I'd reckon that everyone reading this would know about the annual Toy Runs. It's a time when the motorcycling community comes together to publicly donate toys to a worthy charity. I've taken part in these Toy Runs every year for the past 12 years or so; really ever since I found out about them. Except for 2005 when I was working and couldn't really get out of it. (The photo on the left was taken at the end of a local run a couple of years ago).
The Toy Runs, I think, are a great event! They are a win-win situation, where everyone involved benefits. The charity that receives the toys (or more specifically the under-privileged kids they give them too) benefits of course, but it also benefits the motorcycling community too. It's a good P.R. exercise for bikers! Yes, the main motivation should be to donate the toys, but it's good to have something like this that raises the image of motorcycling. And the riders benefit from the unique experience that these annual events provide. When else do you get to ride in a group of several hundred bikes and have people lining the streets to cheer and wave? And you know, (I've just thought of this one now), I reckon even the police benefit; it's a good P.R. exercise for them too! Often the police are seen as the enemy by bikers. (Personally, I've never found this to be the case, but many bikers seem to take this attitude). In these Toy Runs the police have an opportunity to show that they support bikers too! When else do you see them controlling traffic to give bikers preference? It might only happen once a year, but it shows that cops are sometimes okay when it comes to bikers.
Okay, they're all the good points in a nut-shell. But what about the ride itself? Well, if you've been on any one these you'll know all about them. If you haven't, then I recommend you go on the next one! To me, it's a great experience, as I said, to ride along in a group of several hundred bikes. The size of the group varies depending on where the ride is taking place, of course. Capital city rides will often have well over a thousand (I've heard reports of 2,000 - 3,000 in some of the capitals at times). Smaller cities will have several hundred, and even small towns will have perhaps a hundred or so. And that in itself is unique! The only down-side I've found is that sometimes I've felt a bit crowded-in. With so many bikes (and in these groups you don't stay single-file in each lane!), you can find yourself surrounded closely by a lot of bikes. And if someone isn't paying attention, you could have another bike run into you. So you sometimes have to make sure the riders around you are paying attention to where they're going, and try to create a bit of a buffer-zone around you, even if it is smaller than it might otherwise be.
The run I go on used to be good too, because they'd stop the traffic at traffic lights and everyone would ride straight through. This was good fun! Come to a red light and just ride right on through; with police watching! (You just had to remember not to do it when you rode home afterwards!). Now, unfortunately, they don't do this on my local run and the group gets split-up. They re-group at the final destination though, which is a shopping-mall. And that's more good fun! Riding into the shopping mall, where normally there are only people. Of course the louder bikes (Harley riders especially!) tend to blip the throttle; and the sound of a few hundred bikes reverberating off the walls of the shops each side is pretty special!
You get to see some interesting sights on these runs too! Of course the bikes are always interesting! And you get everything from scooters to Honda Goldwings on these runs! There are usually some exotics (always good to see and hear!), and usually a vintage club gets involved so you see some oldies as well. But other sights too. Like the guy I saw a couple of years ago riding pillion but sitting backwards with a video-camera, filming all the bikes as they came up behind. I gave him a wave as I rode past. The good thing is that the police tend to take a fairly liberal view on these sort of things; on these runs anyway, I wouldn't suggest doing it at any other time!
A pleasing thing is seeing P-platers,or even L-plates, on the run. I remember one girl, probably only 17 or 18, on L-plates. And I remember thinking what a great start that was to a life of riding; getting involved in a group charity run!
One thing I remember seeing a few years ago was quite strange. As we got close to the end of the run there was an old bike stopped on the side of the road, it's rider trying vigorously, but unsuccessfully, to kick-start it. And no-one (including me!) stopped to help! Hundreds of bikes just rode past! This was surprising because I've always found bikers very good at stopping to see if they can be of assistance whenever they see a bike stopped by the road-side. But not this time.
On one particular occasion I was probably one of the "interesting sights"! I was on my old XJ600 (see the "Worst Bike" article). This bike leaked oil onto the front of the motor, and if the motor got hot the oil would start to burn, producing smoke. On this day we'd got to a point just before the final presentation area, and all the bikes were being held waiting for the rest of the riders to catch up. It was a hot day and many bikes began to over-heat. And the old XJ started to burn it's leaked oil. So there I was, sitting in the middle of a huge group of bikes, with this cloud of smoke drifting up from the engine! I reckon some of the riders around me were probably starting to worry; but I was just embarrassed! 
The runs are always held around the beginning of December. If you're not sure if there is one in your area, or when it is run, check with the local bike shops; they'll know. And if you haven't been involved in these, give them a go next time. As I said at the start, I reckon they are a good thing! And I just like the whole concept of combining my love of motorcycling with contributing to charity. Anything that does that has to be a good thing!
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