The Chicagoland Toys for Tots motorcycle parade is one of my favorite events of the year. It would be my absolute favorite if it took place during a warmer month. Typically it takes place the first weekend of December. I have ridden it almost every year since I started riding. Some years have been tolerable, and some have been unbearably cold. Regardless of the temperature there is anywhere between 10,000 and 40,000 motorcycles in attendance.
When I was a little girl (before I started riding), I would stand proudly along the parade route, which incidentally was one block east of my childhood home. I would wave and cheer and try to high five the riders and passengers as they rode by. So you can imagine my joy when I was able to ride in it for the first time. There was no temperature that was going to stop me from participating in such a great event, for such a great cause.
All of the riders are also carrying various unwrapped toys which will be distributed to children who may not be getting holiday gifts otherwise.
The parade is well received by the City and basically shuts down Western Avenue from 83rd to Addison (it used to go all the way to Foster). Now ending at DeVry, the police do an excellent job of making sure the parade flows at about 35 miles per hour with very little stopping for the riders. There are people standing along the entire parade route to cheer on the riders and donate additional toys. It is a wonderful feeling.
There are some downsides to the parade. Most of them stemming from the harsh weather conditions that usually accompany the parade. Here are some tips to make the day more enjoyable.
1- Prep your bike for the parade a few days in advance. I have had years where my motorcycle refused to start the morning of the parade, and I had to ride as a passenger instead.
2- Get a good nights rest and eat a healthy hearty meal for dinner the night before.
3-It is an early start, allow extra time in the morning to eat a big breakfast, pack and warm up your bike properly.
4- Start out slow, allow the tires to warm up before maneuvering the bike aggressively. Traction is limited due to several factors when the temperature drops, or it is snowing or raining. Look out for the ground to be wet or frozen, oil from leaky motorcycles ahead of you, black ice, etc.
5- Dress for the weather, not for the spectacle. Layer, layer, layer. You can always peel them away if you get too warm. But trust me, you won't get too warm. Cold weather riding is dangerous because our muscles do not have the same reaction time as they do when they are warm. As you know, sometimes you need to make quick maneuvers on a motorcycle especially in a parade with so many other vehicles and factors at play. So keeping your core body warm will help keep your extremities warm and functioning as they should.
6- If you have a passenger, make sure they are dressed warm too. Be sure to accommodate for the extra weight of the passenger by adjusting your suspension and allowing more time to start out and stop. If the passenger is new to motorcycles, give them some tips on how to be a good passenger. For example, properly mounting and dismounting the motorcycle, not wiggling too much, and not fighting the lean in turns. Also, it is the passenger's job to waive to and give high fives to the adoring fans on the side of the road, and collect any toys they send along.
7- Take a break. You do not have to ride the whole route in one shot. There are several bars and restaurants along the parade route which offer free hot chocolate, coffee and even chili to the brave riders. Stop in, warm up, and socialize while thawing out. There is plenty of time.
8- Have fun. This really is a wonderful tradition, which every Chicago rider should participate in at least once.
Sunday -- December 5th, 2010
Dan Ryan Woods opens at dawn
83rd & Western
Line-up starts 6:00am
Parade begins at 9:30am
Parade will end at 3300 North Campbell Ave.
DeVry Parking Lot