By: Dave Abrahams and Denis Droppa
Cape Town – Wherever you are, in nearly two dozen venues across South Africa and Namibia, the annual motorcycle Charity Toy Run is in every way a sensory overload.
Even for the riders, the sight of hundreds, even thousands of motorcycles in one place, festooned with toys of all shapes and descriptions, polished paint gleaming and chrome twinkling in the sun, can be difficult to progress – as is the mass ride, with its distinctive sound track, a deep rumble that’s felt through spectators’ diaphragms as much as heard.
The Toy Run, said to be South Africa’s largest biker-driven charity event, has been held on the last Sunday in November each year since the inaugural mass rides took place simultaneously in Johannesburg and Cape Town in 1983, as a way of bringing the Christmas spirit to children in homes and grassroots care centres in the most disadvantaged sectors of our communities.
The 32nd Gauteng Toy Run was the biggest, with more than 20 000 bikers and their families converging on the Benoni Northerns sports grounds after mass rides from the four corners of the province - the Blockhouse Engen 1-Stop, Irene Village Mall, Meadowdale Mall in Edenvale and the SilverStar Casino.
Processions of metal, leather and colourful toys stretched for several kilometres along Gauteng's roads as gift-bearing motorcyclists, escorted by traffic police, headed for the end venue to deliver their much-appreciated cargo, waved on and cheered by onlookers on the side of the road.
No biker gathering is complete without a good party and at Benoni Northerns the Toy Runners enjoyed refreshments as they chilled to live rock music and browsed the flea-market stalls.
The mountain of teddies, educational toys and other gifts in the collection tent – 23 000 in all - made a stirring sight; these will be distributed to the needy by service clubs such as Round Table, Rotary and Lions, making the upcoming holidays a little brighter for disadvantaged children.
Run under cloudless skies in stifling hot weather, over a new, more direct route and superbly marshalled, the mass ride was smoother and more cohesive than in past years, with far fewer overheated bikes and frayed tempers.
Even after the start venue at Grand West Casino became a little crowded, the bikes just kept on arriving, some in large groups with club flags flying, some on their own, and a surprising number in his-and-hers pairs. Fewer ladies are happy to be just a pillion these days, it would seem.
Everywhere old friends yelled greetings, clasped hands and talked bikes at the top of their voices; over the years the start venue has become an event in its own right.
But the Toy Run is, above all else, a parade - Cape Town’s biggest by several orders of magnitude, taking more than half an hour to pass any given point.
The new end venue at the William Herbert Sports Ground in Wynberg was well laid out, with a natural flow from the trade stalls to the food stalls; the previous years’ problems with the beer garden had been sorted out and a number of marquees provided much needed shade – although it was never going to be enough, given the fierce summer sun and huge attendance.
Top local rock bands and stand-up comedians, including Toy Run stalwart Kurt Schoonraad, kept the vibe alive, while multiple European and World stunt-riding champion Chris Pfeiffer kept the crowd enthralled – and howling with laughter - as he made the impossible look easy, sliding his BMW F800R forwards, backwards and sideways, hardly ever with both wheels on the ground, pulling enormous wheelies and stoppies, flirting with a pretty blond photographer while describing a huge ‘do-nut’ with the lady in the centre.
By the end of the day both the five-ton trucks parked tail-to-tail near the main entrance were overflowing with soft toys of all shapes and sizes, toy motorcycles and cars, dolls, playsets, and soccer balls, rugby balls and basketballs literally by the dozen.
About 6000 bikes turned out despite the rain for the mass ride from Westville Pavilion to the Lords and Legends sports ground in Amanzimtoti; convenor Jo Boes reported that all the toys they received were soaking wet!
He noted that there didn’t seem to be as many toys tied on to the bikes as in previous years - although, given the weather, that may not have been a bad thing!
He said that although the toys were generally smaller and less expensive this year (“Times are tough for everybody, even bikers.”) there were just as many as before, although they would never be enough to go round for all the children in need in the metropole.
At Lords and Legends the Toy Runners took part in a special fund-raiser called the Presidents Auction, which is not what it sounds like. The president of each mainstream motorcycle club attending did his best to get riders to pledge money to the Toy Run, with the one who raised the most money invited to choose the children’s home to which the funds would be donated; in a matter of minutes the clubs raised an impressive R36 300.
More than 2500 motorcycles turned up for the mass ride to the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium, and there were 1400 people at the after-party, filling two giant marquees plus outside shaded seating to overflowing.
Three live bands played and the bar alone took in R65 000, while the host clubs sold raffle tickets to the value of R136 000, for an array of prizes valued at more than R80 000; the top prize was a Honda motorcycle.
In all, said convenor Tony Halket, more than R200 000 would be distributed to this year’s designated institutions - the JJ Children’s Haven in Alexandria, Miracle Kids, the Winterberg Primary School in Uitenhage and the APD Care Centre in Motherwell.
The Free State’s biggest Toy Run had a distinctly military flavour this year, with a mass ride of about 2000 bikes led by a Rooikat armoured fighting vehicle and an fire engine, with a Ratel armoured personnel carrier bringing up the rear, from Makro to the SANDF Armour museum at Tempe
There a huge hangar had been turned into a party venue, with military hardware to check out, refreshments on sale and a rapidly-growing pile of toys that topped out at more than 2000.
Dodgy weather with wind and the threat of rain in the morning did not deter the 250 riders who turned out for the mass ride from the Settlers Monument on the city’s beachfront to Police Park in Cambridge.
There they were joined by a number of ‘civilians’ (i.e. non-bikers!), all bringing toys, to a rip-roaring party to celebrate the Buffalo City’s most successful Toy Run yet.
The riders of the South-Western District Motorcycle Association have added an unusual spin to their Toy Run; they spread the workload by basing the event in a different town each year.
And the SWD Toy Run really is a run, not a mass ride as such; the 2014 edition started at the Langeberg Mall in Mossel Bay, picked up more riders in George and ended - 650 strong by then! - at the Round Tabler’s premises in Knysna for a celebration of note.
The star of the party was, as always, a three-ton truck parked front and centre, which was filled with toys by the end of the day