The Dunwich Dynamo and I have a fair amount of history, until this year I’d set off 4 times from London Fields in Hackney and had so far only made the beach at Dunwich in Suffolk a single time. For a variety of legitimate reasons, ranging from a glut of punctures using up all the spares to the early symptoms of Guillain-Barre Syndrome, somehow getting to the beach was a struggle.
The Dunwich Dynamo is an overnight 110 mile ride leaving East London at about 8pm on the Saturday in July closest to the full moon and arriving at Dunwich shortly after dawn the following morning. The route is gently rolling with no proper hills, just a couple of leg warmers every now and again. All sorts take part, the club cyclists rush past early on, the decent roadies following them shortly afterwards and then onto a myriad of contraptions as varied as an antique butcher’s bike advertising a pub, a fleet of stepwalker bikes and some guys on a vintage singlespeed tandem.
The last one was us as it happens in 2015, an Ebay hunt last year made us find this tandem that looked like it had been in a barn for at least 20 years being somewhat generous. My friend George who joined me on the tandem, handed it over to his dad who shot-blasted it and painted it black (I believe there was only one colour) whereupon we got it back in bits and put it back together. The idea to build it as a singlespeed (that’s one gear to ride in, but not fixed) was partly out of laziness as it’s just much easier to build and a lack of time before the off last year. We managed to ride around 50 miles of the Dynamo before coming across an issue where the rear wheelnuts didn’t hold the rear wheel in place anymore so we had to keep getting off and re-tightening, only for it happen again shortly afterwards. Our night ended in the luxurious surroundings of Colchester railway station waiting for the first train back to London.
2016 Dunwich Dynamo
Onto 2016 – new wheelnuts to avoid the previous issue were in place, a test ride highlighted an issue with cranks but tightening some bolts sorted that. To start the day off, I had to ride the tandem on my own from home to Stratford upon Avon station, not a problem but you do look a lonely soul riding a tandem on your own, to meet up with my tandem-mate George and Rich, who was riding a sensible bike. To look the part, George and I had forgone the regular cycling apparel and instead had donned waistcoats and flatcaps, presumably in an effort to audition for Oliver on the West End.
We were in high spirits as we left Marylebone station, only to find that Rich’s front tyre had decided to give up the ghost after being put on public transport. A new tube was put in but then George’s pump had an argument with the valve on the new tube where it unscrewed the valve and let all the hard-earned air out of the tyre. Some swearing and more pumping and eventually it was alright. We encountered the next issue straight away, in preparing for the ride, I’d put the Garmin GPS’s SD card in my laptop to upload the route…and then left it in the laptop at home. No route and no map is not a good situation, so we ended up taking the SD card from Rich’s phone and going to a friend of George’s who lived conveniently round the corner from the starting point. We borrowed a laptop to download UK maps and the Dunwich Dynamo route file onto the SD card to then put in the Garmin. This in itself was trouble, the Garmin is highly strung when attached by a cable so when an accidental touch happened, 25 minutes were spent trying to get it to connect again. Eventually, some food was had and we were good to go.
Starting the Dunwich Dynamo 2016
The strategy we had meant leaving at 7pm, before the majority, as we knew we were booked onto a Midday train from Ipswich the next day, this meant cycling the full 110 miles and then doing another 35 miles on top – 145 miles within 17 hours – in theory manageable, but fearing the worst and being comfortably the furthest George and Rich had ever ridden, some leeway was wise. Rich successfully made it past the 50 metre mark which was far as a friend of a friend got last year before trashing his chain to pieces and we were soon heading out of London with a loaf of Soreen falling out of a pocket at some traffic lights the only mishap. This whole stage was smoothly navigated, with not many people out yet we weren’t held up in traffic or at lights so much and the miles ticked by.
There are a number of pubs en-route and once outside of London, there are some nice village ones which are aware of the ride and set themselves up to cater for cyclists. Normally by the time I’ve arrived at them, so has everyone else and they’re rammed. This year however, we coasted up to the pub in the village of Moreton and were able to easily claim a table outside to relax at with a briefly earned pint after 20 miles. We ended up chatting with someone for a while who had slogged round on the butcher’s bike on last year’s Dunwich Dynamo, which when shown a picture George recognised, this year however he’d chosen to ride a more sensible bike.
We trundled on, recognising places as we went from last year, each one was a mental tick of progression. The previous year we’d had to fix a puncture in Great Dunmow, this year we just sailed through it without a problem, other than missing the turn but realising the error within 20 metres. There were a couple of tealights out on the pavement which are an unofficial route guide and only seem to exist on this early part, in the dead of night you’re fully on your own. Our next pub stop was in the village of Great Bardfield which again is normally a very popular stop but we were able to go straight to the bar. Last year it was here that Luke waited for us when we’d had to stop, so it was very familiar.
By now it was around 11pm, properly dark but we passed the point where we had both got sick of the tandem as it became unreliable the last time. Past the point where we called Luke to say we were bailing and then past the point we turned off the route for good on our way to Colchester. Before we knew it we were in Sudbury, where Luke was (20 miles ahead) when we gave up. We were into uncharted territory! Incidentally the descent into Sudbury was where we managed our max speed for the night of 36.9mph, freewheeling at that speed on a heavy bike and two of us was fun and a real test of trust for George behind that his driver could handle it (obviously I could).
Nearing the end of the Dunwich Dynamo
We had two stops close together around 80 and 95 miles in. The first was a food stop, a chance to eat a gel or two and replenish, as well as a chance for my hands to get a rest – despite my best efforts the handlebars were like a pair of crutches, all your weight going through the soft part of your palms. The second was a relievement stop, mixed in with some amateur photography to keep the spirits up. Figured a sturdy fence to lean the camera on with some time delay of passing cyclists and their lights might create a nice picture. It wasn’t too bad for a phone camera, but a proper camera would’ve done it more justice, that and some fancier more colourful lights passing us there.
We were now on the last stretch to the beach, the night sky was turning into an inky navy rather than the outright black of night, dawn was coming. We found ourselves in a bit of a back and forth with 3 members of West Suffolk Wheelers, on the flat and in particular the descents we’d come flying past only for them to come past on any uphill part (our lack of gears starting to hurt the later into the night we got). I also had a technique at T-junctions of cutting up the outside because no car lights shining clearly meant no traffic, whilst we did repeatedly overtake a lot of people it also meant we didn’t have to come to a complete stop and begin our starting procedure. The very final stretch I recognised through the dunes above Dunwich and upped the tempo, we went flying past them for a final time, round a couple of bends and then descended down to the beach and the finish. As we took our gloves off, the first sliver of sun appeared above the sea on the horizon.
A café on the beach opens very early and I took the chance to have a sausage roll and a bacon roll, absolutely perfect and very well earned. After eating we took a stroll to the beach itself and lay down amongst the other cyclists. We all nodded off at some point and had a very short nap. Being still though meant the cold had started to creep in and with a train to catch, we had around 7 hours to do the 35 miles to the train station. Should be easy.
Getting home from the Dunwich Dynamo
The climb up from the beach was hard and we’d gone 10 miles when the Garmin said it had low battery. This meant an enforced stop in the village of Snape where we could sit down for a bit and let it charge from my battery pack. We all took the chance to have a nap on benches, looking like extremely well dressed vagabonds. 35 minutes later we on our way and didn’t stop again until Ipswich. We had a bit of a navigation error, where it wanted to take us onto the dual-carriageway A12 and I didn’t, so we ended up on a grass road behind some houses until it eventually ran out, we ended up cutting through an estate and onto a cycle path to Ipswich. We had only our second get off and walk moment up a steep hill out of Woodbridge, but we made it with plenty of time to spare. Helpfully the train staff allowed us to get onto an earlier train and we all slept on the way into London.
Cycling across London we had our final mishap, someone put too much power through his cranks and a bolt apparently came off from the cotterpin holding them in place. This was right outside Kings Cross station, I had to cycle the last 250 metres or so with very very offset cranks – instead of a 9:15 clock hands position, they were now at something like a 1:15 which felt very odd. They didn’t come loose so we managed to finish, I was the lucky one who then had to solo ride the tandem (with its unintentional new setup) the 7 miles home from Stratford station. I tried to stay awake, repeatedly failed, burnt a pizza by falling asleep and then eventually slept 12 hours that night.