Interviews 26 Sep 2017

Profiled: Mark Hawwa

Beyond the culture of the DGR, Throttle Roll and Ride Sunday events.

Words: Matthew Shields

Mark Hawwa is a name that might not be familiar to many people, but when you mention he is the founder of events like the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride, Throttle Roll, Ride Sunday, as well as the Sydney Cafe Racers group, then people know who you are talking about. “My profile on LinkedIn just has me as ‘motorcyclist’ – it feels so awkward if I put myself down as CEO or director or something,” says Mark.

With a successful portfolio of events, that also includes involvement in the International Festival of Speed, you’d think Mark has been around forever, but it all started – like most good things – with a dream. “In 2010 I got my motorcycle licence,” he explains. “I basically just woke up and looked at the girl and said I’m going to get my motorcycle licence – it literally came out of nowhere.

“I told my parents and, having ethnic parents, I expected them to tear me a new one, but mum just went ‘cool!’. I said ‘you’re not going to tell me not to ride?’ and she said ‘if God wants to take you, he will take you’. Then she started to tell me how she always used to jump on the back of her brother’s motorbike in the 1970s around Sydney. They were really cool with it. My first bike was a Honda VT250. I bought it for $500 and basically taught myself to ride.”

Source: Supplied.

It didn’t take long for the customisation bug to bite – a factor that has laid the foundation for Mark’s future endeavours: “In 2011 I went to Japan for four weeks and that’s where I fell in love with the Yamaha SR400 and basically the culture of stripping bikes down and changing them. Every SR400 I saw in Japan was completely and oddly different to the other ones. I really like the customisation side of it all.

“When I came back to Sydney I bought one and built it up the way that suited what I wanted from the bike, which was purely around looks. It had a couple of changes, then one of the boys wrote it off. I then went nuts on it and turned it into the fastest SR500 that’s probably ever existed – it’s even got nitrous on it! It pulls 45hp at the rear and with nitrous it pulls 60 at the rear. It’s a proper little cafe racer!”

Then came the formation of Sydney Cafe Racers. “When I built that SR500, I got really bored because I had no one to ride with and I didn’t want to join any motorcycle clubs,” says Mark. “There were too much politics involved. Basically I started SCR as a place where there is no hierarchy and it’s just about getting people together and going riding. It basically went from me, myself and I to 500 active riders and 3500 people that sit on the sidelines and watch what we do on Facebook. For me it was, and still is, just about putting rides together.”

Like the rest of the world, social media plays a big part in the success of what Mark is doing: “Everything we have done wouldn’t have been possible without Facebook, Instagram and, obviously, websites. For us, Facebook is the most important tool that we have and that’s what has helped us create things like the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride and Throttle Roll to begin with. It’s also helped us grow the Festival of Speed.”

Like Sydney Cafe Racers, Throttle Roll grew out of a personal desire for something more. “I’ve been to heaps of little bike shows and they do bore me too – that’s why Throttle Roll exists. Throttle Roll wouldn’t exist as an event if someone else was doing it, because I would just be there having a great time too! All the events we run are events we want to be at, they are what I want to see out of an event.

Source: Supplied.

“Sometimes it is difficult because you don’t get to enjoy it as much if someone else was organising it, but then when you see everyone else enjoying themselves, from three year olds to 70 year olds from all different backgrounds, it’s awesome. We get so many compliments from the guys you wouldn’t expect, like your hardcore Harley riders who you think will sit there and think ‘what a bunch of hipsters’, but they come out of it having fun. I think it is because it’s a really good family environment with pets there, no macho bullshit and everyone can come down and enjoy themselves.”

The event that a lot of people know or have heard about, is the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride founded in 2012. It was created to raise awareness and help fund the cure for prostate cancer, while also supporting men’s mental health via associations with the Movember Foundation. “DGR is always the last Sunday of September and that’s a decision I made when we first started it to keep it consistent. It’s one of the driest weekends globally as well. Up until two years ago there was just me because we didn’t have the support we have now from Triumph and Zenith watches to make it all happen.”

Founded in 2012 by Hawwa, the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride has raised over $8,000,000 USD for charity. This year, the aim is to raise $5,000,000 USD and are encouraging their fellow Australians to take a moment to consider their fathers, brothers and sons: “The collective passion of all these brilliant organisations is the fuel to The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride, empowering all classic and custom motorcycle riders to bond together and put on the most dashing charity event this world has ever seen.”

Newly-introduced in 2017 was Ride Sunday, which sees motorcyclists come together to ride for a cause – in aid of various charities – in the inaugural event on 2 July. “Nearly every ride that riders take part in is based around a good cause,” Hawwa comments. “What we aim to do is to bring together charities, causes and manufacturers, in order to create an event that is going to change the world.”