Replica Zenith Interview with Mark Hawwa, founder of the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride

— What started out as a simple craving for a custom motorbike has grown into a global event bringing together 50,000 bikers.  Replica Watches spoke to the man who had that craving.

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How did you go from the Sydney Café Racers to the global event that is the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride?

I woke up one day in 2010 and decided that I wanted to get a motorbike. The idea came out of nowhere because I had no friends or family who had motorbikes. A few months later I went on holiday to Japan and fell in love with their motorcycle culture. At the time I didn’t even know what a café racer was. But I was fascinated that the Japanese were all customizing the same bike, the Yamaha SR400, yet every one was different and each suited the owner’s personality. So I did the same thing when I got back home to Australia.

When I started riding around people would acknowledge me and it felt cool. But after a while I got a bit bored because I had nobody to ride with, so I started looking at different biker clubs. Some of them had been established for a while but there were registration fees and hierarchies and that wasn’t really what I was looking for. So that is when I set up the Sydney Café Racers and started talking to local bike shops. It grew from there and I would simply give people cards because there was nothing out there for people who just wanted to go out riding without all the official stuff.

After a few years we had a few thousand riders and we extended it to other cities in Australia. I never did it for any financial gain, it was just to bring people together at local level. It was then that I saw the photo of Don Draper in Mad Men and the idea of the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride came straight to me and I wanted to do exactly the same thing as the café racers on a global scale. We reached 64 cities in 16 countries in the first year with 2,500 riders.

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Marc Hawwa. © Johann Sauty

How much of the DGR is about lifestyle and how much about bringing people together?

The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride has so many different aspects to it. When I started it, it was about bringing people together and breaking down the stereotypes associated with motorcyclists, which are still quite common globally. It was also about giving motorcyclists a face. The consistent thing about the ride, wherever you are, is the smiles and the reaction you get from people. I was marking a corner on the London ride this year, which has 1,100 participants, and while I was doing this I had loads of people coming up to me to ask me what I was doing and where they could see more.

How do you see the future for the ride?

The biggest challenge for us is growth. For us it isn’t about a “bigger is better” mentality. We would like to continue to send a message every year, focusing on the fundraising but also on increasing awareness and getting guys tested. We have been doing this since the second year of the ride, when we partnered with multiple prostate cancer foundations and started raising money. In the first year people said I was crazy to try to raise 50,000 Australian dollars and the next year we raised 1.7 million. This year we hope to raise just under four million US dollars. This is great, because medical research is important, but the awareness is just as important and this is where we are getting a lot of our wins. Currently 300,000 people a year die from prostate cancer but if they all got checked before the age of 45 none of them would have to die.

How well does the concept of the DGR translate across different cultures around the world?

We have a fantastic variety because in some cultures the idea of “distinguished” means dressing up in their national costume. It should be about what you think is distinguished and what you are comfortable with. In India and Bali, for example, people wear their traditional outfits and it looks amazing. It’s not up to me to tell you what you should be wearing. Even before we added the charitable element we would go out and buy nice suits for the ride in Sydney. It has been a learning process for me and I think I look a lot sharper than I used to!

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Zenith Replica Watches launched a special DGR edition of the Pilot Ton-up in order to support the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride. © Replica Zenith UK

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