SPECIAL 10-PAGE ISLE OF WIGHT RALLY REPORT
The first time visitor
Yes, it’s true. Despite 35 years of riding I’ve never made it to the IOW. Unbelievable? Not really, despite an attendance of around 5000 to 6000 each year many of those are repeat visitors, that’s a fraction of Scootering magazine’s circulation, so it follows that the majority of readers probably haven’t made the pilgrimage either – yet everyone has an opinion. These can be summed up as either ‘unmissable’ or ‘unbearable’. I couldn’t find anyone with a neutral view, so it was with an open mind, together with a mix of curiosity and excitement, that I set off for my first IOW rally.
With more and more scooters appearing the further south I travelled, I arrived at Southampton to catch the ferry and it was at that point that the scale of what was about to unfold hit me for the first time. I’d made excellent progress and managed to arrive two hours early only to present my flexi-ticket and be told: “Sorry, no room until your slot.” At just before 2pm on Thursday, the ferries were full, with the smell and sounds of two-stroke engines everywhere – this was clearly going to be something big.
From humble, and troubled beginnings in the 1980s, the IOW rally now bills itself as The World’s Largest Scooter Rally. A couple of the Vespa World Days could possibly put up counter claims but Consistently The World’s Largest Non-Single Marque Scooter Rally isn’t quite so catchy. Unless you’ve visited the rally it’s impossible to grasp how large a gathering it is – you physically and logistically can’t take everything in on one visit. Looking back on the experience it reminded me of the first time I visited London as a tourist – there were certain things that had to be done but on the way home it was obvious that I’d only scratched the surface.
Strangely, both fans and critics of the rally base their opinions on exactly the same point, the IOW has outgrown being a National BSRA event. People and scooters that wouldn’t ordinarily attend a National are there in droves and there are also plenty of scooters arriving in vans.
If you take scootering, and yourself, seriously there’s plenty to dislike, but to view the IOW as simply another National is, in my opinion, missing the point entirely. This a great National with an enjoyable carnival atmosphere attached to it. If you can accept that then there’s a whole lot of fun to be had over the weekend.
Although the rally seems to have spread itself across the whole island there are two centres of activity – the National itself at Smallbrook Stadium and the town of Ryde, each offering different experiences. The problem for the National is that the IOW rally is now such a part of scootering folklore that outside promoters see it as an opportunity ripe for the picking. This has created a wide range of events that often don’t sit well with National regulars who’ve stayed away in recent years. VFM have taken a back-to-basics approach and to their credit Smallbrook feels like a larger version of any other National rally.
So having completed my first IOW, where do I sit on the ‘unmissable or unbearable’ scale? I’d say it’s unforgettable. Everyone who has a passion for scooters running through their veins should make the trip at least once. The fact is that if you love scooters there’s something on the IOW for everyone – whether you ride a rat cutdown to every rally possible or van your pampered scooter to the IOW for a once yearly outing. Open your mind, relax, enjoy yourself and give it all a chance. Just remember the heart of all this activity is a National Rally and that deserves our support. (Thanks to the VFM Team, Reece Measor and Dave Fagan for their help with covering this year’s event).
The BSRA National rally itself is based at the Smallbrook Stadium, a little over two miles outside of Ryde itself. For those who’ve never been, this is a combined speedway track and sports centre. Events are spread across the site and camping is on the sports fields. The traders’ fair and dance tents are pitched in the centre of the speedway track, with the exhibition hall hosting live music as well as the custom show. Camping is on the sports fields with the large pavilion providing free showers and a bar.
Arrivals may have been surprised to see a photographer lurking in the bushes near the entranceway. This was absolutely nothing to worry about but actually Photography UK, one of the traders on site. Few of us manage to get a decent photograph of ourselves in motion so this was a nice touch.
By any standards this is a large site for a National and the facilities are excellent with the club house breakfast being a strong candidate for bargain of the weekend. It provided proof, if ever it was needed, that keeping it simple pays off. There was almost no waiting at busy times and at £5 it set up all but the largest of appetites for the day. Following close behind was something I’d never seen at a rally before, a mobile shower block. Although some complained, I thought it was worth £2 to use a cubicle that was nicer than many B&Bs I’ve stayed in over the years. Maybe it’s just a sign of my advancing years but I hope it makes an appearance at other Nationals. For those wanting to venture into Ryde, a regular coach service ran to and from Smallbrook into the early hours.
Entertainment on the site came from DJs at both Northern and Dance tents, with live music in the main hall on Friday and Saturday nights. If I’ve one criticism of the Smallbrook site, it’s that, although the exhibition hall was perfect for the custom show, the acoustics were poor for the live bands. Friday evening was opened by Tom Hingley, former frontman of the Inspiral Carpets. I was looking forward to hearing Tom but found him to be something of a disappointment. I certainly didn’t expect to see someone of his experience apparently reading lyrics from a smartphone. In complete contrast were Orange Street. I’d missed their set at Exmouth but heard great reviews, all of which they lived up to. A great mixture of ska, well executed and musically spot-on. A combination that quite rightly filled the dance floor. Having performed an acoustic set on Saturday afternoon The Riffs were back on stage later that night. An experienced band with a great catalogue The Riffs went down well as did The Dream Factory, recently re-formed and executing a very polished set to close off the live music. Unfortunately many had chosen Ryde over Smallbrook, particularly on Saturday evening, with audience numbers being undeservedly low for the bands – another symptom of the acute competition for custom on the Island.
Despite plenty of online criticism in the weeks before the rally it was clear the overwhelming majority thought this was a good National, particularly those who hadn’t been for some time. In fact there were few suggestions as to what VFM could have done to make it any better. The decision to move away from the Ice Rink was controversial but it’s enabled VFM to concentrate on running a scooter rally rather than a music venue, which the Ice Rink had become – with ever increasing demands for big names on the guest list. VFM have previously gone on record as saying: “Scooterists have taken the rally back.” Numbers seem to show that this return to basics approach has found some success with campers being up by almost 300 this year to 1400 – the overwhelming majority being scooters and tents rather than motorhomes.
The final word should probably go to Evo Evans of the VFM team: “I’d say to people who gave up on the rally when entertainment was based at the Ice Rink, that they should give it another go. I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
Ryde is the island’s largest town and a typical Victorian seaside resort. Although there are events across the island it’s here that most scooter-related activity takes place. If you’ve ever visited a Disney theme park you’ll have walked along Main Street USA; it doesn’t matter whether or not you believe that this is what small town America used to be like, it’s still great fun. That pretty much sums up Ryde over the Bank Holiday weekend. It’s almost impossible to find a shop or bar that hasn’t embraced the rally in some way. Usually this involves bullseye targets, Union Jacks, scooter-adorned window displays and varying interpretations of what constitute ‘scootering sounds’. A classic case of ‘can’t do right for doing wrong’. We complain when communities are hostile but find fault when they try their best.
Paradoxically, the variety of choice on offer may actually be self-defeating. Although rally stalwarts such as the King Lud seemed to be doing well, I’m told that the High Street was quieter than in previous years. After all there are only so many visitors and more choice means they become spread more thinly. A real case of being spoilt for choice but with gig tickets in the region of £10-15 and beer leaping in price for the weekend to over £4 a pint it had the potential to be an expensive weekend. Talk on the ferry home was of a Hipshaker event with little atmosphere but earning universal praise was the Fliks and Dexy’s Bootleg Runners double bill at the Balcony Bars but these were only a sample of the bands, DJs and other entertainment on offer.
At the centre of daytime scooter activity is a small area of the sea front known as The Green. Here all parking restrictions were lifted (or tactfully ignored) producing a feast of scooters to gorge upon. If I’d done nothing else all weekend this was a spectacle to be enjoyed and relished, particularly on Saturday when the weather was perfect for just hanging around eating ice cream and talking nonsense with friends old and new about old Italian machinery. A group who had travelled across Europe for the weekend were having a fantastic time but were surprised when I told them there was a rally at Smallbrook. They knew that lots of scooters came to the island at this time of year but that was all.
Yes, there were certain stereotypes from across the scootering spectrum in evidence, but this was carnival time and the mood was very relaxed. A big change from years gone by were the number of families and tourists casually walking among the scooters, making small talk and taking photographs. Make no mistake this is a big tourist attraction for non scooterists. As one resident told me: “This is good for the island. I love coming to Ryde for the scooters, it reminds me of being a kid in the 70s when it was always this busy, sadly that’s no longer the case. A lot of businesses survive all year because of this boost.”
If there’s one event that physically and metaphorically links the two IOW scooter worlds it’s the rideout and nothing, I don’t care where you've been before, prepares you for that spectacle. Departure point is from the Ice Rink on the sea front and I arrived a good hour before the start time only to find the seafront road fenced off and tourists lining the route. Finding a decent vantage point to take photographs was all but impossible and this was before the main body of scooters had arrived. By the 1pm start time all car parks were filled to bursting, so much so that fairly predictably the grand start soon bogged down into a clutch-destroying test of slow riding. The amount of scooters in one place was something to behold, every aspect of scootering being represented and there can have been very few scooters on the island that didn’t take part. Old hands were easy to spot as they waited for the main exodus to clear and the ride to settle into a more enjoyable pace before joining in.
Being determined to cover start and finish I made the completely wrong decision to take some back roads and greet the procession as it arrived at Smallbrook, not taking part in the ride itself. It’s a mistake I won’t make again as reports said that the route was stunning and well planned. “It seemed like every picture postcard view of the island had been strung together,” was the description that stuck with me. The end point was at Smallbrook with masses of scooters parking at right angles on both inner and outer sides around its entire length.
What’s your number?
How many scooters and scooterists were there this year? Truth is that no one really knows. I’d seen the ‘5000 scooters on the island’ signs in Scootering before and assumed this was some sort of running total, it’s actually a generic road safety message. Red Funnel say that they transported 1104 ‘motorcycles’ to the island over the weekend, WightLink didn’t reply to our email but it’s safe to assume a similar number was moved by them. This doesn’t take into account those who’d made an extended stay (next year I’d certainly add on a day or so to take in the island) and there’s no way of knowing how many scooters travelled over by van. As mentioned elsewhere 1400 campers stayed at Smallbrook, with around 5000 day trippers to the stadium, although some of these may have been repeat visitors.
Hampshire Police had a very low key role throughout the weekend and didn’t produce a figure for their purposes. Interestingly they did add that there were no arrests directly connected to the rally. How times change!
There was general consensus that numbers hadn’t returned to their peak of a few years ago when around 7500 were in attendance but it seems that the ball park of 5000 seems reasonable and that’s quite some party!