Let’s never do this again. ― Nat, shortly before planning to do it again.

Six years ago, I rode the Dunwich Dynamo, 180 km through the night by bicycle from London to the Suffolk coast at Dunwich. On Saturday, I did it again.

Last time, it was easier than I expected. This time, it was harder than I remembered! It wasn’t really difficult, though, apart from a few steep hills. If you think Suffolk is flat, your sampling resolution is too low. Perhaps if my bike had more than one speed it would be easier.

The weather was great: dry, but cloudy. I would have liked to have seen more stars whilst riding through the isolated roads of rural Suffolk, but the clouds probably helped to keep it reasonably warm.

I prepared better than last time, which might, paradoxically, have made it harder. Instead of a bag on my back, I had a pannier full of supplies, which made going uphill harder. Or made it feel harder: I don’t know which. I ate heartily in the days beforehand, and slept late and napped half the day before the departure.

I knew from last time that I wanted some kind of GPS wayfinding assistance: there are some surprising turns, and the ride is often spread out enough that there’s no one to follow. I bought a cheap top-tube bag with phone pocket from Decathlon, poked a couple of holes in so that I could feed a cable from my 12 Ah USB battery to my phone, and plotted the course into Google Maps with the intention of using that.

However, just before departure, someone told me about an Android application called BikeGPX that was rather better suited to the task. “But where do you get the route from?” I asked. It turns out it’s developed by someone in London, and one of the app’s example routes is the Dunwich Dynamo. It’s simple but effective: it lays the route over Google Maps tiles, shows elevation and distance, and highlights sharp turns coming up. The only problems I had were the normal issues with GPS accuracy in built-up areas.

Despite using the screen and GPS constantly for twelve hours, I only used about a quarter of the 12 Ah in my USB battery. I could probably use a smaller one and save some of the 300 g it weighs.

For clothing, I wore cycling shorts under normal shorts, a long-sleeved merino base layer, and a standard-issue promotional startup hoodie. I moderated my temperature by pushing my sleeves up or down and zipping the hoodie higher or lower. It worked well, kept me warm enough, and I didn’t overheat.

What I consumed during the ride:

  • Most of a Soreen malt loaf
  • About three quarters of a pack of Jelly Babies
  • Half a pack of dextrose tablets
  • Four caffeine tablets
  • A bit under two litres of sports drink (I brought powder and mixed it with water)
  • A sausage in a bun and a cup of tea, 30-odd km from the end in Framlingham

I felt pretty good for most of the ride, but I did begin to feel a bit desolate about three quarters of the way through. I was glad to have some friends around.

Some things had changed since last time: several pubs on the route were open all night, selling food and supplying tapwater. That was good, because the official feeding stop at Sudbury Fire Station had only bottled water and sold the last one to someone three places in front of me.

I don’t know the numbers, but it felt like there were many more people on the ride than six years ago. With all the people, the pubs and the other stalls along the route, it felt a bit like a kind of linear party at times.

At the beach, I first queued for my place on a coach back, then changed into my swimming trunks and took a swim in the sea. It was cold, and it was wonderful.

What was less wonderful was the coach ride back. It took 6½ hours, which doesn’t compare well with a journey that took twelve by bicycle, and that’s with a couple of hours taking rest breaks. The traffic was bad, but the route we took through London on residential and shopping streets in Dagenham, Barking, Goodmayes, and Barking (again) before eventually getting back onto the A12 (that we’d left a few miles and several hours earlier) didn’t seem to help. The coach seats were too uncomfortable to sleep in, and the whole experience felt more like an international flight than anything else.

I got back and slept from 6 pm until 7 pm, getting up for an hour at 11 pm. I feel mostly back to normal, but I won’t be riding a bicycle for a few days.

I don’t know if I’ll do it again. Maybe. I don’t know if I enjoyed doing it, but I enjoy having done it. If there’s a next time, though, it will be on a bike with gears.