How bikers got a new image

With the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride, Mark Hawwa has succeeded in breaking some of the stereotypes surrounding bikers. This year the Milan leg of the 600-city charity motorbike ride starts at Pirelli HangarBicocca.

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How bikers got a new image

On Sunday morning the peace and quiet of Pirelli HangarBicocca was rudely broken by the roar of more than 1,000 classic motorbike engines as the most stylish riders in the world prepared for a day trip in the country.

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Sharp lounge suits and ties, tailored tweed jackets and cravats, perfectly trimmed facial hair and a wonderful selection of the most beautiful vintage and custom motorbikes... were all on display for the Milan leg of the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride.

But the riders were not just out on a sartorial jolly; the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride is a rapidly growing international movement that raises money for research into prostate cancer – the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in men – and mental health programmes. 

When the founder and CEO Mark Hawwa decided to start a social riding club called Sydney Cafe Riders for motorcyclists who loved classic bikes in Sydney, Australia, in 2012, he had no idea it would grow into a global phenomenon.

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The first event involved 2,500 riders in 64 cities. The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride – a mass ride on the last Sunday in September – was launched to connect the growing local and global interest in the idea. Two years later, more than 20,000 riders in 257 cities in 58 countries raised $1.5m. This year, there are more than 70,000 registered riders in 600-plus cities and over $3m has already been raised.

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Mad Men on bikes
It all began in the most unlikely way when Hawwa, then a new convert to the wonders of the motorbike, was watching television. “I saw Mad Men’s Don Draper on a classic motorcycle – a Matchless,” he recalls. “I thought dressing well was a great way to break stereotypes in the motorcycle scene and decided to get all my friends on classic bikes dressed in timeless, dapper clothes with the chivalry of yesterday.”

On Sunday the sound of motorbike engines reverberated in an amazing array of cities around the world and Hawwa believes aesthetics are the key to the ride’s success. “Everything needs a hook and ours is about classic style and the niche of the motorcycle world,” explains Hawwa, who has also worked as a DJ, managed pubs and clubs and even cracked the skills of being a barman. 

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“The atmosphere at a ride is remarkable, like nothing I’ve ever felt before. From the riders to the bikes to the outfits and, most importantly, the look on the faces of the people as you ride past... it’s a parade showcasing the kind and giving nature of motorcyclists – and it’s met with cheers and applause.

Less is more
Keeping the event themed also helps to ensure the rides are smaller and more manageable for the volunteer organisers, which in turn reduces the risk of the rides being banned for becoming too large and dangerous. Hawwa does not want it to become a victim of its own success.
The sight of dandies on motorbikes may be surprising, light-hearted and humorous, but this annual charity event is deadly serious. “After a very successful first year, I thought what a great way to now break the typically macho mentality of male motorcyclists. So I decided to get men talking about their prostate and breaking the taboo medical comments.

“I want all men globally to know that a PSA, which is a simple blood test, is the first step in identifying prostate cancer,” he adds. “I want to encourage all men to get tested at the right time. For men with a family history of prostate cancer it is 40 years old and for those without it’s 45 to 50, but the earlier the better.”

Pirelli HangarBicocca: a perfect fit
Italy, with its rich motorcycling tradition and passionate motorbike lovers, is one of the most important destinations for the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride – and the Milan ride, which has more than 1,000 beautifully turned-out riders preparing for action, is the biggest in the country. 

Hawwa expected a festive occasion. “Being able to connect with my Italian friends is a blessing and I’m very proud that a lot of the locals absolutely love the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride,” he says. “I look forward to riding with the growing communities of Milan while doing our part for men’s health.”

Hawwa believes Pirelli HangarBicocca, a former industrial plant in Milan that has been converted into a 15,000sq m space for producing and promoting contemporary art, is a fitting place to fire up all those classic motorbike engines for the start of the ride.

“For us, the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride is about passion,” he says. “Passion is what brings all these riders together and when you look at Pirelli HangarBicocca, it’s a not-for-profit organisation that benefits multiple communities, including the art world. 

“It’s a fantastic space that fits perfectly with the style of the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride and has the ability to be a showpiece of the DGR Milano ride. We align ourselves with brands who are willing to give back to the community.” 

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