In England they ask: “Is it for charity?”
In Flanders, France, Italy and Spain they say: “What beautiful madness.”
From the 2013 Dunwich Dynamo route instructions.
The Dunwich Dynamo is an overnight bike ride of about 200km from north-east London to the coastal city of Dunwich, in East Anglia. I’d read about it on the web somewhere in February, when I was researching cycling in London. It seemed like a fun thing to waste some energy on, and when July came around I managed to convince two friends and my sister to join me.
We’d left late – my fault, as I had forgotten to prepare my gear – and arrived for the start in Hackney after a 20km ride that involved crossing central London on a busy Saturday evening. Despite being an hour and a half late, there were fortunately still plenty of cyclists around the pub in the park. The Dynamo Dunwich isn’t organised – it’s just an annual ride from a group of cyclists that got out of hand – but there are some food stands along the route and there are organised buses back to London. We managed to get our hands on some route descriptions, which proved themselves very useful later on.
It was already dark by the time we left, and for the first while we didn’t see any other cyclists. The first bit of the route was as frustrating as the ride to the pub earlier in the evening – an endless stream of cars, and traffic lights every couple of hundred meters. It took an hour or so before we’d left everything you could possibly call London behind, and were out on the dark country roads.
Soon enough we ran into other cyclists, and then more. Before long, we were part of a long snake of endless blinking red and green lights, contracting and expanding as we climbed and descended hill after hill. We had kept it basic – bright front light and decent back light – but some people had gone out of their way with the light shows on their bikes. The atmosphere was friendly and chatty here, and no longer as hushed as back in the city. Everybody who stopped for a break was asked whether they were okay or needed help by passersby.
After 30 or 40 kilometers we arrived at our first stop: a small village of which I forgot the name, with two pubs packed with cyclists. Not long after that we had our first flat tire, and if that wasn’t bad enough we had to watch all the cyclists we had recently overtaken pass us. After fixing the tire, we paddled on on our own until we hit the first semi-official stop. When we got there it turned out that they had just run out of food and drinks, and the same thing happened at the next stop where somebody was selling hot dogs. As B. was trying to fix the bump in his recently replaced back tire with one of those crappy small bicycle pumps, he accidentally broke the valve and so we had to use our second and last spare tube.
We hit the 85km marker and not soon after, dawn set in. Unfortunately it was kind of drowsy and grim – there were clouds everywhere, and it had started drizzling – so we didn’t actually get to see the sun rise above the horizon. We grabbed breakfast at a truck stop and then continued on. At this point we also started getting cross traffic – some cyclists apparently were tired of the Dunwich beach already and had decided to paddle back to London.
At the next stop we were quick enough to grab the last cups of tea,. The last 20 miles were fairly uneventful. We got to the beach some time around eleven, much later than we had originally estimated. We had a quick glance at the sea, bought an ice cream and then hopped on the bus back to Londinum.
It was a great night, although it seems more like a dream than a memory now, because of my lack of sleep. It had a special kind of atmosphere. I’ll certainly do it again next year, and perhaps I’ll ride back as well.