gone with the lamp-lighters and cinema projectionists

It’s entirely appropriate that a frivolous event – a night ride and beach party – has origins shrouded in mystery.

Barry Mason had flair. It was he who invented the Dunwich Dynamo’s creation myth; that a bunch of cycle messengers set-off after an evening drinking session and didn’t stop until they reached the North Sea. Barry always prefaced this confection with ‘legend has it…’ but despite the caveat his sticky tale passed into history.
It’s entirely appropriate that a frivolous event – a night ride and beach party – has origins shrouded in mystery. The problem with Barry’s story is that it may – over time – lead those without much adult memory of the Twentieth Century to misunderstand what those times were really like.

In the years when the DD was a pay-to-enter event, selling enough tickets to cover fixed costs was the difference between profit and loss. Down at Critical Mass sometime in the mid-Nineties, diligently passing out DD flyers with a coupon on the bottom, a scruffy young man took one, read it carefully and asked:- “Do any couriers do this?” Then answered his own question. “No courier would ever do that.”

His declaration was over-statement. There were some bike messengers who rode for fun, but in those days – when delivering letters and packages on a bicycle was a real job, not a lifestyle – many more of them hung up their bikes at the weekends, just as toilet cleaners put down their brushes and carpenters their chisels. On Saturday nights some of the most adept messengers travelled by taxi.

For the benefit of teenage readers; a coupon is a form cut from a newspaper, magazine, leaflet or flyer (a flyer is a promotional piece of paper like the ones promoting industrial pizza that still get shoved through letter boxes)

In olden days people cut coupons out, filled them in and sent them – in paper envelopes with cheques or postal-orders – something like Paypal only slower and more concrete.

Email, electronic artwork, email attachments, automated bank transfers, Wi-Fi; it’s easy to forget how fresh this stuff is. Every kilobyte, one less cardboard envelope or – for pedants – one cardboard envelope fewer.

Is it a coincidence that just as the last Scottish Highlanders were cleared off their lands and embarked for Nova Scotia, New Zealand or Birmingham, the British aristocracy went wild for tartan, Queen Victoria had a bag-piper under her bedroom window and – in Edinburgh – North-Brit male toffs started waltzing around in pleated skirts with little daggers stuck in their socks?

The Last of the Clan

When the last un-contacted forest aboriginals get their first taste of Coca-cola, and first experience of steel tools, rich kids start wearing Campagnolo seat-pin bolts through their nasal septa and sporting warrior tattoos.

Sturmey Archer sprocket circlips?

When I explained the theory – that a global infatuation with ‘bike courier chic’ is(was?) a clear symptom that the riders with big bags and radios are running out of road – to Bill ‘Buffalo Bill’ Chidley, the King of the Couriers, he disagreed. As counter-argument the legendary self-advertiser cited a recent case of a messenger who had to ride from Soho to Clapham to deliver a hard-drive.

Later – on reflection – I tried to imagine how many old-school couriers it would have taken to carry two terabytes of paper correspondence?

One of the rules of mass-participation cycle-touring is…

Never assume anyone else knows the way.

If you ride the Dunwich Dynamo next week and follow a handful of red lights for half an hour you may find they’re not going to Dunwich at all, just heading up to the all-night garage in Bury St. Edmunds for a packet of cigarettes.

Keep the route-sheet handy – even if you know the way, it sets a good example to greener pilgrims – and this five-bob data display system will add old school Twentieth Century messenger-cool to almost any bike.