My Dunwich Dynamo Tips

Many people have written tips for riding the Dunwich Dynamo, but these are some of mine...

Prepare your bike Make sure your bike is in great working condition; the alternative is breaking down in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere! Check brake pads for excessive wear, tyres for wear or damage, lube the chain and take at least 2 spare inner tubes, tyre levers and all the tools you need to take the wheel off. If you're not sure, head to London Bike Kitchen who are open before the event and can show you how and supply the spares you need!

Prepare yourself Watch a film in the afternoon, snooze a bit, sleep if you can, get yourself to the start with enough time to relax. Wear clothes that are comfortable to cycle in and won't get cold when wet. 'Lycra' cycling kit is the ideal thing to wear—it's designed for the purpose!

Beers at the end  A pint or so is ok at the start, but don't cane the beers before you get going. Aside from needing to take 'comfort breaks' lots, the alcohol dehydrates you and it might even affect your bike handling and a crash before you even get going isn't fun. Enjoy a beer with breakfast instead at Dunwich. There's not often there's a good excuse to drink first thing in the morning! 

Pack food and liquid Not a huge picnic, but enough to keep your energy levels up. You should be able to carry all the food you need in cycling jersey pockets but you may need to plan the types of food you take. Generally you need food that can be turned into fuel for your muscles; fast-metabolising carbs such as rice cakes and energy gels are popular with cyclists but Jelly Babies, salted peanuts, banana, fig rolls, malt loaf and honey sandwiches are all great. Focus on complex carbohydrates such as cereals, bread and pasta or simple carbohydrates such as sugar—rather than protein-heavy foods—and eat the protein after you've finished to help muscles recover.
You could be burning 3000kcal during the event so it's important to keep eating. You should be eating at least once an hour (30-60g of carbs) and drinking often; something like powdered sports energy drinks or even a 50/50 mix of fruit juice/water with a little bit of salt. Just keep yourself topped up rather than eating lots at once; too much food in your stomach can cause discomfort while riding, especially food high in fibre so you can favour carbs such as 'white' pasta rather than wholemeal. On an event like the Dynamo take some food that makes you feel good too. It's not all about fuelling the body and some sweeties can really lift the spirits if you're feeling a little tired.

It's not a race Really, it's not! Don't be 'that guy/girl'. There will be lots of inexperienced bunch-riders doing the Dynamo and smashing it like you're on your first sportive isn't good style—if you want to race, come and race at a proper event instead. Know the difference between going fast and being fast. Don't get pushed into riding faster than you're totally comfortable with. If your group is going too fast let them know you're going to slow down and make your own way there and then ride at your pace. There are plenty of people around to look out for you and you can meet more cycling friends!

Consider forgetting your panniers You don't need that much kit, unless you're touring, so consider leaving your panniers at home? A bum-bag or light-weight backpack is enough generally. You'll see experienced cyclists not really carrying much, but they have all they need; tools, spares, food and drink. A bag may not feel heavy on a 5km commute but might do on a 200km ride! Travel fast and light!

Stay aware Be conscious that you're riding in the middle of a lot of people so it's up to you to keep yourself safe and watch out for potholes etc. If you need to slow down, don't just jam on the brakes. Check behind you, say "Slowing!" and move over to the side before starting to brake. You also might be used to riding close to the wheel in front but some might not expect it and might brake suddenly. Especially when you're tired and it's in the early hours! Look out for each other!

Expect rain Take a lightweight rain coat with you, more to keep the wind-chill off rather than staying totally dry. There's not much chance of staying totally dry on a bike so embrace it, but make sure you keep warm.

Be careful with super-bright lights They might be great for around London but super-bright lights are often unnecessary as your eyes are much more used to the dark and they can also be uncomfortable for other riders—especially super-bright rear lights! If somebody's behind you your lights could mean they can't see the road properly. If you can't swap them for less powerful ones, point them down at the road not in riders' faces.

Follow the 'established ettiquette' There are no 'rules' but the mantra is: 
  • Don’t drop litter.
  • Don’t wake sleeping villagers.
  • Have fun.
  • See you on the beach
Take it easy afterwards After the Dynamo you'll be fatigued and you might feel a little spaced out for a couple of days. Take it easy and catch up on sleep. You may well experience the feeling of the road whizzing by when you sleep!

Enjoy Yeah, it's a cliché, but enjoy it! It's magical!

Measure Me: Using technology to tune your life, and training

At the moment I'm on a training and weight-loss programme to get fit and lose weight for next season. The beginning of this year was mostly spent in convalescence after quite a serious spell in hospital which amounted to over 3 months away from training. This, of course, takes its toll and while I was a healthy weight to enable me to recover well it meant I was overweight when trying to climb mountains on a bicycle. I have a sack of chickpeas in my house which weighs 14kg and it's really super-heavy to pick up, yet the extra weight I'm carrying is more than this! If I was asked to carry that sack of chickpeas up a mountain with me, I'd say that I wouldn't be able to—but that's effectively what I am doing...it's all power to weight, huh.

My target is to lose 17kg over the next few months by balancing my activity and calorie input. To help me do this I bought some Fitbit Aira weight scales which connect to my Fitbit account and upload my daily weight measurements directly to my account. In fact they just emailed me yesterday morning to say congratulations for losing 3kg—which was nice of them! I'm also using a Fitbit Flex wristband which tracks my movement through the day—outside of training—and it also tracks my sleep by detecting any movements I make through the night, interpreting them as 'restless' periods. In fact it is this data that's allowed me to tune my sleep patterns in a really positive way recently. I'm often aware that on a Friday evening I'm woken up by housemates but I just turn over and go back to sleep. Often I'm super-tired on Saturday mornings when I get up for my club ride but just put this down to it being the end of the week. But even going to sleep early on Friday wasn't giving me the rest I seemed to need. But by checking the 'times awake' stats from my Fitbit account showed that I was awake during the night hugely more on a Friday evening than any other evening so checking my sleep pattern from one Friday revealed more detail.

Turns out I was being woken up around every 20 minutes until 3 or 4am, then I was getting up at 6am to ride my bike—but I'd not really had any good sleep through the night. Realising this I spoke to my housemates and we sorted the problem by putting some foam dots on their doorframe so the noise wouldn't keep waking me up as they closed the door. Turns out that was exactly the issue and now I sleep really well on Friday evenings, waking up feeling well rested on Saturday morning.

Another really interesting graph is my 'activity' from last Saturday which can tell the story of my day. I was up around 6am and pottered around making breakfast and having a shower etc. Then I rode to the station and got the train out of central London (which you can see as a period of inactivity as I sat on the train). I then rode to a cafe to meet my club and sat and had a coffee (another period of inactivity). We then had a 70km ride, which shows up as the big chunk of green high-activity. I then had a coffee and then rode home (which is the next, yellow peak). After that I pottered around making some food and having a shower but by around 3:30pm I was tired so I had a nap on the sofa which turned into around an hour's sleep. After that I made dinner and got ready for a night out, walking to the pub at around 8:20pm (the first thin green lines). Then my activity was lower as I sat around chatting in the pub with my friends. Then there are some more green lines of activity as I walked home from the pub again and went to bed. 

I've also been able to see an interesting pattern with my weight-loss too. It seems I have a greater loss on Wednesdays than any other day in the week.

I wasn't sure why that would be, but checking my activity over the weekend it's clear I spend much more time in intense activity such as fast cycling, so my calorie intake goes up slightly. Mondays, by comparison, tend to be a more inactive day so I eat less and this pushes my weight-loss along a little bit.

It's definitely really interesting to be capturing this data and over time it really exposes patterns in your lifestyle, allowing you to fine-tune your activities and food etc to really plan out what weight you want to be and where you want to be in terms of fitness. I'd love it if my Strava runs and rides were synced to Fitbit automatically but for now I have to do this manually—hopefully this is coming soon though!

Rapha Super Cross 2013

One of the best events of the season is the Rapha Super Cross. Not least of all the racing but the atmosphere, frites and beer really make this one definitely not to miss but if you have missed it, sorry, but make sure you get there next year! I nearly didn't make it after crashing my bike on the way up but, in true X style I carried my bike the last two miles to get there. The finale at Alexandra Park was tough, muddy and loads of fun!

The frites are amazing!

The racing is muddy!

RCCC were there, along with many other racers!

The racing was competitive and sporting...

...and the 'fun' race also involved tequila shots if you chose to take the 'Tequila Shortcut...

...and a wall of foam!

What more do you need? Rapha Super Cross 2013

France Mission 2013

This summer has been long and warm but now with the nights drawing in and a definite autumnal chill in the air it seems a perfect time to pack up a bike and head down to the south of France for a few days sunshine before winter arrives. This trip has become a regular thing and it's a lovely excuse to spend a few days riding bicycles and a great training boost before the winter season—hence why many teams have training camps in nice parts of the world, I guess. Last year we rode Mont Ventoux but this year we were planning to stay around the Alpes Maritimes.

My mother lives on the Côte d'Azur so we stay at her place, and it's a really enjoyable trip by train; a short hop over to Lille on the Eurostar then a few hours on the very comfortable and pleasant 'duplex' TGV train. Really, I can't work out why people fly so often, it's cramped, a hassle and quite expensive, especially with bicycles. The Eurostar seems to have, at least for cyclists, become a victim of its own success though. Previously you could just hop on the train with your bike but now Eurostar charge to transport them. It's a slightly complex system but essentially you pay a certain amount to take your bicycle on the train on which you're travelling, although you pay considerably less if you don't need a guarantee that it'll be on your train. Our bikes needed to be in Lille waiting for us but instead of paying the premium we dropped them off the evening before at St Pancras so they'd be at Lille by the time we arrived, paying just £10 (€14 for the way back). As it turned out they were on our train so it was easy to pick them up and walk the few yards or so to the platform to catch our TGV connection. Watching France pass by is a great way of seeing that beautiful country and leaving just after 6am in London, we were having a glass of rosé on the balcony by 6pm after a relaxing trip.

As we'd packed our bikes in hard cases for the trip we spent the first day re-assembling them, buying in provisions for our stay and planning the routes we wanted to do. Route planning used to be sitting with a map and writing out cue sheets but now it's creating a route in Strava's Route Builder then exporting the GPX and uploading it to all of our respective Garmins; a daily routine.

Our first ride was a 80km ride around the Estérel Forest on the Côte d'Azur. Although we'd all brought winter kit, none of us were out of lightweight, summer kit for our stay there and the sun was shining as we paced along the coast towards Théoule-sur-Mer and out across the ragged and rocky coastline, the rocks of which are a deep red colour. We swept up and down the coastal road, well-surfaced and fast but not too busy with cars—and certainly cars seem to give you more space in this part of the world. Near Agay we cut inland away from the coast and headed up towards the first climb of our trip; the slope of the Col du Testanier. Reaching only around 300m it's quite a gentle climb, but over 15km makes it a constant uphill and in the warmth, stretched our legs. It really felt like we were in France now as we gulped in the fresh air! The descent is stunning too, loosing that height over a similar distance and providing a long descent which we swept down reaching 60kph past beautifully forested slopes and back towards where we'd started earlier in the day. 

Distance: 80.2km Elevation: 1,264m [Strava]

Next up we decided to do a loop quite similar to the previous day but up past the Lac du Saint Cassien and then up towards Grasse. Turning off inland sooner than our last ride we enjoyed the quiet roads heading through the forest and past beautiful houses, with a view through the valley out towards a stunning cobalt-blue sea and sky. Unfortunately these were the last quiet roads we'd see for the rest of the day and by the time we reached the lake, we were riding in the gutter of some really busy routes! The time of day and this particular route conspired to mean the ride from the lake to Grasse turned from a pleasant experience to one of constant traffic noise. By the time we reached Grasse we had all had enough of the din of engines so dodged into a quiet bar for a coffee, which turned into a meal. Being quite hungry by this point I really enjoyed the frites and along with a mixed salad and a caffeinated cola drink, I was refuelled. Although it had now starting to spatter with rain and we still had the 25km or so back home, a schlepp that was a combination of being rained on and trying to avoid cycling straight onto motorways; requiring a couple of quick turn-arounds! Hindsight is a wonderful thing and checking our GPS track when we got home showed that we ended up riding around 40kph and got a bit turned around in the pouring rain which was probably my fault. Eventually we got back to near our destination only for my back wheel to slide on a patch of painted road-surface. I managed to shout a warning but before anybody could do anything we'd had one person down on the glass-like surface—not the only one of the trip… 

Distance: 83.7km Elevation: 1,662m [Strava]

The next day we spent mostly relaxing on the balcony and reading books but as it was my birthday the following day I wanted to do a ride I'd planned since the previous year; up to the Col du Caussols from Grasse and down past Tourettes-sur-Loup and Vence. Deciding to cut out the schlepp up to Grasse and back from Vence we planned to get the train up to Grasse and back from Cagnes-sur-Mer; the location for the start of stage 5 of this year's Tour de France to Marseille. Early the next morning I ignored opening cards and presents until later and we were at the station for the 9:23am train to head up to the mountains…I couldn't wait!

Starting up our first climb (pausing part-way to re-fit a crank arm that had 'come adrift') we passed Châteauneuf-Grasse and on up the stunning roads towards the beautiful commune of Gourdon where we passed my favourite view of the day and one which is sure to be my wallpaper for the next year. The forest had a fresh smell, full of summer growth but with the dampness of autumn—it truly is the most magical time of year to be riding a bicycle. After a few photographs we continued and headed up towards the Col de l'Ecre. Strictly speaking the climbs here are two cat 2 climbs, but given you hardly get a breather in between, you feel like you've put some effort in. Passing the faded road-paintings from a race we batted off some of the last flies of the summer, swallowed a raspberry gel and pushed on to the summit; a pleasing 1,100m. As we arrived, thin tendrils of fog were rolling ominously over the lip of the craggy peak. After the climb the summit felt quite cold so we pulled on rain jackets and pressed on through the mist.

A few minutes later we appeared, almost unexpectedly, in the most stunningly beautiful Alpine meadow surrounded by a crown of mist and rock with the sun blazing down on us. It felt to me like Shangri-La or a long-lost mythical land, although maybe that was the altitude and the effort of riding up there doing that... All of us paced along in a line quite speechless by the surrounding beauty, the sound of cicadas coming from all around us and the wind swirling as we passed through the village of Caussols, its streets empty and entirely quiet.

Heading down the north west of the pass, we took the road towards Andon before looping back towards Greolères where we stopped for a drink in the warm sun. For miles we shot down the wide, empty roads on our largest chainrings, concentrating on the descent but enjoying the stunning scenery that enveloped us. Quickly we were heading down past Cipières and towards Tourettes-sur-Loup down one of the most stunning, and fast, descents I've ever ridden. Tearing downhill past hundreds of feet of tumbling water, towering rock formations and dark tunnels through the mountain we passed a group of cyclists coming the other way. A polite 'bonjour' from us all was quite incongruous with our speed as we shot past them like arrows, our tyres whooshing with the speed.

Soon we were heading past the stunning town of Tourrettes-sur-Loup and through Vence to get our train. By the time we arrived at the station at Cagnes-sur-Mer (and a few loops around the town which seems to have no signs to the station at all) we were all quite stunned by our day's ride. A quiet trip back home on the train, a shower and I was soon dragging the rest out for my birthday meal of a pizza, a mound of frites and a mixed salad—I'm nothing if not predictable. 

Distance: 90.7km Elevation: 1,686m [Strava]

After a few drinks that evening we only planned for a short leg-stretch the next day but as we headed up to Antibes the wind was so terrific that it took your breath away! We managed a slog up the coast but soon turned back completing a 15km loop, but it was nice for the legs to get out. Unfortunately that evening was when the member of our group who came off a couple of days previously came off again after his chain snapped, which resulted in matching buttock bruises on the other side, a lump on the head and a snapped front derailer, effectively putting an end to his riding. We did plan to take the bike to Nice to fix but he was pretty beaten up after two offs so was happy to relax for a couple of days instead.

I'd had a tip-off from a cyclist called Max who is currently in that area about another loop through the Estérel forest with closed roads so that was definitely on my agenda. So the next day I headed off on a solo mission up the coast roads we'd ridden earlier in the week with a turn-off part-way up a road closed to motor traffic. Initially the road kicks up very steeply but keeping a good cadence up, you're soon up in the peaks which look more like a prehistoric landscape or the kind of mountains painted behind an old Star Trek set. After the initial climb, the route snakes through the forest maintaing a relatively similar altitude. Dropping down behind the peak that greets you on the first climb, you plunge into a green valley with spires of rock rising all around you before winding around the ribbon of road to the highest point at a modest 320m but with a stunning view of the coast. As I stood leaning against my bike, eating an energy bar and watching the tiny dot of a motor-yacht heading up the coast I wasn't jealous of them at all. I had the road to myself and the sun in the sky...pretty perfect really!

The descent is a rather a pot-holed affair with the kind of road you'd imagine to see in a movie, set 10 years after the zombie apocalypse; one that really needs a bit of TLC. All of the riders coming the other way (of which there were only a few) looked at me in a friendly way but I could tell they were wondering what I was doing on a light road-bike slaloming past potholes, piles of mud and palm branches as they were all climbing up on mountain bikes. After a few more miles I was heading back down the road we headed up when we rode to the Lac du Saint Cassien, until I was back at the sea-front for a lemon sorbet to cool down. 

Distance: 58.5km Elevation: 970m [Strava]

The next day we spent sight-seeing in the old town and getting some more food shopping so the day after I was keen to get back on the road. The guys were sleeping so I jumped into my kit and grabbed my bike, planning to have a short ride and loop back in an hour or so. Guess I got a bit carried away as I was soon on my way to St Raphaël, putting in an 80km blast down the coast and back down the same sweeping roads that we'd enjoyed a few times that year. 

Distance: 80.9km Elevation: 987m [Strava]

When I got back the guys were up, discussing TfL's provision for cyclists in London, so I started the sad process of packing up my bike, velcroing it into position in the case and then carefully packing around it my shoes, helmet, pump and cans of Crème de Marrons which I'd stocked up on to take back home.

The next day, we hopped on the train back to London and within a few hours I was walking back to my house, steering my bicycle box from St Pancras station in the rain...but with a smile, a lot of Instagram photos, a topped-up 'cyclist tan' and a good few Strava activities to pore over during the winter season that's fast approaching.

RideLondon Surrey 100

This Sunday I rode the inaugural RideLondon Surrey 100, a 100-mile sportive held over roughly the 2012 Olympic road race course. It was announced probably best part of a year ago now and I applied and was lucky enough to get a place! From that point on it was going to be the big event in my summer of 2013 and indeed all of my season training was pointing towards that.

Unfortunately, during January I had to go into hospital and was faced with major surgery and a few months recovery from that. I still felt that over 6 months until the event was enough time and the surgeon promised me that I'd be able to cycle again 7 weeks after leaving hospital. Turned out it was 7 weeks and 3 hours before I was back in the saddle, but re-gaining the fitness I'd had at the end of winter was going to be really tough and one that's still ongoing. After riding the Festive 500 I was in really good shape but as I spent most of the first few months of the year on the sofa, I was going to have to put some work in to get fit enough to ride the 100!

Fast-forward a few months and I was well into my training programme and diet plan—loosing weight and getting fit again—although it's quite tough re-covering old ground, getting fit again after illness or injury but one you just have to keep chipping away at and not get too down. Spending most of August doing interval sessions, persuit sessions, long rides and then the Rapha Women's 100 and  Dunwich Dynamo did prepare me pretty well though and when the event day appeared I felt ok really. I'd accidentally put down quite a slow time (factoring in the sort of time I'd do as a Sunday ride with a slower pace and plenty of coffee stops) so I was leaving after most of my friends, but in fact that was fine and I found it ok to move up the field during the day; and I could set my alarm a little later too!

We all arrived at the Olympic Park, got ourselves sorted and put our kit on the lorry which would take it to the finish line for us. I'd stayed off caffeine for a few days as part of my training so it was lovely to have a nice coffee before we were loaded into our start-wave.

Soon enough I was with my fellow starters and an excited but hushed chatter washed around us. The commentator over the PA system repeatedly stating that "Nobody has fallen over yet" caused many of us to wish he'd shut up in case we were the first!

I was pretty nervous about such a large event, with so many people on the road at once, but the start was really well organised and 20,000 of us passed through the start system at the Olympic Park and headed off towards The City. The start was neutralised as in a 'depart fictif' so we had a couple of miles to ride before the actual timing start so allowed us to get used to pedaling in our massive bunch and avoid any issues of people sprinting off the line. But soon I was into it and flew through London, pretty much always on the right-hand side of the road; just one of the many benefits of closed-road events. Though it's quite surprising how many people stick to the gutter on the left-hand side of the road.

Soon I'd passed Hammersmith in a blur and was heading out to Richmond Park which also whizzed by in a blur, though I do remember eating a Clif bar as we rode through the park. We'd bunched up a little on the narrower roads through the park so I used that as a chance to get some food into my tummy, to join my 5am breakfast of spaghetti. In fact I can't say I saw many people eating while riding; I seemed to be munching away most of the ride!

Most of the event I can remember as flashes of moments, Leith Hill, people cheering, drafting people and being drafted and this is how I spent most of the ride. Although I spent a lot of the ride looking at my feet, in an attempt to squeeze out a few more watts in an aerodynamic position; look in front, drop head, look up, drop head, look up... My plan was to not stop and only really had to leap off quickly to fill my bidon, but I prefer to keep cycling and if I stop, my legs just want to keep going. Would have been ideal to have been able to grab a handup on the way, but there are too many riders for that. Might try to organise a 'support team' for next year though! But at the water stop I used, just after Leith Hill I think, they had a rack of taps but only one was working so there was a bit of a delay.

After a really pleasant blast through the countryside which included a 80kph top speed and an 'attempt to get on the telly' we were soon heading back into London. I still felt really strong and was 'tapping out a good rhythm' to borrow a Liggetism. I could tell somebody was on my wheel, which I was happy about as it gives you an aerodynamic advantage as well as the person behind you. Though after a while the guy behind me drew alongside me (I thought, just to take his turn on the front) and said "You're a machine!" and pointed backwards with a smile. When I looked I had a string of bicycles on my wheel as far as I could see. Was a super-proud moment!

My legs had a lot of miles in them by this point but I just kept pushing on, repeating the same mantra I was repeating the entire day "Am I giving all I can give?". I did allow myself 5 minutes for my mind to wander a little after Leith Hill but I tried to keep focused and concentrating throughout.

Heading back into London we eventually dropped onto the Embankment and powered up towards the Houses of Parliament. There was a grim headwind whipping down the road so a small bunch of us banded together and formed a little chaingang riding towards the finish on The Mall. Flying past Downing Street we took a fast left at Trafalgar Square and under Admiralty Arch and down the finish-straight on The Mall. I've never in my life experienced anything like it; the noise of the crowd cheering and banging on the barriers was so loud! With 100 miles in my legs I put my head down and sprinted for the line, as if it were for a stage win! 

100 miles done in 5 hours, 21 minutes and 5 seconds.

Roll on next year!


Hit and Run

This happened on Friday evening and was my statement to the press.

We'd cycled past Russell Square and were waiting at the lights to turn left into Theobald's Road but there was a short hold-up so we stopped at the lights behind some cyclists on the left of the road.

I was standing next to a friend chatting waiting to move off and noticed a silver Astra in the right-hand lane as the passenger was talking to some cyclists. Initially I thought she was just chatting but after a while I realised she was shouting at cyclists. A couple of people talked to her but then started to just ignore her and she stopped shouting.

A few seconds later I heard a revving engine and the Astra lurched forwards hitting a group of cyclists and knocking them out of the way.

People started to shout to stop but the car accelerated through more cyclists, knocking them to the ground until the driver hit a woman from behind who was waiting at the lights at the junction.

The driver just knocked her over and drove right over the top of her and her bicycle. We were a few feet away and I don't think I'll ever forget the sight of a car driving over a person like she were a speed bump.

The car then accelerated down Kingsway, leaving the woman injured and lying in the road. A number of us went after the driver, although not sure what we would have done if we caught him, but at least managed to get the registration number and description of the vehicle.

The driver ran straight through a series of red lights and after a few miles chase through London,  we lost him. A guy that was trying to catch him up realised we'd lost the car.

He got off his bike and doubled up and broke down that we'd not managed to catch the driver.

I phoned my friend and he was still at the ride so I went back, fully expecting to find a dead body, but the woman was miraculously not severely injured. She had scrapes and bruises and was being taken off to hospital as the police took details.

Maybe some people feel that they are held up by cyclists but whatever the reason they justify this to themselves, this person decided to use a vehicle as a weapon against an entirely innocent person but this driver will be going to prison now. There are many witnesses and all of whom will not let this rest until this driver faces the consequences of this violent act.


Dunwich Dynamo 2013

On Saturday night I did the legendary Dunwich Dynamo ride; a yearly 'turn up and ride' event which starts at London Fields in the east of the city ending up around 120 miles away on the Suffolk Coast at Dunwich. Legend has it that it was a group of messengers that had a few pints in London then decided to ride to the coast. It's a lovely story, but apparently a myth, although the Dunwich Dynamo is one of those mythical rides...so who really knows.

After eating a spectacularly large plate of spaghetti on Saturday afternoon I leapt into my bike kit and headed off to meet friends at Look Mum No Hands cafe. Enjoying a double espresso, a can of San Pelligrino and a slice of vegan chocolate cake (although I know I'm not doing the stereotype of a city-dwelling cyclist any good here) we chatted excitedly about the evening to come. When we arrived at Look Mum it was quite busy but slowly, as if guided by a silent and subtle signal, cyclists slowly left the cafe leaving it more empty than a regular Saturday evening—even the workshop was closed! Ensuring our jersey pockets were filled with energy bars and inner tubes we headed off to the meet point at London Fields. Once there we signed in for our coach trip back, kindly organised by Southwark Cyclists, and stood around nattering and bumping into friends and fellow cyclists we knew.


Soon it was time to head off so we joined the steady stream of cyclists leaving London Fields, the way sand leaves an hourglass. There followed a bunch ride out through London in which we had to negotiate lots of vehicles and traffic lights but soon we were out of the city, whizzing through Epping Forest with excited voices all around and blinking bicycle lights streaming up the road ahead of us into the distance as far as we could see. Heading up past the forest and through the town of Epping we passed the first of a few people sitting out on the street on chairs, next to them a track pump if passing cyclists needed to use it. I thought this was so touching and said thank you as I passed; they replied "Good luck!" to us all as we rolled off into the darkness, past a young boy doing Jedi moves in a front garden with his lightsabre and on towards the first pub stop of the night. Once there people took different approaches, some buying booze and some snacks. I opted for the latter as I really fancied some salted peanuts and I sat, very contentedly, with my bike shoes off and curling my toes and relaxing.


Heading off again we entered the darkest part of the ride, in terms of light rather than mood, which flowed around winding country lanes and off across flat countryside. Unfortunately there were a couple of falls at this stage but nobody was badly hurt, at least not that we heard about. Whenever I see or hear of a cyclist coming off their bike it always makes me really feel for them as I know how horrible it is, having come off a bike on too many occasions. We hoped for a safe ride for all. We kept rolling through the countryside in the darkness, our little group concertinaing through the dark fields lit only by the occasional very beautiful tealight in a jar that the Dunwich Fairies had left out for us to mark our way. Whenever I stopped to bunch up our group (as I occasionally got over-excited and got involved with a little breakaway), riders would pass me by in the darkness just illuminated by little flashing lights and a 'whoooooooossshhhh' of wheels on the tarmac. It really was quite a beautiful experience.

We were soon stopping for our second break and a chance to all catch up and enjoy a cup of coffee, a bit of a stretch and a chance to chat about how we were getting on. It's around this time of night that people start to realise the size of the ride we were on but we were all feeling really fine and although it is a long ride for some, I'm used to long rides. Heading off again we passed through numerous small towns in the darkness including one with three drunk people walking up the middle of the road, shouting. For a split second I was a little concerned at this and wondered what might happen but then I realised they were shouting "We love you, thank you for visiting us!". Although walking in the middle of the road as cyclists hurtle past might not be the best approach, we definitely appreciated the sentiment.

The Dunwich Dynamo really is a ride of stages; leaving the city, through the forest, the dark roads, the empty towns and then came the 'Dun Run CX stage' which was an entirely closed road. As there were so many cyclists there was about a 30-minute wait at a pedestrian bridge to circumnavigate the closed road. But nobody minded and we all stood around chatting quietly, shuffling up the road. Soon after was the mid-point stop at a village hall but we decided to just use the toilet and grab a quick snack before heading off again; the queues were epic and while the people there were doing an amazing job, we didn't really want to wait for such a long time as we all had food with us.

Then came the 'before dawn' stage where we paced really well along the route, heading towards a gently brightening sky. At this point we had a discussion about 'loaming in the gloaming' but I'm not sure what the conclusion was; it was funny though. Most of the way around we nattered and then had some quiet time, then nattered again. I suppose about 30/40 miles from Dunwich we passed through a bit of a driech patch of rainy mist which I thought reminded me of home in Northumberland. But at this point also my rear derailer started making a teeny, tiny squeak, like a teeny, tiny field vole in the distance. "That's going to piss me off" I thought as I like my bikes to run as silently as possible, but it stopped after a short while. Continuing on we eventually stopped for breakfast and I really enjoyed my veggie roll and coffee, with quite a few spoonfuls of sugar which was served in a discoloured mound on a paper plate. At least it looked like sugar. :) Had a lovely chat with the lovely people serving breakfast, sat in a yurt and listened to a really funny story a guy was telling about somebody that—when starting off part-way up a hill—gave it a bit too much and managed to perform a back-flip! The giggling that this story was causing set me off giggling too, not sure if it was just sleep deprivation or one of the funniest stories I've ever heard, I'll let you decide...

The last part of the ride was coming up and by this point it had got pretty light so we headed off towards Dunwich passing grass verges on which bicycles were laid with rear lights still flashing while their rider slept beside them. Past the last tea and coffee stop we kept riding and by this point, as we were quite close, I fancied stretching my legs a bit so pushed on, following arrows on the road. After a few moments I realised there was nobody ahead or behind me and that I might have taken a wrong turn, but I was following the arrows. Soon I bumped into a guy—I think called Phil—and we decided at least to stick together so we had a really nice chat on the way to our destination. By all accounts he'd had a very event-filled ride with two crashes! An increasing head-wind combined with the fatigue after these crashes and he was a little tired so I suggested he picked up my wheel and I rouled towards the beach.

A really lovely group of people were cheering everybody at the end so I stood and waited for my friends to arrive and joined in the cheering; ride done! A couple of us had a swim in the sea before starting to make plans to get home again but I have to admit I was very envious of the people who had camper vans and who were by now sitting out of the wind with a cup of coffee. Think I can see myself in a van one of these days...

It's not an easy ride, especially at night, and I have a huge amount of respect for everybody doing it. I know some found it hard, and some found it ok but I'm sure everybody will walk away with at least one magical moment from it; even if that magical moment is getting back home and enjoying that first shower.


The Convicts of the Road


Following is a section from Doping at the Tour de France from Wikipedia:

In 1924 the journalist Albert Londres followed the Tour de France for the French newspaper, Le Petit Parisien. At Coutances he heard that the previous year's winner, Henri Pélissier, his brother Francis and a third rider, Maurice Ville, had pulled out after a row with the organiser, Henri Desgrange. Henri Pélissier explained the problem - whether or not he had the right to take off a jersey - and went on to talk of drugs, reported in Londres' race diary, in which he coined the phrase Les Forçats de la Route (The Convicts of the Road):

"You have no idea what the Tour de France is", Henri said. "It's a Calvary. Worse than that, because the road to the Cross has only 14 stations and ours has 15. We suffer from the start to the end. You want to know how we keep going? Here..." He pulled a phial from his bag. "That's cocaine, for our eyes. This is chloroform, for our gums."

"This", Ville said, emptying his shoulder bag "is liniment to put warmth back into our knees."

"And pills. Do you want to see pills? Have a look, here are the pills." Each pulled out three boxes.

"The truth is", Francis said, "that we keep going on dynamite."

Henri spoke of being as white as shrouds once the dirt of the day had been washed off, then of their bodies being drained by diarrhoea, before continuing:

"At night, in our rooms, we can't sleep. We twitch and dance and jig about as though we were doing St Vitus's Dance..."

"There's less flesh on our bodies than on a skeleton", Francis said.

Francis Pélissier said much later: "Londres was a famous reporter but he didn't know about cycling. We kidded him a bit with our cocaine and our pills. Even so, the Tour de France in 1924 was no picnic.

Henri Pelissier, 1919