The difference between a toy run and a toy run rally is more than just a word.
During Sunday’s Wichita Toy Run Rally, about 600 or 700 people in black leather rode their Harley-Davidsons to Delano, stood around and chatted. It was a biker street fair.
A band played music, radio stations broadcast live, donated toys grew into mounds, and vendors sold barbecue and custom paint work. It was nice, if a bit cool and windy.
And it was a lot different in flavor than the old toy run, when 3,000 riders would gather downtown then roar in an enormous pack up Broadway to the old Kansas Coliseum. That was a parade.
There were fans of each at Sunday’s event.
Sean and Deanna Aspedon of Wichita were at the event for the first time on Sunday. Both rode in and said they liked it exactly because it was “family friendly,” with no alcohol or rough behavior.
To them, the event is about visiting with friends, looking at the motorcycles and helping kids by donating toys.
“I like that it’s not so hard core,” Deanna Aspedon said.
Bob Winegarner, a member of the Toy Run Committee, helped organize and run Sunday’s event, but he’s also ridden in toy runs going back 26 or 27 years, when bikers would gather in the parking lot of the old PG&Y grocery store on 47th Street South and ride to Camp Hiawatha.
The organizers have done their best to make lemonade out of lemons, he said, after the city of Wichita more or less forced them to give up the run because of safety concerns. In 2011, the last year for the toy run, there were several minor accidents, reports of drinking and risky riding.
“We’re doing what we can to help the kids,” Winegarner said. “This is what the city is letting us do, so we’re doing it.”
But Winegarner said he liked the way it is now. The event may be smaller, but it encourages people to get off their bikes and talk to each other. Before, he said, they’d just wait for the ride to start.
That’s not the way a group of veteran bikers standing on the corner talking saw it.
They came out because they felt strongly about donating toys, but they said that cutting out the ride damaged the event.
“It ain’t the same,” said Phillip Green. “I miss seeing the kids line up on Broadway. They’d wave. They loved having us go by.”
And they resented the city taking control of what was a grass-roots charity event, although they acknowledged there had been occasional drinking and stupidity in past toy runs.
The event was held by the bikers for kids, their contribution to society, they said. A street fair, where groups of bikers stand around and talk to their friends while police patrol nearby, is just different.
“It’s about riding,” declared Gary Eckert.