By Sean Mooney: You’d have to assume that the founder of the worldwide phenomenon that is The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride (DGR) knows a thing or two about philanthropic pursuits. So, it’s brilliant that Mark Hawwa is throwing his weight behind Full Tank Moto.
“I like the idea because I think everyone can do something that gives back to the community and supports others,” Hawwa says. “People can choose to work in a way that hurts the world or helps it. I choose to support those who support others in a positive way.”
That’s exactly what he’s done with DGR, a not-for-profit charity initiative that he describes as “a mixture of men, motorbikes and dapper style”. “It’s a day where all men are distinguished worldwide, riding classic-styled motorbikes,” he explains. “It is a day of spreading merriment as well as working together to support the health of men. This is done through awareness and fundraising programs.”
Hawwa says that he and his team feel privileged to run an event that can help people through their darkest days. “Men are opening up, and year on year we are getting more men contacting us sharing their deep stories and thanking us for saving their lives,” he says. “Running DGR is a rollercoaster of emotions, from dealing with men who don’t want to be here anymore to being credited to saving lives.”
There is a very personal reason why the charities Hawwa supports are focussed on the physical and mental wellbeing of men. “The reason is a gentleman called Nigel Marsden,” he says. “He contacted me after the first ever DGR to explain prostate cancer and why it’s killing so many men. That typical macho bullshit mentality. We worked closely and decided to change the world in our own little way.”
The hope is that Full Tank can emulate the success of DGR, which has grown in its eight years from an event enjoyed by 2500 participants to the more than 100,000 people who took part in this year’s event. The trick is to have a good idea and a bucketload of confidence in it, just as Hawwa did.
“Sounds egotistical I know, but from day one I knew the idea had what it took to be a global success,” he says. “Did I know it would grow from 64 cities to 648? Well, no, I didn’t pick that – and I would have never picked that it would have had such a lasting effect on the lives of those who ride in the event. We have raised more than $19m to date across prostate cancer research and mental health programs.”
This success encouraged Hawwa to branch out to create Ride Sunday (RS), an annual, worldwide motorcycling event that works to bring together all motorcycling communities on the first Sunday of June each year.
“What better way to progress motorcycling and break stereotypes then trying to get every single rider globally riding on the same day for a cause close to their heart?” Hawwa asks. “It’s the one day a year where all riders can jump on their bikes, and ride to change the world. It is an event for all motorcyclists to create friendships and unite to raise funds for causes that they care about.”
Hawwa concedes that it’s a “basic idea that is only in its infancy, so time will tell if it actually works”. “But this year it raised $200,000 globally for some awesome charities,” he adds. “Hopefully, with the support of the motorcycle industry, we can double that in 2019.”
Hawwa hasn’t always been a bike guy. He started off enjoying classic-styled sports cars, mainly rotaries. Then he woke up one morning about a decade ago and thought “I should get a motorcycle licence”. “Must have had a dream about riding,” he quips.
He bought his first motorcycle – a Honda VT250 – from his car mechanic for $500. Then he fell in love with the idea of custom motorcycles while on a trip to Japan. “Coming back home, I decided to get an SR500 and to make it my own,” he says. “That is where this whole journey started.”
There have been many bikes since then. His daily bikes are both Triumphs – a Thruxton R and a Scrambler. “The bikes I like to ride on the weekends are my Shovelhead, SR500 and GSX-R,” he adds. “The next bike, if I find the right one, will be a 916SP.”
Hawwa sees events such as DGR and RS as ways to improve the reputation of motorcyclists such as himself in the community. “The first DGR was purely about breaking stereotypes around men who ride motorcycles,” he says. “I think any event that brings people together in a positive manner – if promoted correctly and the participants are good people – helps break those negative stereotypes.
And, Hawwa argues, little things like open-face helmets and non-stereotypical biker fashion such as the Full Tank Moto collection can also help in this area. “When drivers see a face, they see a person,” he says. “Sometimes they quickly forget behind that dark helmet there is a human. The same applies to the motorcyclist wearing a cool bike t-shirt promoting mental health. It further challenges those negative stereotypes.”