Ready, set, cy­cle

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence -

LIKE so many leg­endary hu­man en­deav­ours, it be­gan in a pub. A Fri­daynight get-to­gether of Lon­don bi­cy­cle couri­ers de­cided to ride to the east coast of Eng­land — all at once.

That was in 1993 and the Dun­wich Dy­namo has since be­come a Bri­tish cy­cling in­sti­tu­tion. About 2000 par­tic­i­pants turn up each year for the 190km overnight ride to Dun­wich in Suf­folk, East Anglia, a town that has been largely aban­doned due to coastal ero­sion.

But here’s the thing — it just hap­pens. There’s no en­try fee, no insurance and no (of­fi­cial) T-shirt.

I turn up at Pub on the Park in the East End Lon­don sub­urb of Hack­ney at 7.30 on the ap­pointed night. The scene is more like a mass mi­gra­tion than any bike race I’ve en­tered. Ev­ery tribe of the wheel has sent rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Grungy sin­gle-speed hip­ster types are in abun­dance, but so are shaven and whip­pet-thin road rac­ers, wob­bly be­gin­ners, beardy cy­clo-tourists, sit-upand-beg tweed rid­ers and mid­dle-aged men in Ly­cra (like me). Yet we all share a pre-ride rit­ual — we or­der one or more pints of beer, then an­nounce, ‘‘See you on the beach!’’

Shortly af­ter 8pm, the first rid­ers split from the pint-quaffing con­gre­ga­tion that has taken over the street out­side the pub. There’s no sig­nal, just an im­plicit agree­ment that it would be bad form to go ear­lier. The cho­rus of cy­cling shoes click­ing into ped­als sounds like a flock of noisy star­lings and so we be­gin, in waves, head­ing north through pas­sage­ways and a church grave­yard.

We pass a mosque and shops sell­ing sec­ond-hand tyres as streets broaden into sub­ur­ban roads. A sprint across a daunt­ingly broad round­about brings us to the man­i­cured wilder­ness of Ep­ping For­est.

The pace lifts and I re­dis­cover a fa­mil­iar face. It’s Fear­gal from the bike-hire shop I’d vis­ited a few hours ear­lier. He’s an urbane pro­fes­sional from Dublin who’s flown over for the event. His speed and fluid style give sub­stance to his claims of do­ing a ca­sual 120km through the Wick­low Moun­tains when­ever he gets a chance.

He’s a good wheel to fol­low and amus­ing, too, as he de­clares in his re­fined brogue, ‘‘ Th­ese ur­ban English have no idea how to de­scend, al­ways on the feckin’ brakes.’’

Tonight, ur­ban Eng­land ends at Ep­ping For­est and soon we are wind­ing along farm lanes through the Rod­ing vil­lages of Es­sex. Among ploughed fields, with Lon­don just a glow on the hori­zon, an El­iz­a­bethan wood­en­beamed pub stands time­lessly, as it did be­fore Cromwell, the Span­ish Ar­mada and the Luft­waffe. Ex­cept tonight it has yielded to squadrons of Ly­cra-wear­ing in­vaders who have con­sumed the pub’s in­ven­tory of choco­late within min­utes. A few rus­tic regulars stare, vastly puz­zled, from dim cor­ners.

Do­ing about 45km/h, I draft be­hind a tan­dem down roads no wider than a drive­way. High hedges whis­tle past. The stoker, ped­alling on the back, is strong, with a bar­rel-like torso, and I ex­press my ap­pre­ci­a­tion. ‘‘You guys are great . . . it’s like fol­low­ing a fur­ni­ture truck.’’

Af­ter the mid­night food stop, which is like a cross be­tween the Tour de France and Tom Brown’s school­days, and af­ter the road­works that prompt a good-na­tured mass out­break of cy­clocross, I ex­pe­ri­ence real English gen­til­ity. I am in an im­promptu bunch of six that has found a kind of magic. There’s an un­spo­ken chore­og­ra­phy be­tween us, each rider mov­ing to the front in proper or­der to do a hard turn on the ped­als be­fore re­treat­ing, re­cov­er­ing and re­launch­ing.

Our chain gang is a well-oiled ma­chine and we go for kilo­me­tres in a pow­er­ful trance un­til, around a cor­ner, there’s a pop-up food stand of­fer­ing ‘‘bar­be­cued sausage and cup of tea’’ for just over a quid. Al­most in uni­son the English­men stop and cry, ‘‘Don’t mind if we do!’’

I’m left ped­alling alone as driz­zle starts. It’s com­ing up to 3am, the dark­est of hours. Fear­gal is long gone, which dis­ap­points me. I’d like to have heard his opin­ion of the ea­ger sausage-eaters.

Dawn comes an hour later near Fram­ling­ham, in what the ride guide de­scribes as the ‘ ‘ Suf­folk prairies’’. Ev­ery­thing is in a blue fog and I reckon I can al­most smell the sea. I’ve hooked up with a bunch headed by a wiry Scots­man on a tiny bike. ‘‘Aye, go for it . . . we’re nearly there!’’ he says, the charge of war in his voice. And so we sprint for the peb­bles and the brown­ish waves of Dun­wich Beach, where a cafe is serv­ing up what else but eggs and chips and cup­pas.

A par­tic­i­pant cy­cles through

Finch­ing­field

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