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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.”

The ride­out

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!

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