The Dunwich Dynamo – A Legendary Cycle Ride
The first thing to know about the Dunwich Dynamo is nobody organises it – the event just happens with lots of people organising lots of things around the event, just not the event itself.
Even though it is not advertised, thousands know about the ride with some participants coming from across the world to take part. It is not a race and there are no rules on how you take part except to be respectful to everyone.
Riders hear by word of mouth of a unique annual cycle ride from central London to the North Sea coast.
Cyclists gather at London Fields in Hackney on the Saturday closest to the full moon in July and then ride through the night to Dunwich on the North Sea coast. Most leave around 20:00 but lots of people start earlier and the really fast people start much later.
At the start in London Fields (if that is where you are going to start from – remember, there are no rules), there will usually be well over a thousand cyclists near the “Pub in the Park” ready and raring to go.
For what they’re worth, the following are my random notes from completing five Dunwich Dynamos
treat them with the contempt they deserve!
Before You Start the Dun Run
You’re on your own.
OK, that’s not quite true but you have to be able to look after yourself.
Nobody organises the ride so there is no official support along the way. There’s no broom wagon to pickup the people who ran out of energy, if you get a puncture then you need to be able to fix it.
That said, all the riders are in it together. If you find yourself in a pickle there will be some kind soul who’ll stop to help out.
Dunwich Dynamo XXXII leaves London Fields on the night of Saturday 20th July 2024
Join the Dunwich Dynamo Facebook Group which is full of helpful people who have done it before. It is also home to lots of first timers looking for groups to ride with. You’ll find someone of your own ability regardless whether you’re a tortoise or a hare.
Who Takes Part?
In short, everyone ranging from teenagers through to people well into their 70s forming a complete cross section of society.
I am the wrong person to ask about training plans and the food to eat on the night of the ride. Again, there are plenty of knowledgeable people on the Facebook group.
Don’t look at the map and think to yourself – “Oh there’s a railway station I can catch the train home from”
On the weekend of the Dynamo cycles are banned on trains. You need another plan. Modern trains can’t have an extra parcel van put on to take bikes, it’s not physically possible and the old style parcel vans no longer exist.
First, don’t think that your superhuman body will be able to drive home straight after completing the Dynamo – you are going to be tired, very tired – far too tired to drive until you’ve had a decent sleep.
If you have someone meeting you after the ride, it seems to be best to arrange a rendezvous a few miles away as the roads down to Dunwich will be rammed with coaches, trucks and cars.
The easiest way of getting home is on the various coaches that descend on Dunwich – but you’ll need to buy your ticket in advance. The majority of the coach capacity is organised by the volunteers of Southwark Cyclists. Every four coaches has one truck on to which all the bikes are loaded. This obviously takes time, so loading time is 2-3 hours before your coach departure time.
As of 2023, the coaches bring you back to Millwall Football Club in Bermondsey, SE London. The coaches unload quicker than the bikes so there is always waiting around. There is nothing in the immediate vicinity if you feel hungry or thirsty.
Top bits of advice are to bring a neck cushion and sit on the right to avoid the sun as you’ll be heading South West. Some of the coaches have toilets.
Route cards, a double sided sheet of A4, give you turn by turn instructions. They are usually for sale on the night in London Fields. In the files section of the Facebook group you’ll find various flavours of map files for Strava and so on.
Don’t storm off, there are a number of climbs on the route. The climbs aren’t anything too serious, but are steep enough for tired legs. The long drag through Epping Forest is a bit soul destroying and there is one on the way to Gosbeck Hall which suddenly makes itself known when you turn left at a T-junction and are met by what seems to be a vertical cliff.
For navigating, don’t rely on mobile phone signal. Have a list of the major waypoints so you can follow road signs. Follow the red snaking lights, but remember the snake sometimes gets it wrong.
Watch out for potholes and puddles. Some of the roads have a pretty diverse collection of potholes. Puddles just appear black in the night but can really ruin your ride if there is something hidden under the water. Call out obstructions to your fellow riders, although try to avoid too much shouting where people live.
You will get tired. Every year there are a few people to be found sleeping by the side of the road.
The Locals Along The Route
The vast majority of the locals love watching the Dynamo riders passing by, especially if we keep the noise right down. Even quiet conversations in the dead of night carry a long way.
There was one year were one of the locals was clearly less impressed and allegedly spread tacks across the road.
Racing The Sun
If you want to see sunrise at Dunwich, you’ll need to be on the beach by 04:20 or so.
The Candle Fairy
Out in the depths of Essex and Suffolk, navigating can be a bit of a challenge, especially when it gets dark. That’s where the candle fairy makes her presence felt. You’ll see electric tea light candles flickering away in the gloom telling you to make a turn at this junction. There will be a second tea light 10m down the turn you need to take.
The Food Stops
They change every year with a few stalwarts open for business year after year, throughout the night. Scouts run one, village hall volunteers another and so on. One night’s business paid for a defibrillator for one village. Most of the food stalls are run by volunteers.
The Flora tea room at Dunwich normally opens specially on the day around 04:00. Close by, The Ship pub is usually open serving beer at crazy o’clock.
If you can ride it, someone has ridden it to Dunwich. Normal bikes, carbon fibre, tandems, butchers bikes, BMX, Penny Farthings, Bromptons and giraffes – even Boris bikes. If you’re legs are not up to the whole route no-one will mind you using an e-bike.
There aren’t any – so you need some bright ones. USB powered ones don’t have the endurance to last all night. Have another spare and then charge the first one off your USB battery pack.
And no flashing red lights. However, lots of riders decorate their bikes with fairy lights.
It gets cold in places on the route, especially around Needham Lake. Make sure you have several layers of clothing and a waterproof top. If you stop to eat, put an extra layer on whilst you are stopped to avoid getting too cold.
Whilst it has sort of improved over the years, the mobile phone/data signal at the beach quickly gets overwhelmed when a couple of thousand phones turn up en masse and all try to upload selfies.
Before you do anything else, if you have a Southwark Cyclists coach ticket, register at the tent where the barcode that you have printed out will be scanned and exchanged for a coach ticket. You’ll be put on the first available coach but that is likely to be in a couple of hours.
If you haven’t got a ticket then there is still hope. There is frequently a few people looking to offload spare tickets and Southwark Cyclists might have some available as the morning wears on and they get a better idea of how many ticket holders made it to the beach.
Most try to at least touch the sea, the braver sorts go for a dip. Make sure you have something warm as it can be windy on the beach.
The other option for getting home is to Do The Double …. Doing The Double does not feature on many of the rider’s plans on how to get home.
Kit To Take
Just some suggestions:
- USB power pack and cables
- Spare batteries
- First aid kit
- Puncture repair kit
- Water bottles plus isotonic drink
- A whistle to wear around your neck
- Extra layer for when it gets cold in the small hours