Dunwich Dynamo XXI; never mind how many hours, what about finesse?

Cycle-sport is perverse. If you want to go fast get a motor-cycle. The point of riding a push bike is to enjoy the journey.

In the days before, along the road, people keep asking how many are riding this year? My reply is always that nobody knows, nobody has to count. What if someone sets off from Cambridge, picks up the route near Sudbury and trundles out to the coast? Do they count as one, as a half or none? My concern is always with quality.

A point of the DD is getting inexperienced riders to raise their ambition, to understand that riding further is not that big a deal, that a ‘long’ journey is just a collection of short trips strung together. If – however – you inspire the naive and innocent into the darkness of Essex and Suffolk it’s good if there are some role-models around to give clues as to how it might be done with ease and style.

Weston Cafe congratulatory message - Dunwich Dynamo XXI

Weston Cafe congratulatory message

Dunwich Dynamo Twenty One – the first with rain and headwind combination – had no hint of moonlight at any time. Another first for 2013 was a complaint from a householder about noise in the small hours…

“I am sure you all had a lovely time cycling from London to Dunwich on Saturday/Sunday night – couldn’t have been a better night I shouldn’t think. However, I wonder if you could just ask the participants for next year just to think a little more about the people in the villages they pass through during the night.   We live right on a junction on the A****  in Suffolk about 20 miles from Dunwich in the village of *********** and the cyclists found it necessary to stop and shout directions to each other at the junction, which woke our dog and started him barking between 3am and 5am – thereby waking us.PLEASE do remember that Suffolk villages are usually quiet at night and neither we nor our dogs are used to night time noise.  In any case, surely it is only considerate to keep your voice down outside houses during the night. Sorry to raise this but a little consideration would be appreciated.”

…the complaint is not a ‘first’, every year there are a few, not all as polite and considered as this. The ‘first’ is that the junction described is two or three miles from the suggested route.

Repeating the messages – “don’t make noise near homes”, “don’t drop litter” –  like a stuck record, the problem is that the least imaginative people, the most likely to cause a nuisance, are the hardest to reach.

Quiet - Dunwich Dynamo XXI

As years go by more and more people who live along the route are embracing the Dunwich Dynamo in a continental style. Pubs stay open late and fill their tills, residents sit out and watch the stream of fools pass, some run front-garden pop-ups, pushing coffee and bacon sandwiches in aid of charity and all-night fun. In Sudbury – just for example – the Horse and Groom, Weston’s Cafe and Torque Bikes all stayed open. People put up routing signs, and personal notices for locals who are making the trip. I heard a rumour that Anglia Railways now run extra bike capacity during the day before the ride for all the people coming in from Essex and Suffolk to join the great wave of lunatic joy.

Ddesign – Dunwich Dynamo XXI

It’s sad that DD supporters in Essex and Suffolk will have to deal with criticism from their neighbours annoyed by unnecessary noise, litter and loutish behaviour from nit-wit participants, the kind who imagine that riding 185 kms at their own pace is some kind of mighty achievement and give no thought to doing it like an adult, doing it with panache.

Thousands of people – almost all carrying wallets or similar cash receptacles – moving into countryside is cause for joy, an extra Christmas for hard-pressed country pubs, a chance for people from across the country, international visitors, to discover the pleasures of East Anglia. Many will return to further boost the rural economy. The fact that they do it on bikes puts minimal stress on infrastructure. If we conduct ourselves like adults, ten-thousand can go through like ghosts, leaving no trace creating no disturbance.

There’s no excuse for noise, or litter, or pissing near homes. It was a hot night so more sleeping people had more windows open. There was no moon and maybe under-equipped pilgrims needed to gather under street-lights? Anyone who knows what they’re doing carries a headlight for punctures, reading directions and sign-posts, wardrobe changes or cigarette rolling in the dark.

Part of the pleasure of cycle-touring is to stop. The best place is not in a sleeping village, that will likely be at the bottom of a hill with a climb on cooled legs to follow. Stop in the gateway of a farmers field on a hilltop and you can chat freely and get rolling again with minimum effort.

Cycle-sport is beautiful. You can learn a lot from studying, more from participating in, cycle-sport. But cycle-sport is perverse. If you want to go fast get a motor-cycle. The point of riding a push bike is to enjoy the journey. I’ve read plenty of first-person narratives of DDXXI. Some major on pain and suffering, which is boasting about how ineffective you are at riding a bike. Most – for no explained reason – tell how long the trip took. I prefer the ones that concentrate on style.

I have definite plans not to post next week but if you want to find out roughly where I am you can look here; https://londonedinburghlondon.com/lastseen/?rider_no=B60.

Reclaiming the earth

The fashion for one-way streets is long passed its sell-by-date.

  • A month of Sundays
  • A blue moon
  • A Sheffield flood

…add to any index of proverbial rare events a head-wind Dunwich Dynamo.

2013 – the legendary beach-party’s twenty-first edition – promises this unlikely happenstance.

The balmy North-Easter is good luck for those who like an extra portion, the bonus of a gentle ride back to London. There’s a relative shortage of back-wheel on the road home. Whatever your plans after the salt-water finish don’t forget the sunblock.

A further novelty for DDXXI is an extended cyclo-cross interlude, courtesy of Essex Highways who are renewing retaining walls and drainage on Wethersfield Road on the western approaches of Sible Hedingham and have built the kind of temporary runway that goes through beer tents in Belgian winter races.

photo 1photo 2 photo 3

photo 4
pictures: ‘mad woman from Sible Hedingham’

Last Friday, on the final check, I figured the ‘ROAD CLOSED’  and ‘DIVERSION’ signs which start 8 kilometres ahead of the works, on the exit of Wethersfield, were actually what are called – in progressive circles – these days ‘modal filters’, and that a pedestrian – even armed with a bike – would be able to force a route through without rope or crampons. When I finally reached the filter I walked through on the road with no trouble and it’s good to see that pedestrian access is maintained even if it’s considerably more elaborate now. If you’re on a tandem, and can’t get it through the gate, take the bags off and wait until enough fellow pilgrims are assembled to hoist it over without risking a hernia. Please make the negotiation quietly or the people in the house across the road will be disturbed.


Intelligence from Braintree District reports that – after a rash of complaints – the kissing gate has been removed. So we can pass EVEN MORE quietly.

Riders in pretentious half-human-half-machine footwear have the option to change into their beach shoes to yomp through the chicane. If you’re wearing shoes that don’t work for walking – and aren’t carrying a seaside change – you can follow the signed diversion via Gosfield and the A1017 and turn left at the Total garage in SH for the village hall, which will give you a bonus 10 kilometres at no extra cost; either that or turn round and go back to London because you’re not going to have much fun on the ghostly shingle of the Lost City in your stocking feet anyway.

A further, further novelty, new for 2013 – supposedly for a trial period but with no real chance of reversion – will be riding North on Mare Street, Narrow Way, Hackney Central, without transgressing a dopey Twentieth Century  prohibition on uphill cycle-traffic which was lifted earlier this year. Buses have lately been rerouted away from this human-scale shopping lane. The street is now much more convivial and more than twice as good for people on bikes.

One-way? No way!

Hackney Narrow Way is part of an old corridor whose line – or lines – are not only prehistoric they might (guidance from readers with palaeontological backgrounds very welcome) be pre-human?  Narrow Way, Broadway Market, Columbia Road are all on this line which connects London Bridge with the Lea Bridge Road; the lowest natural crossing points on the two great rivers. Powerscroft Road – which features in the DD’s early kilometres on the London side of the Lea – has also had a short one-way section recently returned to the default-setting, for cycle-traffic.

Two way operation makes roads easier to cross on foot, reduces the number of times you have to change lanes on a bike, makes it easier for bus passengers to find their stops and is probably more convenient for local motor-traffic. It’s better for everyone except the motor-fantasists who want the World remade as parody of car-racing circuits.

Thinking animals like us construct reality from theory. Some people abuse the privilege. The Twentieth Century vogue for one-way traffic systems can be interpreted as modifying the World to justify a prevailing assumption that automobile travel is quick and convenient even in urban areas. One-way operation always produces alienation. The days when you could rely on rolling into a town on a road named after the last one visited, find the town square and pick a road named after the next one on your itinerary may have gone but much of the infrastructure remains waiting to be reclaimed for our luxury use.

The Dunwich Dynamo – for example – aspires to historic desire lines and spends half it’s distance on roads named after their origin or destination settlements. Big holes are the gyration of Sudbury – how much sweeter to roll into the very centre of town and exit on East Street? – and the Eastern exit of Needham Market where Coddenham Road is cut to two stumps by the A14 running up the Gipping valley from Ipswich.

A fashion, a social movement – mass motorisation for example – may carry a lot of economic inertia. It may be so dominant that it’s widely treated as permanent; but nothing lasts forever. Time passes, ideas change, cities get washed away.

See you on London Fields, on the road or on the beach.