I went to the bike show in Toronto on the weekend and the place was full, as always. We really need a break around now, and a chance to think about motorcycles, and the Supershow by the airport helps to scratch the itch we all feel.
I visited with Dean and Jeff and we spent most of our time chatting to people. Dean ended up talking to organizers for some of the many charity rides, and you can see what they had to say here. These are the people who volunteer their time to organize poker runs and memorial rides and fund-raisers for any number of well-intentioned causes – they all involve motorcycles because we’re always looking for a reason or excuse to get out and ride.
Here in southern Ontario, the calendar fills up pretty quickly with charity rides every weekend. If you live in Toronto, you could literally find a ride every single Saturday or Sunday from Spring till Fall, and there’s often a choice of events on any given day.
Almost all rides will take you for 100-200 km on some country roads, and end with a barbecue and a band. Most food is basic burgers and dogs, but sometimes there’ll be gourmet food trucks – if so, the event will be sure to promote this beforehand. This is where you get to kick back with some newfound friends, and it’s a better welcome than you might think: you’ve already seen how people ride, and what they ride, so you know if you want to strike up a conversation or not.
There are plenty of different approaches to the riding itself, too, and it’s important to know what you’re getting into before you commit.
A Poker Run is perhaps the most casual ride. You must go to four places along a suggested route and you’ll be given a playing card at the start and at each point. At the final site, the person with the best poker hand wins a prize. You don’t have to ride with other bikes, or even take the same route, and this is a great way to discover new roads and maybe meet like-minded riders.
A Scavenger Hunt is like a poker run but more challenging. When you get to each site, you have to search for something; sometimes, finding the sites themselves is the challenge. When you get to the end, you need to hand in answer sheets to win a prize.
A Processional Ride is one of the most common charity rides. The group gathers at the start site, then at a certain time, everyone leaves and rides on a set route to the end site. Usually, the police will block off the early roads to get everyone out of there in side-by-side formation, then the Blue Knights (the off-duty cop bike club) or Red Knights (same thing for firefighters) will ride ahead and block off junctions to make sure everyone gets through together. After a while, riders start dropping off and the procession becomes a lot looser.
An Escorted Ride is the most organized of all. It’s like the Processional ride but riders stay in tight formation for the entire route. Police will meet up with the ride and block off every junction, and everyone stays together till the end.
Personally, I avoid Escorted rides, ever since participating in one probably 10 years ago. I joined the Ride For Dad in Georgetown, Ontario, and we took the scenic route through Cambridge and Brantford to London. The group rode fairly swiftly and everyone felt impressive, like VIPs and diplomats hustling to important meetings, but the pace was too quick for the wife of one of the organizers: she was an inexperienced rider, and she lost control of her Harley on a corner and crashed. When you’re riding with other people who may not follow the rules for side-by-side or staggered formation, you run out of manoeuvering space pretty quickly.
On that same ride, I had a wasp fly up the sleeve of my jacket and, because I was riding to the left of the lane and another motorcycle was beside me, and there were dozens of bikes following close behind, I couldn’t just pull over. I had to stay at speed, frantically trying to crush the wasp in my sleeve as it stung me repeatedly. I’m allergic to wasp stings and I had to visit a walk-in clinic when we finally all pulled over.
I’m also not so keen on Processional rides. I took part in the Ride For Sight back when it rode every summer from Toronto north to Collingwood (in Ontario, it now rides to Fenelon Falls) and, in the starting-site parking lot among several thousand motorcycles that were being arranged into side-by-side lines, found myself a nice spot behind a couple of Harleys. I saw, however, that their mufflers looked pretty non-existent. I didn’t want to be stuck behind a pair of loud pipes, so moved down the line to another spot behind a couple of whisper-quiet Goldwings. When all the bikes started up, so did the radios on the Goldwings and I spent the two-hour ride subjected to CHFI – Toronto’s Easy Listening Station. Zamfir and Kenny G. Oh God…
But it’s up to you which kind of ride you prefer. The important thing is that if you’re going to take part, you commit to it and do so whatever the weather. For some charities, the motorcycle events are a significant source of their income and if rain keeps three-quarters of the riders home, that’s a huge chunk missing from their budget. The organizers all spend large amounts of volunteer time preparing for the day, and they all pray for good weather. Don’t disappoint them. Choose your event carefully, set aside the time now, and then when the day comes, get out there and enjoy it.