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Dapperly dressed motorcyclists raise funds for men's mental health, prostate cancer research

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As thousands of classic motorcycle enthusiasts hit roads around the world on May 21 clad in their finest attire, a serious side underlies their adventurous spirit.

For the Sunshine Coast's Don Holden, the motivation to be part of a worldwide fundraiser for men's health came after an "accidental" prostate cancer diagnosis at 49.

"During recovery I decided on two things: I went public at work where there's 2,000 blokes and told them what had just happened to me and that they may want to get themselves checked out," Mr Holden said.

"The second thing was that I always wanted to build a motorbike from the year that I was born, so I bought a 1971 Triumph that I rebuilt over 12 months."

Man sitting on top of a restored 1971 Triumph.
Don Holden decided to take part after a prostate cancer scare.()

The Distinguished Gentleman's Ride (DGR) has raised more than $37 million for men's health since the first event in Sydney 11 years ago.

Riders are encouraged to wear dapper suits on classic motorcycles during the event, which runs simultaneously around the world each year on May 21.

This year, people are taking part at nearly 900 sites globally, including hundreds of riders in more than 30 Australian towns and cities.

Mr Holden, the top fundraiser in Queensland, said he felt passionate about speaking up about his health journey to break the stigma that prostate cancer was "an old person's disease".

"For me, it's about giving back … it's about raising awareness, but I also want to raise money to go back into research to make outcomes even better for the future," he said.

'Men just don’t talk'

Man wearing a vest and hat standing in front of a classic motorbike talking to people.
Michael Russell has taken part in the ride for the past six years.  ()

Townsville's Michael Russell joined the "unique" fundraiser in north Queensland six years ago after experiencing depression and personal tragedies.

He said awareness and conversation lifted the veil of silence that commonly surrounded men.

"Men just don't talk — we bottle it up and it's important that we talk and get the awareness out there," Mr Russell said.

"This is unlike any other ride in the world; for instance, this year I'm wearing a kilt.

"We want everybody who is riding and everybody who sees us to know that it's OK to ask for help and that it is OK to talk about your feelings."

A map of australia showing the cities where the dgr will take place
The locations across Australia that are involved in the ride this year.()

Breaking the stigma

DGR founder Mark Hawwa said a photo of Mad Men's Don Draper astride a classic motorcycle while wearing a white suit planted the seed for the idea.

"Back in 2012, a lot of motorcycle riders were being painted with the same brush as the 1 per cent motorcycle gangs," Mr Hawwa said.

"After I saw that photo, I thought that it would be a great way to let people know that those of us who ride motorbikes are not scary and intimidating and we are smiling underneath our helmets."

A crowd of several hundred men suits crowd around a man speaking with a microphone
A Distinguished Gentleman's Ride in the Argentinian capital Buenos Aires in 2022.()

Mr Hawwa decided to put out a call for classic motorcycle lovers to get together and go for a social ride. 

In its first year, the DGR had 64 rides in 15 countries with 2,500 riders and in its second year, they raised their goal of $250,000 before the event started.

The DGR is now held in more than 121 countries.

"The rides are taking place everywhere; we even had a ride across Iraq a few years ago," Mr Hawwa said.

"Anywhere you can think of, there's probably a ride taking place even if it's just a few people getting together."

A man and his child wearing matching suits and helmets.
Riders are encouraged to wear dapper and vintage-style suits.()

The event has the support of Movember, the main charity to distribute funds and resources here and internationally for men's prostate and mental health.

For Mr Hawwa, that adds to the satisfaction and joy of seeing dapperly dressed riders share their love of classic motorcycles one day a year.

"Everybody looks at motorcycle riders like we are these big macho guys, and I wanted a way to get men talking about their health," he said.

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