The one thing I wasn’t prepared for was the music. When you set out on a 120 mile ride through the night, you naturally expect things to be cold, dark and quiet. This was no normal bike ride, however, but the Dunwich Dynamo. This annual event is organised in only the loosest of senses, but some details are consistent: set off from London Fields in east London at dusk and make your way to the Suffolk coast for some time around sunrise.
Since its inception, the Dynamo has grown to include over 2000 riders on all sorts of bikes and with all sorts of ways of celebrating the event. Portable speakers were a given and classic funk seemed to be a core choice. Other cyclists decided to cover their bikes in all sorts of fairy lights, neon flashing things and the brightest rear lights you’ve ever seen. Far from being a peaceful spin through the countryside, the Dunwich Dynamo is a party on wheels.
Before this year’s ride, I really wasn’t sure I’d enjoy it. After all, trading a nice warm bed for a bike saddle didn’t seem like a good trade. The prospect of riding without sleeping was also pretty unnerving, but there was nothing to do but give it a go. Setting off from London Fields was easy enough and I tagged onto a group of very serious looking riders from a south London bike shop. Heavy traffic heading out of the city meant I stuck with these folks for quite a while, but on the clear roads of Epping Forest they soon left me far behind.
Darkness fell and the roads changed from well-surfaced commuter routes to rougher country lanes, the route ahead marked by a trail of flashing red lights from riders in the distance. Usually sleepy villages hosted impromptu gatherings at each pub, with some riders making the ride into something of a pub crawl. Other villages featured kids selling lemonade by the side of the road, or just families gathered to wave us on and provide a much needed boost.
Although I’d set out on my own, I was almost never alone and often found an anonymous stranger or two to ride along with for a while. A food stop halfway at Sudbury fire station turned into an unexpected encounter with a few Bristol lads and a very tired chat about Temple.
After this point, things started to get a little vague as sleep deprivation truly set in. Memories between 3am and 6am are patchy at best, but I’m fairly sure I stopped to fix a puncture at some point. My legs were feeling tired but the challenge became a mental one, resisting the urge to sleep in a ditch by the side of the road.
Nonetheless, dawn soon came and dragged me along to the coast, and by 6:30am I was lying prostrate on the beach, enjoying the feeling of being stationary. Defying my own expectations, I’d made it (if not quite in time for the sunrise). The collective sense of achievement and exhaustion amongst the cyclists laid out along the beach was palpable, and I couldn’t help but feel part of a very strange, tired gang.
All that remained was to get home. I had planned on riding another 30 miles to the nearest mainline rail station, but the Bristol lads appeared again with the offer of a free coach ticket back to London. Buoyed with gratitude for both their kindness and the dryness of the coach, I settled in and dozed off to thoughts of what might be next. The Exmouth Exodus was coming up, so how hard could another night ride really be?