They weave their way down the dark lanes towards us, outlining the sweeping contours of the suffolk countryside. The lights draw nearer, their sources grow in silhouette before the welcome sight of another human being is fully formed in your weary gaze.
Despite any form of proper introductions — there is little energy for formalities — you are instantly bonded with any soul you encounter this evening. You are all in it together, a brother or sisterhood of the road. You have all agreed that you will spend your own free time cycling through the night to get to a beach you have previously never heard of, dismissing the easy lights of the capital — a night in the saddle rather than a night on the town. You exchange pleasantries and stories from the road. These stories will often sound as if they were formed many years ago, and tend to have the grandeur of much more deserving tales, when in fact they have only recently occurred if not but an hour a go. However, with nothing other that the monotony of your front light and the soothing sounds of whirring rubber on tarmac, you have had time to hone and craft your self-appointed legend.
With the bacon inhaled and the tea (or coffee) lovingly savoured, it is time to remount and continue your journey ever onwards. Farewells are punctuated with gestures of good will or with a light hearted joke at our own ‘ridiculous’ expense — who in their right mind would give up their cosy Saturday night lives in London for this?! With that, a final, ‘see you at the beach,’ is offered despite both parties knowing the likelihood of ever speaking to one another again is slim. But you have shared that moment, that little isolated pocket of mutual respect and understanding.
As the sound of the generators fade to nothing but a memory of warm tea urns and pork based treats you are once more alone — just you, your bike, a tiny beam of light and 120 miles of British night for company.
It is tricky to explain this unspoken bond. If you are a cyclist in London you already exist in one of two categories — You have either done the Dunwich Dynamo or you haven’t. I often see similar conversations, if both parties involved have taken part then they swap stories of previous years or of course ‘the weather.’ If only one party has tasted the bittersweet Dynamo fruits then the other will proceed to try to explain how great an experience it is and that the other should definitely give it a go, but they can never quite find the words.
Of course we know why we do it, but it is very difficult to encourage others, the non-experienced, the ‘Dynamo Virgins’ that any of this makes sense, but it is something that I would recommend anyone who has a vague interest in cycling experience at least once.
The Dunwich Dynamo is something special. It is a non-organised, organised bike ride. It is no way a race — Sure some groups do race, even I was racing if only against myself. But en mass people do it for a multitude of reasons, racing is very low on the agenda. This is part of why the Dynamo attracts thousands (an increasing number annually) of riders from all areas of the cycling world. A friend of mine once described the depart of the Dynamo as a festival but for bikes. If it were a festival it would definitely be akin to Glastonbury — high praise indeed, but Glastonbury is another rare gathering where you are likely to encounter every rung of the social ladder all in one day. On the Saturday closest to the full moon in July, characters of all shapes and sizes — from the lycra clad club cyclists to the ‘give it a go’ adventurers on whatever bike they could find gather in London Fields, next to Pub On The Park. If one wanted a cross section of how healthy the bike scene is in London then London Fields on the night of the Dynamo would be a great start.
Riding out of the capital is nothing new, it’s familiar territory to anyone who cycles in London. The streets are busy and you are always attentive. But as the road draws out beneath your wheels, the stops become less frequent and before know it you are surrounded by the towering trees of Epping rather than the tower blocks of East London. From here on in the hills are rolling and the views span far to the horizon. Like most long journeys you settle into patterns of dividing the time into smaller chunks consisting of rewards, conversations and small personal games – My favourite being ‘just what is that clicking coming from my drive train’ – turns out I had threaded my chain incorrectly through the rear derailleur. I was amazed that it lasted the night, so to apologise for my ignorant incompetence I treated Susan (my bike, #MyBikeSusan) to a brand new hollow pin chain when the chain inevitably failed.
I had learnt from my previous year that food becomes an increasingly important resource on the road. Not only does it provide energy but it also serves as a way to pass the time — waiting for the next socially acceptable time to snack, a source of great discussion – ‘Which is better, firm & crunchy or soft and supple (in relation to energy bars) and comparing how many energy bars or gels you have left in comparison to your riding buddies.
This year however food became the origin of one of my favourite memories of the ride. After reassuring ourselves that official, non-official feed stop was nearby for a good hour, we succumbed to the idea that maybe we didn’t know what we were talking about and retreated to our phones to seek the answer. After a swift bit of detective work we discovered that we had in fact missed our chance to stop for food, and if we were to head back a huge up hill slog towered over our path. Luckily we spied a fire station in the previous village that looked like it was about to have a cook out, so we rolled back to check it out. It turns out the fireman saw the riders in the night every year and decide to put on a barbecue to raise money for the fire station and also feed the hungry cyclists passing by. The friendly conversation, warm tea, fresh cheese burgers and fire engines. Helped us forget about missing the feed stop and raised our spirits – after all by missing the feed we had cruised past half way and who wants to sit in a small hall full of smelly cyclists when we you can hang out in a fire station full of fire engines!
Into the night we rode, stomachs satisfied and water replenished. Down to the business of racking up the miles.
We had left an hour early in anticipation of a slow ride. After last year I presumed we would be caught somewhere soon after halfway. However two thirds into the ride and it was just the three of us int he dark lanes. It was peaceful but quite un-nerving. I missed the tea lights of the previous year, whose steady flames reassured riders they were going the right way and were placed at junctions by some mysterious god-like rider (or so the legend says). With no such visual guides or more experienced riders we were left trusting my newly acquired Garmin (named shelby), who’s beeps started as re-assuring but became increasingly frustrating when ‘he’ decided ‘he’ was bored with lighting up for junctions and in fact would prefer to beep whenever the hell ‘he’ felt like it.
Soon though I started to recognise landmarks and even lanes. I had been here before, but it was different. I swear it was lighter last year. I dismissed it to my mind playing tricks on me, but it kept happening – ‘I know this road! But it’s still dark?’ I ride next to Will who I rode the Dynamo with last year to check to see if I do still possess a sound mind. He has been thinking the same thing, we’re not quite sure what has happened. I do some quick math with the aid of Shelby’s fading light and I conclude that we are not far from the beach, and sunrise is still hours away.
We had set off early so that we would make it in plenty of time for our return coach at 09:00 — thinking that maybe there would be an hour or so to kill, but in fact we were on schedule to arrive at the beach around three in the morning. It turns out Wilson’s (our other riding companion, a Dynamo virgin himself) ‘naive’ estimations of an arrival time of around four o’clock wasn’t so ridiculous after all.
As our elevation began to drop and the lanes got narrower we began to feel how close we were. It was only now that the ‘amateur’ pelotons started to catch us. These highly drilled teams had stormed it all the way to London and it is quite the sight to see whipping past you on a dark Dunwich lane. I didn’t feel my usual pang of competitiveness when someone passes me on the road. I was very proud of our small breakaway group (The Bosom Bicycle Club), we may not be the first to the beach, but we are far from the best cyclists and we had vastly improved on last years average pace and we had done it in a fairly jovial fashion.
Eventually I felt my tyres buzz faster as we entered the final decent to the beach, fully tucked in the most aero position I could muster of course. We rolled into Dunwich beach some seven hours after setting off from London (including tea and bacon stops) which is two and half hours quicker than our previous years effort. All that was left to do was to have one last cup of tea, a sausage roll and to watch the sun come up.
Despite the achy pains in the week that followed, and that it took me the whole of that week to return to a regular sleeping pattern, all of us have already begun talking about next years Dynamo. There are even vicious rumours of cycling back to London from the beach…
Words & Pictures — Jack Sadler