The Dunwich Dynamo 2014 . . . Julian Claxton tackled the cult night ride from London to Suffolk
PUBLISHED: 12:09 02 September 2014
Jostling for space on the grass at London Fields, groups of cyclists sat, drank, chatted and met new friends.
The atmosphere was one of complete relaxation. An elderly guy wearing a rather fine 1960s cycling jersey brought his beer and squeezed next to our group.
“Remember, Dude, pretending this is a road race makes you look like a dufus,” came his fine words of wisdom. He handed me a direction sheet. In bold lettering it said: In England they ask ‘Is it for charity?’ In France, Spain, Italy or Flanders they murmur ‘What beautiful madness’.
Before long we were rolling our way out of London, through the darkness of Epping forest several miles into the Dunwich Dynamo. A semi-organised get up and go cycling event, it leaves London Fields in Hackney and arrives in Dunwich in the early hours the next morning. The Dynamo originated in 1993 when a group of cycle messengers decided to embark on a spur of the moment ride to the Suffolk Coast. Since that moment the ride has blossomed.
Forget about route maps, signposts and support, this is a ride about the pleasure of cycling, meeting new people and having great fun doing something utterly pointless but extremely rewarding.
Year on year the number of cyclists taking part is growing. Somewhere in the region of 1,500 took to the road this year, riding anything and everything, from the latest carbon frames, to penny farthings and folding bikes. It is so much more than yet another cycling event – it is a ride that has become part of history and attracts a wonderfully diverse group of people.
Following the now endless trail of flashing red lights, the first village pub en route was packed with cyclists, some enjoying a beer, others opting for coffee and cake. Stopping to take a photo, I soon lost my cycling mates in the flashing light frenzy, which wasn’t a problem. There were so many happy smiling faces conversations soon flowed.
Talk about bikes, travel and news filled the air as I wound my way through the undulating Essex countryside. The music of the Clash swirled along the lanes, joined by a cyclist on a lovely ‘80s steed. Strapped to the back was a beat box, pounding incredible sounds. “Free ride man,” he shouted as he came alongside, singing away.
Groups of people came out in the villages to witness the event, waving and shouting words of encouragement. Even nearing midnight people cheered, waved and provided some much needed encouragement.
The cyclists began to thin out slightly, some choosing to spend time at the impromptu food stalls that people had set up in their gardens, offering a wonderful array of home cooked goodies, while others continued into the darkness, the odd red flicker radiating through the eerie mist that was rolling across the Suffolk countryside. Occasionally at small cross roads the route was lit by the odd tea light – no need for brash signs, but instead subtle pointers, fitting in perfectly with the ethos of the ride.
Conversations began to take on new forms as the night wore on and morning beckoned. News and travel stories were long gone, replaced by abstract tales. Others focused on getting to the coast.
“I don’t care if it’s raining, I’m going for a dip,” said one rider. Stopping for a coffee and a bacon roll in a pop up tent in the middle of a field, everyone was focused on getting to the end. Stories of great cake and delicious breakfasts filled the air as the anticipation grew.
The roads around Framlingham began to feel familiar – I knew the end was in sight. Heads down and pedalling faster, everyone now just wanted to get to the beach. Through Westleton, the sky was lit up by magnificent sheet lighting over the sea.
Pulling into the beach car park, I forgot about the long queue for a coffee and headed for the beach instead, where a handful of souls were sat, watching the storm unfold in front of their eyes. It might have been 3.40am, but the area was a hive of activity. Some celebrated, others cried, for each and every person the journey meant something.
As the storm drew closer, the rain began, a few spots then a torrent. It was an arduous 20-mile cycle ride home for me, and I arrived ready to tackle another not-so-healthy breakfast.