The Dunwich Dynamo is a 120 mile / 193 kilometre night ride from east London to the lost city of Dunwich on the Suffolk Coast. It’s a well organised but unsupported, free, turn-up-and-ride event that usually runs on the Saturday night nearest a full moon in July.
It was a night of firsts for me – on June 30 / July 1 I rode my first century and my first Dunwich Dynamo. It was also the maiden voyage for my recently built Dolan Preffisio – my first road bike.
I got to London Fields in Hackney before 8pm after riding over with a guy I met on the LFGSS forum that afternoon. I heard there were over 1,000 cyclists going on the DunRun and London Fields was packed with cyclists and cycles of all shapes and sizes. I’d been told the route was flat, which is why it’s popular with fixie riders, but it’s not flat. It’s mostly rolling hills. Nothing major, but I was glad to have the freewheel at some points.
Some things I was glad I pre-empted:
Travel light – a backpack will probably give you back ache after a while. I wore a Camelbak, a bum-bag and stuffed my jersey pockets with enough supplies. I think I carried the perfect amount and was pretty comfortable. I got a pump, basic tools (tyre levers, allen keys, puncture kit etc.) in the Camelbak bag alongside the water bladder, and stuffed my pockets with a shower proof top; and food; then lashed a couple of spare inner tubes under my saddle.
Dress well: Padded shorts hell yeah! Gloves with gel pads I was grateful for too. I got away with shorts, a short sleeve base layer and a long sleeve jersey. Think it was the perfect set up as it wasn’t too hot when riding and after the sun came up, but at night the temperature dropped and it got pretty cold whenever we stopped.
Bring lots of water: I had the almost full Camelbak and two bottle cages, which amounted to over three litres of water. That saw me all the way through, although there are spots to refill on the way.
Bring lots of food: There are food stops, but expect long queues and for the suppliers to run out of stuff. It’s unsupported and these people are just helping of their own accord. I packed a couple of sandwiches; loads of flapjacks; and a few carb gels I had left over from the marathon. Again that got me to the end.
Decent lights and spare batteries: We set off in the light and I just had my blinkers on at first but by the time we hit Epping Forest the tree cover just shut the last of the sun out and I hit my first descent in pitch darkness. That was pretty scary as I couldn’t see any potholes in front of me. Fortunately I had bought a 1W front light (Mako NiteRider) which did a pretty good job after I switched it on. You really need a beam to see up ahead, and backlights as well for those behind you. Changed batteries half way to keep a good beam.
Some things I wish I had pre-empted:
Fatter tyres. I was on my 23c x 700c road tyres, which while fine, left a lot to be desired in terms of vibration damping. I think I’d roll with slightly fatter ones next time to stave off the numbness in the hands.
New saddle: As it was a new build it had a new saddle. A hard leather job by Spa Cycles. Kind of like a cheaper Brooks. It wasn’t broken in so my arse was well sore by the end. Still, that softened the bad boy up a bit and I do still like their saddles.
Glasses: The wind constantly blowing in your eyes can make them pretty sore, especially as you’ve been awake for a good day or so. By the time the sun came up in the countryside I had major hayfever issues too and tearing, blurring eyes for a good couple of hours. Cycling glasses next time.
So we headed out around 8pm. Riding through the city limits made it pretty difficult to stay in packs, due to traffic and lights. I lost the group I’d tagged along with almost immediately. Although I had a route map I just followed the peloton and hooked up with the few faces I knew at one of the stops later.
Most of the ride is quiet country roads where you just have to be aware of potholes and blind corners, but there’s one part on the London/Essex border, just as night falls where it can get a bit hairy with lots of boy racers giving the riders verbal as they speed past in their souped up small cars. The rest of the ride is just a case of being courteous to other road users, but be extra vigilant around here.
There are several stops on the way: a few pubs you will hit before closing time on the way out; then several families who live en-route will be found grilling bacon sandwiches and burgers in their front yards in the small hours of the morning. At the half way point there’s a scout hut or something that is open to serve up soup and coffee and of course the pub and cafe on the beach at the end. Everything is very reasonably priced, but of course expect queues and don’t count on there being anything left, better to bring something just in case.
I’d say at least half the ride is done in the dark. While the open sky above is great, visibility of the road surface is not. On the plus side, you can’t see the gradients coming up either. If you’re shit at reading maps, like me, stick with a group or wait at junctions. You’ll also find some kind souls have gone ahead and are lighting candles in jam jars to light your way at crossroads.
That said, I reckon I did a good chunk of it riding alone. The group I knew were going at a good pace and a lot of other packs I joined for a short while then pushed on ahead. Never underestimate the benefit of tucking in behind another pack though and letting them tow you for a bit. Just tag along with any riders leaving the feed stops.
It’s hard graft at times, especially when you think you’re nearing the end and realise you’ve got another 40 miles ahead. But sometimes I was surprised that we were cracking out 20 miles in between stops. We covered the whole route in about 12 hours, but I reckon that was only about eight hours in the saddle, rolling along a a steady 15/16Mph or so.
I didn’t do any training whatsoever, pretty much relying on what was left of my marathon legs to get me through, although the route isn’t tough at all. It’s just long. I don’t think at any point I was ready to give up and I was so pleased that the bike turned out to be comfortable. There were people of all sorts of abilities doing it. I even passed one guy a couple of times who was on a Brompton, dressed in winter coat, ski gloves, suit trousers and had a briefcase on his rack, liek he’d got caught up in the pack as he was commuting home. Brilliant.
Riding into the sunrise is pretty awesome and I really enjoyed the early morning part of the ride on the final stages. Some people hit the beach when it was still pretty dark and had to sit in the cold for hours. Getting to the seaside when the sun was up and warm was perfect for me.
By the time I hit the pebbles of Dunwich I was feeling knackered but great. Really enjoyed it and kudos to the organisers for such a great job. Met lots of great people too.
Of course, then you’ve got to get home. Fortunately, if you get in early enough, you can reserve a ticket on the coach back, and space for your bike in the truck. They put on several coaches and trucks this year and the cost was less than the train back I reckon. It definitely takes the stress out of getting home. Although there is that last bit of cycling to do once you get dropped at Tower Bridge on Sunday afternoon.
Some shaky cam footage I took of the ride.