Dunwich Dynamo 2006.
Simple. A turn-up-and-go challenging slightly-scary free-entry overnight on-road just 120 mile bicycle ride.
It's not a race. It's unsupported. There'nearly all of us. There will be times when you wish you were tucked up in bed.
But you'll love it. The adrenalin buzz, the experience, the achievement will cling forever. For a lot of us it's almost the highlight of our bike year. That collective/supportive thrill is fabulous. Unmissable.
Minimal. Honest. Yes really. And we aim to keep it like that. Patrick Field's London School of Cycling has been in from the start and provides route maps and the half-way hall and food there.
London School of Cycling.
For the past few years Southwark Cyclists have organised the convoy back.
In 2005 around 550 did the ride. The biggest ever. Around 430 did it in 2004. 230 in 2003.
Who does it?
A few semi-pro cyclists, some fixed-wheelers, a whole fleet of low-life recumbents, several Bromptons, some tandems, but mostly your average bike-to-workers for whom this is long long ride. A daunting exciting challenge.
How long does it take?
Most get to Dunwich between 7am and 9am the next morning......about 10 hours. Depends on your pace and number of stops.
What's it like?
It's a friendly adventure with bike-minded people along surprisingly traffic free country lanes. It settle into bunches at various paces and people give each other the mental and, if possible, the mechanical support all the way to the sea. The glimpses of village Saturday night and the throbbing marquee in the middle of nowhere, bats, stars. The sense of very real achievement at the end is a huge lift that will stay with you. The worst bit is missing a night's sleep. But that's also the best bit. We ride into the sunrise.
We see them every year but I noticed them for the first time last year on the quiet road ahead. And I've checked. Serotin bats, the UK's largest, are our only ones that sometimes land to feed. It looks like these have learnt to find moths and beetles etc on the tarmac. They've got much better radar than hedgehogs so you needn't even try to avoid them. And no, of course they won't go for your jugular.
The next Dynamo, DD14, is on the weekend of 8/9 July 2006.
People have been riding London to Dunwich on the July Saturday nearest the full moon since 1993. Legend has it that a few half-civilised city couriers just headed east after work one balmy Clerkenwell Road Friday evening....and kept going till they hit the sea. Splash.
Where is Dunwich?
About 200km (120 miles) north east of London on the lonely Suffolk coast between Southwold and Aldeburgh right next to the internationally important Minnsmere bird reserve. The wind should push us there.
What is Dunwich?
A thousand years ago wool-rich Dunwich almost rivalled London. Coastal erosion means the medieval metropolis is now half a mile offshore, on a quiet night they say you can hear the watery tolling of the lost church bells. Nothing stays the same, the ride gets shorter every year.
Where is the start?
The ride meets at the Pub on the Park, Martello Street, London Fields, Hackney, London E8 (020 7275 9586). Map. Bikes everywhere. Bemused locals. (I'll do a feeder ride from Greenwich that evening. Meet 6pm at Cutty Sark Gardens. The Greenwich Foot Tunnel lifts normally shut at 6pm, cross over to Island Gardens before then and wait there).
8pm for a 9 pm start. That's PM. Saturday evening. 8 July 2006. Careful, that start time isn't precise, people start to leave when they feel like it after 8pm. A sort of momentum develops like bats from a cave, and suddenly it's gone. Be careful out there. Be very aware that the first few kilometres follow very inner-city streets that's never been a problem until last year when a lateish starter in a group of three got his bike taken from him by a few youths. Look out for each other and maybe leave your alone moments for the greener bits later.
How do I follow the route?
You'll be given a route sheet at the start (minimum £1 donation to help cover some costs) but the route is unsigned. OS Travel Map Road 8 (south-east England including London) covers the whole route. ISBN 0319 230813. We'll try and put some night-light jamjar lanterns out along part of the way. Follow the flashing red-lights ahead. That memory will linger.
What's the route like?
It leaves London surprisingly quickly and slightly confusingly, is all on tarmac, and once through boy-racer bouncer-guarded road-pub Epping Forest, it's mostly unlit county lanes all the way with a few villages and small towns. Moreton, Leaden Roding, Great Dunmow, Great Bardfield, Finchingfield, Castle Headingham, Sudbury, Great Waldingfield, Needham Market, Framlingham, Rendham, Darsham, Westleton...
A few short sharp hills and more steady climbs, nothing very serious, but mostly very flat. Tarmac throughout.
What do I need?
Lights. The clear sky requested, last Thursday's full moon, and lots of stars out there make it surprisingly undark. If you use city LED's you'll sometimes want to tuck in behind someone with a beam..... it can be dark out there, unnerving in the gravely tree tunnels. Bring spare batteries, a pump, a spare inner tube or two.
Around 60 miles out the village hall at Great Waldingfield is specially opened by lovely people and you can buy hot drinks and good basic food there. Best avoid the siren call of the open pubs. Unless of course you need coffee/loo. A few all-night garages can be handy.
Note this carefully please: this is a turn up and go ride and we intend to keep it that way. We've no way then of knowing how many people will want feeding here in the early hours. We can't of course afford to get food in and then not sell it. We'll aim to feed 500 people then, the big majority of riders. But no more. Please make sure then you bring something to eat with you anyway, but especially in case there's nothing left.
What happens if my bike or me break down?
There's no following magic bus to sweep you up or mend your bike but fellow riders can often work wonders. The ride is unsupported. You are on your own. If you're in trouble, expect help from fellow riders. But if you just get too tired or a knee gives out or whatever, then you'll have to find a lift or cab to get you to the nearest station.
At the finish?
The steep shingle beach makes for great cleansing wake-up swimming. (I take a change of clothes and then, squeaky clean with a salt-caked hair-cut, get accused of not doing the ride. Shocking).
The very good Flora beach cafe opens specially for us at 6am (some get in sooner, don't bank on it) for cooked breakfasts, and turns back into a fish and chip shop for lunch. Most then snooze on the shingle a little, some then have a beer or two. The pub opens at 12 noon.
How to get home?
A few seasoned riders just turn round and spin back to London. Most get the coach or train. Some just cycle up the coast for a long weekend.
The nearest station is Darsham, four miles from Dunwich. The single fare to London Liverpool Street is £29 on the day, less in advance. Trains (this was correct today as I write this but may change) are at 8.43am (first one) then every two hours. The timetabled journey time is 2 hours 7 minutes. There's no warning of engineering works yet but Sunday is the favourite day for them and coached sections that might have no room for bikes. Ipswich station is 30 miles away and has 3 trains and hour. Journey time of about 75 minutes.
We recommend the coaches for the snooze home. We put the bikes in furniture vans with their professional packers. Tandems and recumbents fit easily. If you're worried about your pristine paint job then bring a wrapping sheet or blanket or similar but we've asking the firm to bring lots of cardboard etc. We work the coach on a cost-covering not-for-profit basis, transparent books. Any surplus gets split between the London School of Cycling and Southwark Cyclists to help pay for the glow-lights and the food. If a loss develops, I'm in trouble. No refunds though, that would make organising all impossible. The coaches and lorries loads from 11am and leaves Dunwich Beach at 1pm and get to West Smithfield, London EC1 (Smithfield Market) about 2 hours later.
And sorry, no, we can't add in extra stops. (Note that 11am loading start is new to ensure a 1pm departure. And this year I'll ensure the van drivers have maps and don't get lost!). Some of us then find a pub. Optional extra.
Coach tickets are £14 if paid for on or before 30 May. And £21 afterwards and on the day. Late booking costs more to encourage early booking and easier estimating of numbers. It's not easy getting more capacity at the last minute. Early booking is advised....seat numbers are of course limited. We try to ensure there's room for all who turn up, but cannot of course promise that. (Note: some ask that the coaches leave much earlier. The convoy is for those who want to swim, eat, snooze, relax, savour the moment, not rush. Hence the leisurely timetable). Buy your seats via Paypal. Overpayment donations split as above.
Be nice. Be considerate.
And, seriously, we got two sensible complaints after the 2004 ride. Our first, and last hopefully. Please please remember that we're riding through villages. People will be asleep. Don't chat loudly under village bedrooms at 3am in the morning or at any other hour.
My Survival tips:
Do some longish rides beforehand. Southwark and Greenwich Cyclists do a lot: see Rides and Events on this website.
Don't overdo the alcohol etc for a few days beforehand.
Pack spare layers of clothes, it can be very warm or chilly or damp or wet.
Money. Always handy
Jeans have lumpy under-seams that you don't notice for a few miles. Then you notice.
Tools: at least a pump and a couple of spare inner tubes. Tyre levers too. Make sure your bike is in good nick. Give it a good clean and service a few days before. On the day, give it another look and, for example, flip it over and check the tyres for those infiltrating little bits of glass. If you've been thinking about getting new tyres, splash out before the ride.
Lights: of course. Dynamo? Yes. LED's can last all night, but bring spare batteries anyway, tuck in behind someone with a beam for those tree-tunnel lane stretches.
Saddle? Apply Vaseline, cream or similar if/before your bits get sore. Recumbent riders just recline.
Carbo-loading works for me: a huge pasta meal the night before. A friend of mine swears by cutting out caffeine for a few days beforehand so that the 3am coffee really jolts.
Drink water before you get thirsty, snack and nibble before you get hungry. That way you'll avoid hitting the spirit-draining brick wall of no energy.
Don't sprint off with the skinny greyhounds unless you are one. Settle into a group doing a pace you like. If it turns out slow, dance in the pedals and catch a quicker group. Bit too fast? Drop off the group and wait to be caught up.
How was 2005 for me? Wonderful as ever. Bike was perfect. Much better than 2004 when I snapped my rear derailleur 40 miles out and rode there on one gear.
4 March 2005
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