It felt more like a Sturgis-style motorcycle rally than a motorcycle run, said Brad McKibbin, one of the thousands of bikers who turned out for Sunday’s 33rd annual Wichita Toy Run in the Delano district.
But that was okay.
Even though the event nixed the feature it was best known for – a 15-mile motorcycle parade to the Kansas Pavilions, the benefits of changes were easy to see, he said.
“I do kind of miss the ride a little bit, but this gives you a better opportunity to walk around and talk to people and see all the bikes,” said McKibbin, who rode to the event with two biking buddies.
The toy run, which was estimated to have drawn more than 3,000 biking enthusiasts, filled downtown and near-downtown streets on Sunday with the sound of roaring bike engines and the sight of chaps-wearing riders.
The event, organized each year with the purpose of gathering toys and donations that will be distributed throughout the Christmas season by the U. S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program, the Salvation Army and the Kansas Food Bank, changed its format significantly this year.
Instead of starting at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium and parading to the former Kansas Coliseum to deliver toys, participants parked on several closed-off blocks of west Douglas, then wandered around visiting with other bikers, checking out motorcycles, eating chili, listening to live music and shopping at booths selling motorcycling merchandise.
Organizers announced in July their plans to make the event stationary this year. They were responding to safety concerns, they said, citing an increase of accidents in recent years, including two during the 2011 event that injured four people. Police said that drinking and inexperience contributed to the accidents.
The new format seemed to be working well, said Major Douglas Rowland, one of the event’s organizers and the city commander for the Salvation Army. Standing near a growing pile of dolls, scooters, games, blocks and cars on Sunday afternoon, he said that most participants seemed fine with the changes.
“Some are more okay with it than others,” he said. “But there are two things bikers like: They like to get together, and they like to ride. Just being able to get together like this out here is a big plus.”
The new format gave the event more of a block-party feel that was inclusive to children and appeared to be drawing people from nearby neighborhoods, leaving Rowland hopeful that attendance would be up this year.
John “Bones” Traylor, who rides with the Newcomers Motorcycle Club, stood near his bike on Douglas talking about the changes with fellow bikers on Sunday afternoon.
He’s been participating in the ride for 14 years but said he preferred this year’s setup.
“I ride all the time,” he said. “I ride 15,000 or 20,000 miles a year. But this is much better in the regard that you can have more interaction with people.”
The event was dedicated to longtime Toy Run organizer Holly Potelle, who died in June in a motorcycle accident.