Cape Town - Motorcyclists gathered in their thousands on Sunday, their bikes festooned with brightly coloured toys of all descriptions, for the 35th annual Toy Run.
It's South Africa’s biggest motorcycle charity event, traditionally held in cities and towns across South Africa on the last Sunday of November each year.
The mass rides started from five venues in Muldersdrift (about 1200 riders), Brakpan, Randvaal and Centurion (about 700), with the ladies-only mass ride from Rivonia Auto Parts in Paulshoff attracting only about 50 riders, although many more ladies attended as pillions.
Although the numbers taking part in the mass rides were down on previous years, possibly due to inclement weather in the days leading up to the Toy Run, a larger than usual contingent arrived in cars at the end venue, the Benoni Northerns Sports Club in Northmead.
A grand total of 24 012 toys were donated, including an astonishing 800 toys collected by one young girl on her own, and 100 kilograms of plush toys donated by a prominent reseller.
The Toy Run is one of Gauteng’s biggest biker parties of the year, with live bands, food and drink on sale and memorabilia stalls selling anything from jewellery to leathers, to custom motorcycles. But it’s really about the toys, about making Christmas come true for 24 012 disadvantaged children.
The Cape’s Toy Run has long since become too big for a single mass ride; the 2017 rides started almost simultaneously from the Grand Parade, which was last used as a Toy Run venue in 1987, and from the Grand West casino in Goodwood.
Thanks to efficient marshalling by traffic officials and Disaster Risk Management volunteers, the two huge processions went off smoothly (Capetonian drivers have learned over the years that on the last Sunday in November motorcycles have right of way!) and an estimated 5500 motorcycles converged on the Killarney International Raceway, the new end venue for the Toy Run.
All the way along Potsdam Road car drivers were marshalled into the right lane so that the thousands of motorcycles could move smoothly into the main spectator entrance at Killarney and onto the circuit itself. By the time the last of the Toy Run riders from the Grand Parade had filtered in (one former racer was heard to remark that it was the slowest she had ever ridden down the back straight!) there were motorcycles parked wall to wall from the exit of Turn 4 to the apex of Turn 5, a distance of more than a kilometre.
Which meant quite a long walk for some to the entrance to the pits area, but nobody seemed to mind because their bikes were on hard standing, rather than grassed parking areas where bikes had been known to fall over in previous years.
Two five-ton trucks - signposted GIRLS and BOYS - were parked in the pits paddock, ready to receive the thousands of toys they’d brought, from cricket sets to dolls, hundreds of toy cars and motorcycles and, of course, thousands of plush toys of all shapes and sizes. The national emblem of the Toy Run is a teddy bear, and it is often referred to, not entirely in jest, as the Teddy Run.
By the end of the afternoon both trucks were nearly full, in sharp contrast to the one truckload and a handful donated at the 2016 Toy Run. There had been considerable comment on social media after that event about the number of riders who took part in the mass rides but did not bring toys; several riders at the 2017 Toy Run seemed determined to make up the deficit, their bikes festooned with dozens of toys.
One memorable couple turned up on a big tourer loaded to the gunwales with bags and boxes of toys donated, they said, by just two children from their own overflowing toyboxes, each imbued with the special karma of having already been loved by a child.
With the toys loaded into the trucks, it was time to party, with three hard-rocking bands, comedian Kurt Schoonraad and friends, ice-cold drinks, and two whole streets of stalls selling bikes, bikewear, biker bling, badges and every kind of takeaway food you can imagine and a few that you won’t.
One rider was heard to complain that the Toy Run should have been held on a Saturday, so that the party could go on all night (instead he had to go home because he had to work on Monday!) which was, in its way, a big compliment to the Toy Run Trust and the Western Province Motor Club.
But even bigger were the two five-ton trucks that rolled out of the pit area late in the afternoon, each almost filled with the toys donated by the bikers of Cape Town to make Christmas come true for thousands of disadvantaged children.
The 20th Durban Toy mass ride from the Pavilion in Westville to Lords and Legends Sports Grounds in Amanzimtoti was attended by fewer riders than had been the case in previous years; estimates varied from 4000-5000 machines in the procession, which was ably marshalled by metro police and the road captains of the clubs involved.
However, as in 2016, when convenor Les Boes arrived at the end venue at about 6.30am, she found hundreds of riders waiting for her, laden with toys. As in Gauteng, it would seem that fickle summer weather is persuading riders to miss the mass ride in favour of arriving at the end venue, with the toys undamaged by possible downpours.
As long as they bring toys, she said, she really didn’t mind.
More than 30 child-care charities of all sizes, mostly from the Thousand Hills and surrounding rural areas, attended the end venue to collect toys. Each charity’s representatives were asked to select and pack toys for one of the other instances, a very Solomonian way of ensuring fairness of distribution!
Meanwhile, the riders were entertained by a live rock band and a top DJ, each of whom donated their services free of charge, as well as a Presidents’ auction, which raised about R11 000 for selected beneficiaries including the Bobby Bear Fund for child victims of sexual abuse, and an auction of biker gear and accessories donated by the stall-holders, which raised an estimated R5000 which will be used for assisting children in need throughout the year.
An estimated 2500 bikers turned out for the mass ride from the Hunter’s Retreat Spar to the Sun International Boardwalk on the beachfront, but only about 1200 attended the after-party, where they made up for the reduced numbers by donating more than 2500 toys – and then got into serious party mode with two live bands, Twisted Truth and the MD’s.
On the day before, however, the Port Elizabeth Toy Run hosted a party for 310 disadvantaged children at The Barn children’s play centre in Green Bushes, which donated the venue for the day.
On arrival each child received a pie and cool-drink sponsored by Cassie’s Pies, a party pack from Acres Spar and another party pack from the Sun International Boardwalk. Lunch was provided by KFC and each child received a toy to the value of R150, sponsored by bikers and the public at large.
More stories and pictures from Toy Runs around the country will follow as details come in.