Father Christmas beams down from her gleaming red Vespa. Behind her, a group of elves compare their tinsel-strewn sportsbikes while Batman adjusts the enormous Christmas tree sprouting from the pillion seat of his BMW R1200GS. Penguins chat with puddings. Miniature Disney princesses giggle with Danger Mouse. Iron Man tosses her long brown hair and climbs aboard a ZX-9R.
For motorcyclists this isn’t usually thought of as ‘the most wonderful time of the year’. Plummeting temperatures, slippery corners and salted roads convince many of us to leave our bikes locked up safe and dry. But despite gale force winds and floods wracking Britain, thousands of bikers have turned out for the 30th anniversary of the Reading Toy Run.
This mass rideout to donate toys to children’s charity Barnardo’s has been running since 1985, when 18 riders turned out for the event organised by the Reading branch of the Christian Motorcyclists Association. Continued by a core of firm friends from that original group, the event now draws around 2000 per year and set a Guinness World Record in 2014 for the most participants in a toy run.
This year MCN joined over 2000 people on around 1700 bikes, trikes, scooters and sidecar outfits. They massed in Reading before parading to Barnardo’s High Close School in Wokingham, where they donated thousands of toys to be distributed to needy children all over the country.
“I love this event,” grins Susan Riley (54) from her gaily-festooned Vespa, complete with enormous plush reindeer tied to the front. “It’s my fourth time and I came by myself, but you’re instantly welcomed by the fantastic biking community. It’s a great opportunity for us to ride out in winter, while giving something back to people in need.”
Nearly every rider and machine is dripping with decorations. While red coats, black belts and white beards are everywhere there are also Minions on Moto Guzzis and superheroes in sidecars. The range of machines is huge, from a beautiful vintage New Hudson dripping with icicles to an R1 pulling a sleigh. Strangers, families and riding clubs meet and mingle, creating a seasonal blend of the friendliness of bikers and the Christmas spirit of generosity and merriment.
When the toys are delivered, joint organiser Ben Spiller makes a choked-up thank you speech to the crowds before they glitter their way home in a blaze of headlights and fairy lights.
Ben, his wife Jane and their fellow organiser Sean Stillman are left to gaze in wonder at the mountains of toys, games, toiletries, donations and vouchers filling the school hall.
“We can’t believe how far this event has come,” says Sean. “Everyone gives so much, and not just the brilliant lads and ladies who turn up and dress up.
“There’s a huge group of organisers, 144 volunteer marshals – many of whom pay for their own training, which is a legal requirement. We run it on an absolute shoestring, but over the years we’ve probably collected a quarter of a million toys for the charity.
“We don’t really refer to religion much in the event,” says Sean, revealing his Reading Christian Bikers t-shirt. “But it’s in times like this our group’s old motto rings so true: ‘thank God for bikers’!”