be well dressed for the occasion … with Higgins already looking into bespoke suit options and the opportunity to have his Black Bomber — a 1967 Honda CB450 — in the mix. Klingensmith is leaning toward a Honda CB550.
“That’s the aesthetic that makes this sort of the worldwide phenom that it is … that juxtaposition of dapper dress and classic rides,” Higgins says. “We always bring the style, because we’re New York.”
DGR NYC group tours Manhattan in 2018 — Mark Squitieri
Mental health issues aren't just ‘feelin' down’, and they certainly won't just work themselves out with a few beers. Friends, family and loved ones have all dealt with these issues AND their stigmas. Nobody tells you to 'just get over’ your pneumonia — we need to work on people understanding that the same is true of mental health issues.
New Yorkers can sign up for the DGR 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.
“Volunteers on the day are always helpful … you know, there’s the non-riding ones and the riding ones,” Higgins says. “We don’t need as much help on the ride itself — corner markers and tail riders and all that stuff — because we have NYPD, which is a huge blessing. People are needed more at the start and end venue. And, certainly people raising money … if anyone knows of a connection for a prize sponsor or even a local sponsor that wants to tent down there and, you know, has three to five grand in corporate money, we’re always looking for that.”
Potential volunteers and interested local sponsors can contact Higgins at: email@example.com.
Organizers are also currently recruiting photographers, videographers and film editors to document the day. Contact Rahoul Ghose at firstname.lastname@example.org with your details if the volunteer opportunity interests you.
Dapper up NYC gentlefolks …
Note: the DGR NYC organizing group also includes Kirsten Midura, helping with volunteers and sponsorship outreach. And we’re honored to be helping with the photography/videography admin, media outreach and local sponsorship. Look for event coverage, leading up to and day of, on NYCMotorcyclist.com and the site’s Instagram and Facebook pages.
You can find out more about DGR, both globally and in NYC online at gentlemansride.com ... or follow the DGR Instagram and Facebook: .