Tens of thousands of riders will take part in almost two dozen Toy Runs all around Southern Africa on the last weekend in November. Picture: Dave Abrahams.

Cape Town – This Sunday sees the 34th running of the annual Charity Toy Run, Cape Town’s biggest motorcycling event, one of nearly two dozen Toy Runs held all over Southern Africa on the last Sunday in November each year and part of one of the world’s great charity-driven biker initiatives.

What began in 1983 as an interclub ride that brought together 76 motorcycles and their riders has grown a hundredfold, with two mass rides of several thousand motorcycles each converging on a single end venue, all festooned with toys, with thousands of spectators cheering them along both routes, and even holding out toys to be added to the pile. 

Over the years the end venue has become a biker party of epic proportions, with live bands, food and drink on tap, displays of new and classic machines and dozens of stalls selling biker bling of every description. So much so that the Toy Run began to lose its focus; despite the success of the event the number of toys donated had begun to drop off, from an all-time high of 33 800 in 2010 to 18 000 in 2015.

Worse still, the cost of the infrastructure – toilets, security, temporary fencing, electricity, risk management, hiring professional-level sound equipment for the top local bands (who, it must be said, still play for free as always) – needed for the end venue had skyrocketed. What could be organised for free for a few thousand bikers under the Old Pals Act in the 1990s now costs a fortune when catering for almost 20 00 riders, pillions, friends, families and members of the public who want to be a part of this iconic event. Even the services of the traffic officers who marshal the mass rides now have to be paid for.

The convening Toy Run Trust has no income beyond unsolicited donations and its funds were so depleted by the cost of the 2015 Toy Run that without a radical rethink there would have been no 2016 Toy Run at all.

Early start

So the trustees enlisted the help of events management specialist Colourworks and split the Toy Run into two components – the mass rides which would, as always, be completely free to participants, and the end venue entertainment, which would have to be self-sustaining. The end venue has been moved to Kenilworth Racecourse, which already has the facilities and infrastructure to host large events – as well as plenty of shade, and practically unlimited parking.

Riders are invited to gather at one of the two start venues – Grand West Casino in Goodwood and the Pick ‘n Pay Hypermarket in Ottery – early on the morning of Sunday 27 November. And we mean early; both start venues are short on shade so, in response to comments from previous years, the start time has been brought forward to 9am.

Another perennial complaint is that the mass ride is too short; it’s common knowledge that in recent years the leading bikes have been are parked at the end venue before the last riders leave the start. So, for 2016, both rides have been extended. The Northern route will take riders up Settlers Way to Union Avenue and down Wetton Road to the end venue, while the Southern route will take riders into the CBD and back along the M5 to Kenilworth.

There riders will have the option of placing their toys in one of two five-ton trucks parked there for the purpose, buying their badge and going home. Or they can pay R50 for entry to the entertainment venue, with live music and stand-up comedy to keep adults amused, a fun-filled activities area for children, all sorts of food and drink and a multitude of stall and displays to check out.

‘There are never enough toys’

That R50 also gets you your badge, without having to stand in the queue, and an energy drink, as well as automatic entry in the big-prize raffle. It does not, however, absolve you from the responsibility of bringing a toy or toys.

The end venue is for your entertainment; the toys are needed to fulfil a huge need among disadvantaged children all over the Western Cape, children in hundreds of grass-roots care centres and institutions who won’t have a Christmas this year – or any year - without them.

And there are never enough toys; each year the trustees have to turn away requests for toys from institutions that rely on toys from the Toy Run to make their Christmas parties possible. In particular, this year they have asked for educational toys of all kinds as well basic toiletries for teenage girls.

The Toy Run was created by bikers, for bikers, but it is no longer a motorcycling event. It has become a Cape Town event; it is how the people of the Mother City reach out to their most vulnerable neighbours. Whether or not you ride a motorcycle, if you believe, as the song says, that the children are our future, you are invited to join the Toy Run at Kenilworth Racecourse on Sunday for a memorable celebration of the spirit of ubuntu.

Just remember to bring toys.

OTHER TOY RUNS

The Gauteng Toy Run, South Africa’s biggest by far, will start simultaneously at four venues on Sunday – the Blockhouse Engen 1-Stop in Vereeniging, Irene Village Mall, Carnival City Casino on the East Rand and the Silverstar Casino in Muldersdrift – at 9am on Sunday 27 November.

A fifth start, for lady riders only, has been added this year at Monte Casino, departing at 10am. All five mass rides will converge on Benoni Northerns Sports Club in Briodigan Avenue, Northmead, Benoni.

The Lowveld Toy Run will be held a day early, on Saturday 26 November, starting at the Mbombela stadium in Nelspruit at noon and ending at the same venue. This is so that serious Lowveld Toy Runners can ride to Johannesburg on Sunday morning and take part in the Gauteng Toy Run as well.

See local media for details of more Toy Runs in Durban, Port Elizabeth, East London, Bloemfontein, Bethlehem, George, Plettenberg Bay, Knysna, the Overberg and many more – or just stop a biker and ask. They’ll know.

Motoring.co.za

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