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The Dunwich Dynamo

It’s now been a little over a month since I drove to London to take a part in the even more popular Dunwich Dynamo night ride a 200km (120 mile) ride from London Fields in Hackney to the sleepy east coast village of Dunwich. The ‘Dun Run’ as it’s affectionately known is an unofficial, unorganised ride that takes place each July on the weekend closest to the full moon and attracts every possible kind of cyclist – I saw tandems, Brompton’s, racing bikes, elliptical bikes and possibly even one Boris bike, although it gets harder and harder to tell the darker the night becomes. My knowledge of the Dun Run was non-existent until my friend Nick got in touch to ask if I wanted to go down and ride through the night on a slightly mystical adventure. In true craziness I agreed I would ride the 200km to the beach. The only problem with this was that it left us on the east coast and needing to get back to London. There were buses back to the city but I decided that we would ride back too and make it one of the longest rides I’ve ever done – all for fun.

I’ve never started a ride in the dark before but have ridden overnight so wasn’t entirely sure on the best option in terms of planning the preceding day. Luckily my other half Sarah was also going to London the same weekend to run a relay in Windsor so we decided to drive down on the Friday evening to stay with Sarah’s running friend Steph who made us very welcome for the weekend. As all the runners were getting up early on Saturday morning for Park Run we quickly turned in for the night. I decided I would get up with everyone else on the Saturday and head into London for lunch and a walk with an old friend which meant I wouldn’t be going back to sleep until at least Sunday lunchtime. This was possibly my biggest mistake for such a long ride as I’d find out later on.

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After a day of dining, walking and generally chilling out I went to collect my bike and prepare for the 8pm start in Hackney. I decided to opt for most of my usual long distance comforts – gels, energy bars, warm clothes including arm warmers for the middle of the night, and then about £25 to enable me to buy any essentials en-route. The biggest thing to remember for the ride were lights – lights that would let me see throughout the night for at least six hours of darkness. Once everything was attached to me or the bike I was ready to go. It was at this point I realised it was 7pm and I felt a little bit tired from the day’s activities so far.

The trip from Putney to Hackney was uneventful but my arrival to London Fields was quite the opposite – a sea of lycra clad cyclists lay in front of me as I arrived at the pub where the ride starts. So many different kinds of rider all excited for the night ahead. I thrust myself into the sea of lycra and set about finding Nick ready to start the night ahead. Once found we started to gather a small group that would stay together for the night ahead.

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We left London fields just after 8pm well aware that there were about 600 cyclists already up the road to light our route through the night. The first 15 miles are mainly spent trying to escape London and whilst not the most exciting miles of the ride allowed everyone to say hello and have a good chat to get spirits high before the night ahead. As we wound our way out of London and into the countryside we watched the sunset behind us lighting up the sky in a vast array of deep red and orange. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect with clear skies, a full moon and temperatures never dipping below 17 degrees Celsius.

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Once we were into the countryside we settled down, switched on the lights and began to set a nice steady tempo for the night ahead. We must have a different meaning for the word tempo as we suddenly looked behind to find we were towing about 100 riders behind us. It’s always a nice feeling to be in such a big group with no real rush. The problem with no rushing however, was the sudden wave of tiredness that washed over us just after 10:30pm when we suddenly realised we were going to be up for a very long time. Thankfully no need to worry as the first pub of the evening we came across was open to sell coffee to all the riders. The pubs and shops along the route stay open all night to fuel the riders for the one night of the year.

After a stop we set off into the dark and silent country lanes that lay ahead, following the twisting, snaking line of red lights that stretched into the very distance of the road ahead. The county lanes lit by the dappling moonlight casting shadows across the road. There was always a feint murmur of chatter and whirring wheels in the groups we passed on the road. This is a ride to savour not to smash.

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Around 1am, maybe a little bit later we arrived over half way through the route at a fire station which was holding an overnight BBQ for the Dun Run – the ample opportunity to grab a burger for a good cause. The only downside to this was the massive queue for food as everyone had the same idea. That burger tasted ace though and was worth the rest. Food stop over we set off around 2am and passed a closing nightclub with everyone staggering home – a reminder of our night still to come.

2am onwards is a bit of a blur in all honesty until the sun came up and gave the most beautiful sunrise possible. The ride has stretched out significantly at this point and we were on the road in our own solo group admiring the countryside and sunrise simultaneously whilst checking the Garmin to realise there wasn’t much further to go. The aim of the ride is to reach Dunwich before sunrise but that doesn’t matter at all. We arrived on the beach around 5:30am, an hour after sunrise.

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The beach is a spectacle itself – hundreds of tired and drowsy cyclists sat on the beach wolfing down coffee and breakfasts from the one and only café by the beach that opens to feed the hungry cyclists. Obligatory photo stop over, we headed into the café to grab our breakfast then admire the beauty of the morning. Stopping in the warmth of the café hit us hard. We were seriously tired, and all a little bit too drowsy to start the ride home now. Oh well, more coffee it was to be. I took the decision to take a 10 minute power nap at this point to help perk me up a little. Surprising how much 10 minutes of sleep can save you.

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That’s the Dun Run done. Now for the return trip, this time home via Ipswich to drop Nick home. There were three of us on the ride home. Me, Nick and Eric. The sun was shining high in the sky and we set off home in great spirits soon setting a pace around 18mph and in a bee-line for Nick’s house. Around 10am we arrived and realised we were a little bit hungry and rather dehydrated by the warmth of the morning sun so stopped for 30 minutes to refuel. When we stepped into the house it was sunny but when we stepped outside there was a sudden monsoon. Damn. Pride over sense we didn’t head straight to the train station but hopped back on the bikes and set off in the pouring rain towards London.

At this point we still had 100 miles to ride and were absolutely drenched to the bone. When you’re wet and riding you use energy faster as you try to keep warm and ride so I was eating like a Trojan to keep my body going whilst setting a tough tempo to get back as fast as possible. This was another 100 mile blur in the day where me and Eric took it in turns to set the pace as we fought our way back to London.

By early afternoon the weather had thankfully brightened up and Eric had guided us back inside the M25 with his local knowledge and along to a 1 mile off road section of road on our road bikes. Despite what most people tell you it turns out your road bike can handle fire track well and once we’d climbed up the gravel section we were greeted by a view of London from high up on a hillside. This could only mean it was downhill back to London. So down and down we rode back towards the towers of London, eventually arriving around 2pm.

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Eric kindly passed on his knowledge of London to allow me to find my car, and Sarah who was now bored whilst camping in my car awaiting my return. 10 miles of sleepy riding and finally I was back. Bike into the car, inhale all the food and drive out of London for a nap before the longer drive home.

It’s hard to convey just how much fun the Dun Run really is. Riding through the night following the lights, making new friends and seeing the sunrise at 4am. I thoroughly recommend the ride though. It’s worth noting that you don’t have to ride home; there is a bus service each year with bike transport to get you home leaving around 9am on the Sunday morning back to London.

Distance: 250 miles (120 miles of Dun Run)

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/339670288 (Click on the fly-by – it’s cool!)