05:40, Sunday 26th September 2021. Not exactly the best time for an alarm to go off. But it did and it did its job, tearing me away from the warm embrace of what should be a Sunday lie in.

This is the start of my first “big ride” with TVAM after getting my Green Badge only a week before. The weather report actually looks pretty good, rain that’s been promised all week might not show, fingers crossed.

Coffee, dress, pack and load up the bike. It’s still bloody dark, what am I doing?

Nice crisp ride to Chieveley Services, Keith’s already there with a few other bikes. There are  a few cars starting to queue for petrol, is this the best time to go on a ride whilst the country has been told not to panic buy petrol? Well, my tanks currently full so let’s just wing it.

Keith’s told us individually (and collectively) that he’s easily got enough fuel. The GSA has hundreds of miles of range. That leaves the rest of us thinking about how good the anti-siphon mechanisms are on the GSA, maybe time will tell.

There’s a couple of drop outs, one (sensibly) stating concerns over fuel the other unfortunately not feeling too well. That leaves 12 of us to set off with one to pick up on the way.

Allie Gane steps up as (trainee) back marker as it should be good practice. Let’s see just how inept/unruly we are and just how much practice we give her.

Ferry is booked for 10:00 from Southampton giving us plenty of time to enjoy a scenic route to Romsey. Sun is coming up, although it’s pretty foggy but the first leg of the ride takes us through some cracking roads and quaint villages, Hurstbourne Priors and KinGSA Somborne and down into Romsey.

Andy Storey joins us on the way, increasing us to (an ominous?) 13 riders. We stop at the Shell garage in Romsey and amazingly there’s not a throng waiting to fuel! We all (apart from those with massive tanks) top up, breathing a sigh of relief that we’ve at least got a decent amount of riding left to do before the juddering splutters hit.

Keith struts around again regaling all of us about his rather copious quantities of remaining fuel. Fuel’s topped off so we head off to Southampton and the Red Funnel ferry. We pull up to the ferry terminal, book in and line up in the loading bay just in time to see the 09:00 ferry depart. With a decent run up I was sure I could jump the gap. But that’s not behaviour becoming of a new Green Badge holder.

We had a decent bit of time to grab a brew and have a chat with the other riders and have a poke about each other’s bikes. This is my first time taking a bike on a ferry and I’m pleasantly surprised. We got preferential loading, straight in first and right up to the front ready for a quick unload. So up to the lounge for another brew and a comfy seat whilst we wait for the breakfast service.

Ferry pulls in just before 11:00. We all mount up and the ferry loaders let us off first onto nearly foreign shores! The weather has really brightened up now, the sun’s out and there’s a decent amount of blue sky. Entirely pleasant riding conditions.

This is my first time on the Isle of Wight and I must admit I’m fairly blown away. It’s stunning, green and verdant, lots of little villages. Roads are billiard table smooth. Scenery is a mix of rolling hills, farmland, cliffs and sandy beaches. Truly stunning. So much going on in such a small package.

We had a quick stop to admire the scenery overlooking Sandown Airport (but I’m sure it was just an excuse for those on adventure bikes to feel superior on a stony car park) and a quick reminder from Keith that he’s got a massive tank and loads of fuel left.

So far the group has been nice and tight, the marker system working a charm and Allie still stoically shoring us up seamlessly. It’s off to Sandown Airport (the long way) for lunch.

Keith’s a regular there as he often flies into the airfield. Lunch is cracking, they’ve got a load of covered outdoor seating and offer a decent selection of burgers, wood fired pizzas and a Sunday roast. My pizza was excellent.

To blow out the after lunch fug, Keith had lined up a treat. We rode the proposed Isle of Wight TT route. First leg was the narrow twisty bit parallel to the Military road. It’s tight, high verged and seemingly way too scary for a full on TT blast through it. It then opens up onto the Military Road.

Just. Wow.

isle of wight ferry

Perfect tarmac, stunning views of hills, cliffs and beaches. Very open so visibility is amazing and properly, stupidly fast. I definitely used all the 60 mph I was allowed.

This road is so good we did it twice, first heading southeast towards Blackgang, then a turn around and a wicked blast all the way from the southern tip of the island directly to the Needles on the western point.

This is where we had a slight wobble. In an unfortunate turn of events a random rider had done a U-turn in front of the tail end of our group and stopped at the side of the road opposite a junction we’d previously turned down. One of us saw this as a marker so turned off, causing a slight confusion among the rest of us at the tail end. It’s rather odd to see the chaps you’ve just turned around ride past you again in the opposite direction! By the time I got there the ‘phantom marker’ had gone so I blasted back down the Military Road again, with that niggling thought that I’d possibly gone wrong. Eventually I caught up another rider and breathed a sigh of relief when I saw a marker on the next junction. Bear in mind that this was a 13 mile leg with no marked junctions!

Once at the Needles we parked up (well, most of us anyway). Keith and Allie did a great job in scooping up the stragglers. We headed into the shops to grab an ice cream. Abject failure! The ice cream (and pretty much all other shops) were closed due to staff shortages. Another brew it was then!

isle of wight ferry

So, once we were all back together again and suitably caffeinated we got ready to set off. At this point Keith’s massive tank was still mostly full, but the rest of us were past the point of no return, we needed fuel. In Paul’s case his GSAXR-750 can barely make it into triple figures of range, this coupled with no fuel gauge meant he was squeaky bum on fuel so motion lotion was now a very high priority.

We’d seen numerous petrol stations on our travels, all of which were frequented by nothing but traffic cones. Finding fuel was going to be a bit exciting. We reckoned Paul had about 30 miles of fuel left. Keith’s plan had us hitting Newport to find fuel, 25 miles away. So off we went with Paul short shifting to 6th in about 50 meters.

In Newport we found the last remaining open petrol station, with a nicely established queue already formed and only 4 pumps left open. We all (apart from Keith) filled up again with a huge sigh of relief again. It turns out this station only had 30 minutes of fuel stocks left so we were rather lucky. All fuelled up, we headed back to East Cowes as the ferry home beckoned. Again we got preferential treatment, first on and straight to the front. Nice!

Dinner was being served so many pasties were consumed, mainly by a single individual! No names, what goes on on Red Funnel ferries stays on Red Funnel ferries. It’s now dark by the time we dock at Southampton. It’s been a long day. The plan is to have a marked ride out of the city to the motorway then everyone for themselves. A sound plan but marked rides on busy city roads at night is definitely tricky. One wrong turn from Keith saw us take the long way out of Southampton. We somehow managed to keep it together (nice one Allie!) despite me seeing Keith as a marker near the end and sailing past him! Luckily I stopped and let him through and we all got out.

A cracking day’s riding was topped off by a dark blast up the M3/A34 and home. I still can hear Keith regaling people of his massive tank. I don’t think he’s filled up yet. My first day with a TVAM long ride was a roaring success, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Everyone was great, Keith and Allie did a fantastic job of managing the ride. My first trip to the Isle of Wight will certainly not be my last, the Military Road is just plain epic.

Those in attendance: Keith Miller – Run leader & Massive Tanker, Allie Gane – (Trainee) Back Marker, Andy Storey (that psychedelic top is truly awful Andy), Bob Griffin, David Naylor, Jackie Parker, Jon Wiles, Mark Ward, Paul Gilmore, Paul Tsarion, Phil Donovan, Stephen Cudd and me, Matt Poole.

Matt Poole

Note: Total run was 207 miles, TT Circuit was 11.7 miles. Keith wrote that his fuel tank holds 293 miles, but by the way he was talking it I think he’s dropped a digit somewhere.

First published in Slipstream November 2021