Dunwich Dynamo 2009
What a night. I mean, really, what a night!
Here’s how it started - last year, Von SmallHaussen volunteered to come and collect me, Doktor Seth and Tall Robbie from the beach. Seeing us there, I think she probably mistook our spaced-out exhaustion for some sort of Zen-like being at peace with the world.
So a few weeks later, she casually mentioned that she’d love to do the Dynamo, but was scared of getting left behind. But I had a plan to get over that problem, and after a couple of unsuccessful attempts, I managed to land a tandem on Ebay. Just £50 too! Of course, it needed a ‘bit’ of work, but after some serious elbow grease being applied (and a fair bit more cash…), I ended up with a ‘brand new’ 1970’s Pashley tandem.
The first problem was getting this to London for the start. Getting a regular bike transported on a train in the UK is often tricky to organise, while a 2.6m long tandem is apparently even trickier. So I opted to go by car - surprisingly enough, with the front wheel & both sets of handlebars removed, it fitted in nicely:
Arriving in London late, I got Daisy out of the car, and re-assembled her in Von SmallHaussen’s hall. After a quick beer, it was time for bed (big day tomorrow . . . ), but then Doktor Seth arrived at the front door - he’s an insomniac, and managed to keep us chatting ’till nearly 1 am. While he was there, I was showing off Daisy to him, and noticed that the front brake lever was unhappy - the cable wasn’t releasing properly. It might have been OK . . . but over 120 miles, I really didn’t want to take any chances, so we agreed to head off to the Hackney equivalent of Recyke Y’Bike in the morning - an ideal excuse to play with the London traffic, and for Von Small Haussen to show off her new Brompton:
Then in the afternoon, while I was fitting the rest of the fairy lights to Daisy (did I mention fairy lights? This was one of Von SmallHaussen’s stipulations - we went road legal, with 30 red LEDs to the rear, and 30 white ones facing forward), I discovered that one of the bearings on the Captain’s right pedal was knackered. We thought of swapping pedals round between Von’s sturdy Trek commuter, but they were seized on, and we ended up making a last minute dash to the LBS - Two Wheels Good.
Suddenly it was almost time to go. That frantic packing up and getting changed . . . and then a last few minutes of hanging around, before we set off in convoy for London Fields. It was at this point that I very nearly changed my mind about the whole caper - with our food, fluids, tools, spare batteries, waterproofs, cameras, swimming cozzies, towels, kitchen sink, and supply of lead pipework in the panier bags, Daisy was seriously heavy. As in, I could barely lift the rear of the bike with one hand.
I feel that we made an interesting comparison with The Other Rob (the one who’s not Tall Rob. It’s the "F" word that’s generally used to describe him…) - him at somewhere around 15st (210lbs) on his all-carbon bike, and us on out Dreadnought Class tandem. Maybe one of us was on the wrong bike . . . ?
Despite my misgivings, we set off, and almost immediately discovered another problem - the stoker’s handlebars seemed not to be fully tight, and were working their way round to bash Von SmallHaussen’s knees. Not at all good for 120 miles, so we re-adjusted and tightened them at London Fields, where pausing only to give a brief interview for James Randerson - the man from The Guardian’s podcast ("Any helpful advice for me?" "Yep - repeat after me: Drink every ten minutes, eat every twenty"), we set off among the first groups to leave at around eight - with the handling of Daisy, I didn’t fancy trying to ride in tight groups through London traffic.
We had continued problems with those handlebars through the night, and eventually realised that they were never going to be tight enough, but between us, Von Small Haussen and I could re-adjust them without stopping pedaling.
The Dynamo rides out through Essex and then across Suffolk, so you’d expect it to be pretty flat. However, the first half is rolling hills, and it was these that really tested us - Daisy’s weight was a big advantage on the flat, or downhill, as it transferred to momentum. Indeed, with a gentle downward slope, we could scare the Bejazus out of Lycra-clad carbon-toting speed demons. I guess they found it a bit like being overtaken by a near-silent juggernaught. But on the up-hills. . . sheesh! That weight meant that the bike came to a very rapid stop, that only serious effort could overcome!
But things went well overall. Tall Rob, Algernond, and Fat The Other Rob did a great support job for us - staying with us, or dashing ahead for a mile or so, before stopping and waiting for us to sail past ( we rarely stopped, and so managed an average speed of ~13mph). One of the pannier bags rubber against the Sturmey Archer gear linkage somewhere in the first 30 miles though, and re-set the calibration. I think that as a result, we lost top (5th) gear, though on reflection, it may have shifted them all down one gear, so that what we were actually left with was 2, 3,4, & 5. It was dark though, and I didn’t fancy trying to adjust it back by torchlight, and as all but the steepest hills were manageable, we stuck with it as it was.
We got overtaken by Adrian Fitch at about 40 miles, and later caught up with him at the feed station. He’d been averaging around 20 mph, but had rather messed up his time for the ride by hanging about the stop for two hours trying to get the rest of his rather large club group together and off. A bit like herding cats, I suppose.
At 90 miles, the sun rose, and we stopped at the top of a hill to admire the view. Shortly after this though, it was clear that there was something wrong with Von Small Houssen. According to the tandem’s power meter (my legs’ perceived effort), she was struggling to keep going. We stopped, and she flopped off the bike to lay face-down at the road-side. Her symptoms were lethargy, apparent lack of hope, and an inability to expend any energy at all.
Yep - you guessed it. She’d bonked! We put an energy gel down her neck with some more fluids, and within about ten minutes, she was back to form, and ready for the last ten miles or so. By this point it had started to rain, but we didn’t care. We’d made it.
The only things left to do were, queue up at the cafe for a Hearty Breakfast (or failing that, one likely to cause a heart attack) . . .
. . . have a swim (this is as far as I got - too damned cold!) . . .
. . . have an hour’s kip on the shingles . . .
. . . wake up, and head off to the pub for a pint . . .
We got the bus back to London, and finally arived back at Von Small Haussen’s at aound 6:30. I had a shower, packed the car, and set off for my short drive home in some pretty crappy traffic, eventually getting to bed at 3 in the morning.
It was a completely bloody brilliant weekend, and one that I’ll be repeating next year (25th July?), only maybe not on the tandem - the rose-tinted glasses haven’t quite settled on my nose yet about that!
Two last things - yes, I did the event in character as Yehuda Moon:
. . . and I took a short film of what it’s like at the end. Youtube has stripped the music off it, but maybe you can see yourself somewhere in this: