It's that time of year again. Riding season is winding down and there are various fund-raising events all across the country.
The drill is straightforward: people show up, ride en masse to a common destination, contribute money or gifts, collect a commemorative pin, maybe drink a cup of coffee, listen to the band and schmooze with other riders for a while, and then go home. It's a fall ritual and, all things considered, is a good thing.
I recently participated in just such an event – the Vancouver Toy Run – after a two-year absence, and this time around, more than 10,000 people turned up. The weather was fine, we had a police escort, and lots of goodies were collected for the disadvantaged. It was a good day.
Unfortunately, these kinds of events also seem to bring out the worst in some people. I'd forgotten how foolhardy and downright silly some riders get in this situation and, midway through the event, was thinking about the sentiments of one of my riding pals, who said he no longer attends these things because "the nut jobs come out of the woodwork."
For example, once the procession got under way, I found myself beside The Waver. This guy waved at bystanders virtually non-stop for the entire run. Sometimes with both hands. I even saw him waving at a dog in someone's front yard.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with the odd wave here and there, but this guy was riding one of the most powerful and unwieldy bikes on the road: a Triumph Rocket III. And, of course, the inevitable happened; he was so busy playing the fool, the bike got away from him and he came within a whisker of rear-ending the rider in front – twice.
When you have 10,000-plus riders snaking through the heart of the city, it's a good idea to pay attention. Especially when they're all comparative strangers and haven't ridden together before.
Here's some other observations about riding in a large group, fund-raiser or otherwise:
-Leave the pets at home. I saw at least three dogs at this year's run; two small yappers riding in saddlebags, and one terrier perched on a little pillion-mounted platform his owner had obviously built specifically for this kind of thing. I've never seen anything so idiotic, and when all the bikes started up, one of the dogs went absolutely insane. A few years ago, a guy showed up with a parrot. Dumb.
-Wear the appropriate gear. If you must dress up like an elf, be sure you've got your leathers and proper boots on underneath. The Waver guy riding the Triumph, by the way, was wearing lightweight slacks, a nylon windbreaker and Birkenstocks. And a $300 Arai helmet. Go figure.
-Don't crowd me. There's plenty of room for everyone and unless you've come to a complete stop, ride staggered at all times. When you've got this many riders, this jammed up, you need all the manoeuvring room you can get.
-Do you have to carry on a conversation with the guy beside you? There's nothing that needs saying that can't wait until you get to the end of the run. Most of these things only go for an hour at the most anyway. If you simply must chat with your buddy, pull over or get a room. And, oh yeah: put out the cigarette.
-Forget about doing wheelies, burnouts, or anything else stupid. Why? First of all, it's dangerous and you could easily lose control and hurt someone. Secondly, the police aren't that crazy about these kinds of events in the first place, and if they see people behaving like morons, they'll either just not show up at all or shut the whole thing down. Several years ago, in Vancouver, that's exactly what happened: the cops stayed away and everything quickly spiralled out of control. I'm surprised no one was killed. Thirdly, this is neither the time nor the place for that kind of shenanigans.
-If you're attending a Christmas toy run, leave the big fluffy toys at home. A four-foot-tall Bugs Bunny may look good on the back of your bike, but it has limited practicality for someone who's having a hard time putting food on the table and keeping the kids in shoes. Bring practical things – clothing, educational and electronic toys, gift certificates and so on. Money is good, too – $25 is a lot more useful than a Barbie doll. And if you want to do the right thing but can't make the ride, you can usually donate something anyway. In the case of the Toy Run, your local Christmas Bureau will take care of business, and if you get in touch with them, they'll be happy to receive any donations.
I always look forward to the Toy Run – and events like it – every year. It gives me the chance to schmooze with people I haven't seen for a while, is also kind of the last hurrah for riding for the year and, theoretically at least, helps people out.
But I can do without the nut jobs.