At the start of every season a number of local clubs arrange and host reliability rides around the area. These are often around 50-60 miles in length, are unsigned, cost very little and have excellent cake at the end too. Traditionally these rides were the first test of the legs in an event, to see how they were faring at speeds a little quicker than the average Sunday club run. The reliability ride has now morphed into a popular mini-sportive, with a strong mix of riders at all levels taking part.
West Midlands Reliability Rides in 2017
Stratford Cycle Club Reliability Ride
When: 12th February 2017
Where: Home Guard Club, Tiddington, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire
Route: Here 2016 Review – 2014 Review
CC Giro Reliability Ride
When: 12th February
Where: Rosliston Forestry Centre, Rosliston, Derbyshire/East Staffordshire
Route: Here 2016 Review
Bridgnorth CC Reliability Ride
When: 12th February 2017
Where: Clee Cycles, Station Works, Hollybush Road, Bridgnorth
Route: Here (gpx)
Malvern Cycle Sport Reliability Ride
When: 19th February 2017
Where: Malvern Victoria Bowling Club, Victoria Park, Malvern Link, Worcestershire
Mid Shropshire Wheelers Reliability Ride
When: 19th February 2017
Where: Shrewsbury Sports Village, Sundorne Rd, Shrewsbury
Royal Sutton Coldfield Reliability Ride
When: 19th February 2017
Where: Town Gate, Sutton Park, West Midlands
Solihull CC Reliability Ride
When: 26th February 2017
Where: Bluebell Cider House, Solihull, West Midlands
Redditch Road and Path CC Reliability Ride
When: 26th February 2017
Where: Mettis Aerospace Sports & Social Club, Cherry Tree Walk, Redditch, Worcestershire
Route: Here 2016 Review
Audlem CC Reliability Ride
When: 26th February 2017
Where: Scout and Guide Hut, Audlem, SE Cheshire
Bromsgrove Olympic Reliability Ride
When: 5th March 2017
Where: Scout Hut, Kidderminster Road, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire
Echelon Cycles Three Counties Challenge
When: 5th March 2017
Where: Echelon Cycles, Pershore, Worcestershire
Stafford Road Club Reliability Ride
When: 5th March 2017
Where: Stafford Rugby Club, Stafford, Staffordshire
Nova Raiders Reliability Trial
When: 12th March 2017
Where: New Inn, Newport, Shropshire
Wolverhampton Wheelers ’50 in 4′
When: 15th March 2017
Where: Pattingham Village Hall, Pattingham, Shropshire
I completed the Rapha Festive 500 again between Christmas and New Year’s Eve 2016. The challenge is to cycle 500km over 8 days during the darkest, bleakest and most social time of the year.
Part of the reward for completing the challenge, other than the massive leg muscles, is a woven roundel patch to commemorate the achievement. This year’s has just come through the post!
Not quite as nice a package as two years ago, but the patch itself is just as good. Previously the card it came with was full of facts such as how many riders completed the challenge, which countries they were from and so on. This year it’s just a cartwheeling figure on the figure. Maybe too many people completed it and the cost is starting to climb!
A nice touch this year is a jersey available at an actual reasonable price (unlike the usual ones, jealously griped about here), I bought one, mainly to be able to show off – standard, I’ve had previous for this.
This Christmas, I set myself the challenge to complete the Rapha Festive 500 again. The challenge that Rapha set is to cycle 500 kilometres between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, which given the Winter weather and social restrictions of that time of year presents a fair obstacle. I completed the Festive 500 back in 2014 so knew that I could do it again, provided the weather was kind and I was sensible.
Day 1 was tough, a ridiculously windy day and I didn’t get to enjoy much of the wind behind me on the fun sections! The headwinds were on the already more difficult rolling sections with the climbs and long steady gradients. Disappointingly towards the end of the ride when I should have been able to tank along with the wind, I had to keep stopping because round seemingly every bend was a horse – it turned out the local hunt were out doing their thing. I slogged through 39.6 miles on my own, but didn’t particularly enjoy it – an inauspicious start!
The second day was Christmas Day, just like two years before I split today’s mileage into two separate rides. Making sure I’d done the bulk early in the day, it was another windy solo day but thankfully dry. With the wind in the right direction, it was fun blasting along the lanes using the body as a sail. A nice easy 10 miles later on in the dark along the flat roads not far from home.
I get some company on the Festive 500
Boxing Day saw me join the Stratford Cycling Club’s Boxing Day ride, a leisurely jaunt of 50 miles for me. Meeting up at Box Brownie, a great cafe in Stratford, we headed up towards Shrewley and Lowsonford before heading back to Stratford via Alcester. I sat in the wheels for most of the ride, being told I was showing off because of my trackstanding whilst waiting at junctions, before taking the reigns near the end of the ride. Somehow we managed to get split up coming up the rise by Billesley, but being so close to Stratford it settled into two manageable groups. Just about 1 mile from Stratford and on a short rise I decided to liven things up by attacking on a small rise, blasting away with only Max managing to bridge the gap on the way into Stratford. We decamped into a cafe for some more coffee before heading home.
The next day was another social club ride with most of the same (allbeit smaller) pack. We did 25 flat miles to begin with towards Bretforton and Badsey before making the turn back towards Stratford, someone was clearly bored and fancied a hill or two so we ended up both Saintbury and Baker’s Hill. Max smashed up miles ahead of everyone else, I was setting a good pace ahead of John and Dave but thinking we were making the left turn halfway up Saintbury pulled in, only to find we weren’t as those two went past. Momentum lost, the rest of the hill was a struggle. Leading the charge past Chipping Campden and down into Mickleton, Baker’s was taken far more sedately. Again a last little sprint was had just outside of Stratford, pleased to say I got the tactics right having sat at the back to begin with, moving up the line as people dropped out and making the sprint count at the end. Back into town for more coffee again! Managed to get another 11 miles done that evening cycling into down for some drinks.
After the harder previous days, the 28th was a relatively rest day, just a ride over to Shipston on Stour and back to see my grandparents. Still 17 miles though to keep things ticking over nicely.
The legs were beginning to ache and felt very heavy on the 29th. It took me most of the day to work up the energy to head out and I only did 21 miles that day on flat roads. I accidentally set a bit of a PB on half of a local TT circuit, which I ended up using as a banker time to try and beat later in the week.
Festive 500 Ice and Mechanicals
The club had another group ride on the 30th, the weather had changed from earlier in the week and got colder, ice was now an issue. The main road into Stratford was fine, but as we headed out towards Tysoe we found a particularly icy stretch and one of our group managed to hit the deck because of it. As we all stopped for a check up, it was hard to even stand upright at the moment and it became easier to get going again by starting on the grass verge! Tim and I decided we’d had enough of looking over the front wheel for ice all the time and bombed back into Stratford along the main road. Coming out of Stratford, crossing an island, my chain unexpectedly fell off. It turned out I’d completely destroyed the chainring, snapping it good and proper because a couple of chainring bolts had fallen out at some point. The bike was still rideable in the big chainring so that’s how I finished the ride. I got home, had some lunch and then popped out for another 20 miles on the main roads to get some miles advantage in again and have less to do the following day.
New Year’s Eve, just 25.5 miles left to complete. I went out solo, did a couple of loops of the Stratford Tuesday bash circuit by Ilmington and found time for a half-proper TT attempt to finish off. Into a headwind, I knocked over 50 seconds off the time of the first half set a couple of days earlier and set a time for the circuit which is a good starting point. Finishing in the dark I was glad to have it all over and done with – 500km in 8 days!
The Dunwich Dynamo and I have a fair amount of history, until this year I’d set off 4 times from London Fields in Hackney and had so far only made the beach at Dunwich in Suffolk a single time. For a variety of legitimate reasons, ranging from a glut of punctures using up all the spares to the early symptoms of Guillain-Barre Syndrome, somehow getting to the beach was a struggle.
The Dynamo is an overnight 110 mile ride leaving East London at about 8pm on the Saturday in July closest to the full moon and arriving at Dunwich shortly after dawn the following morning. The route is gently rolling with no proper hills, just a couple of leg warmers every now and again. All sorts take part, the club cyclists rush past early on, the decent roadies following them shortly afterwards and then onto a myriad of contraptions as varied as an antique butcher’s bike advertising a pub, a fleet of stepwalker bikes and some guys on a vintage singlespeed tandem.
The last one was us as it happens in 2015, an Ebay hunt last year made us find this tandem that looked like it had been in a barn for at least 20 years being somewhat generous. My friend George who joined me on the tandem, handed it over to his dad who shot-blasted it and painted it black (I believe there was only one colour) whereupon we got it back in bits and put it back together. The idea to build it as a singlespeed (that’s one gear to ride in, but not fixed) was partly out of laziness as it’s just much easier to build and a lack of time before the off last year. We managed to ride around 50 miles of the Dynamo before coming across an issue where the rear wheelnuts didn’t hold the rear wheel in place anymore so we had to keep getting off and re-tightening, only for it happen again shortly afterwards. Our night ended in the luxurious surroundings of Colchester railway station waiting for the first train back to London.
2016 Dunwich Dynamo
Onto 2016 – new wheelnuts to avoid the previous issue were in place, a test ride highlighted an issue with cranks but tightening some bolts sorted that. To start the day off, I had to ride the tandem on my own from home to Stratford upon Avon station, not a problem but you do look a lonely soul riding a tandem on your own, to meet up with my tandem-mate George and Rich, who was riding a sensible bike. To look the part, George and I had forgone the regular cycling apparel and instead had donned waistcoats and flatcaps, presumably in an effort to audition for Oliver on the West End.
We were in high spirits as we left Marylebone station, only to find that Rich’s front tyre had decided to give up the ghost after being put on public transport. A new tube was put in but then George’s pump had an argument with the valve on the new tube where it unscrewed the valve and let all the hard-earned air out of the tyre. Some swearing and more pumping and eventually it was alright. We encountered the next issue straight away, in preparing for the ride, I’d put the Garmin GPS’s SD card in my laptop to upload the route…and then left it in the laptop at home. No route and no map is not a good situation, so we ended up taking the SD card from Rich’s phone and going to a friend of George’s who lived conveniently round the corner from the starting point in order to borrow a laptop to download UK maps and the route file onto the SD card to then put in the Garmin. This in itself was trouble, the Garmin is highly strung when attached by a cable so when an accidental touch happened, 25 minutes were spent trying to get it to connect again. Eventually, some food was had and we were good to go.
Dunwich Dynamo 2016
The strategy we had meant leaving at 7pm, before the majority, as we knew we were booked onto a Midday train from Ipswich the next day, this meant cycling the full 110 miles and then doing another 35 miles on top – 145 miles within 17 hours – in theory manageable, but fearing the worst and being comfortably the furthest George and Rich had ever ridden, some leeway was wise. Rich successfully made it past the 50 metre mark which was far as a friend of a friend got last year before trashing his chain to pieces and we were soon heading out of London with a loaf of Soreen falling out of a pocket at some traffic lights the only mishap. This whole stage was smoothly navigated, with not many people out yet we weren’t held up in traffic or at lights so much and the miles ticked by.
There are a number of pubs en-route and once outside of London, there are some nice village ones which are aware of the ride and set themselves up to cater for cyclists. Normally by the time I’ve arrived at them, so has everyone else and they’re rammed. This year however, we coasted up to the pub in the village of Moreton and were able to easily claim a table outside to relax at with a briefly earned pint after 20 miles. We ended up chatting with someone for a while who had slogged round on the butcher’s bike last year, which when shown a picture George recognised, this year however he’d chosen to ride a more sensible bike.
We trundled on, recognising places as we went from last year, each one was a mental tick of progression. The previous year we’d had to fix a puncture in Great Dunmow, this year we just sailed through it without a problem, other than missing the turn but realising the error within 20 metres. There were a couple of tealights out on the pavement which are an unofficial route guide and only seem to exist on this early part, in the dead of night you’re fully on your own. Our next pub stop was in the village of Great Bardfield which again is normally a very popular stop but we were able to go straight to the bar. Last year it was here that Luke waited for us when we’d had to stop, so it was very familiar.
By now it was around 11pm, properly dark but we passed the point where we had both got sick of the tandem as it became unreliable the last time. Past the point where we called Luke to say we were bailing and then past the point we turned off the route for good on our way to Colchester. Before we knew it we were in Sudbury, where Luke was (20 miles ahead) when we gave up. We were into uncharted territory! Incidentally the descent into Sudbury was where we managed our max speed for the night of 36.9mph, freewheeling at that speed on a heavy bike and two of us was fun and a real test of trust for George behind that his driver could handle it (obviously I could).
We had two stops close together around 80 and 95 miles in. The first was a food stop, a chance to eat a gel or two and replenish, as well as a chance for my hands to get a rest – despite my best efforts the handlebars were like a pair of crutches, all your weight going through the soft part of your palms. The second was a relievement stop, mixed in with some amateur photography to keep the spirits up. Figured a sturdy fence to lean the camera on with some time delay of passing cyclists and their lights might create a nice picture. It wasn’t too bad for a phone camera, but a proper camera would’ve done it more justice, that and some fancier more colourful lights passing us there.
We were now on the last stretch to the beach, the night sky was turning into an inky navy rather than the outright black of night, dawn was coming. We found ourselves in a bit of a back and forth with 3 members of West Suffolk Wheelers, on the flat and in particular the descents we’d come flying past only for them to come past on any uphill part (our lack of gears starting to hurt the later into the night we got). I also had a technique at T-junctions of cutting up the outside because no car lights shining clearly meant no traffic, whilst we did repeatedly overtake a lot of people it also meant we didn’t have to come to a complete stop and begin our starting procedure. The very final stretch I recognised through the dunes above Dunwich and upped the tempo, we went flying past them for a final time, round a couple of bends and then descended down to the beach and the finish. As we took our gloves off, the first sliver of sun appeared above the sea on the horizon.
A café on the beach opens very early and I took the chance to have a sausage roll and a bacon roll, absolutely perfect and very well earned. After eating we took a stroll to the beach itself and lay down amongst the other cyclists. We all nodded off at some point and had a very short nap. Being still though meant the cold had started to creep in and with a train to catch, we had around 7 hours to do the 35 miles to the train station. Should be easy.
Getting home from the Dunwich Dynamo
The climb up from the beach was hard and we’d gone 10 miles when the Garmin said it had low battery. This meant an enforced stop in the village of Snape where we could sit down for a bit and let it charge from my battery pack. We all took the chance to have a nap on benches, looking like extremely well dressed vagabonds. 35 minutes later we on our way and didn’t stop again until Ipswich. We had a bit of a navigation error, where it wanted to take us onto the dual-carriageway A12 and I didn’t, so we ended up on a grass road behind some houses until it eventually ran out, we ended up cutting through an estate and onto a cycle path to Ipswich. We had only our second get off and walk moment up a steep hill out of Woodbridge, but we made it with plenty of time to spare. Helpfully the train staff allowed us to get onto an earlier train and we all slept on the way into London.
Cycling across London we had our final mishap, someone put too much power through his cranks and a bolt apparently came off from the cotterpin holding them in place. This was right outside Kings Cross station, I had to cycle the last 250 metres or so with very very offset cranks – instead of a 9:15 clock hands position, they were now at something like a 1:15 which felt very odd. They didn’t come loose so we managed to finish, I was the lucky one who then had to solo ride the tandem (with its unintentional new setup) the 7 miles home from Stratford station. I tried to stay awake, repeatedly failed, burnt a pizza by falling asleep and then eventually slept 12 hours that night.
An early start after sleeping on Rich’s deflating airbed saw Rich, George and I head down to Birmingham New Street to catch the train over to Hampton in Arden. Breakfast was acquired on the way (sausage and bacon rolls are excellent for cycling) and we rolled out for the short ride over to Meriden for the Warwickshire Wanderer 105km Audax.
I did this Audax in 2015, but the longer 160km version, however this time I was using it to help build up the miles for George and Rich ahead of this year’s Dunwich Dynamo and a planned trip to cycle from Brussels to Cologne in September. We made it to the start at the church hall, had a cup of hot brown, picked up our route cards and were on our way.
The beauty of the Audax is that most people are sensible, don’t rush off from the start and quietly plod along on their way at a leisurely pace enjoying themselves. There is a little bit of a climb straight away from Meriden however and despite trying to sit in the wheels, ended up dragging the guys with me through the groups (albeit still being sensible) until we found one going at a speed we liked. The route meandered through the Birmingham/Coventry gap before working its way past Hatton and into countryside that I recognised the look of – this naturally meant I ended up speeding up a bit before taking it easy to make sure we were all together again.
The first control was in Norton Lindsey and was a simple matter of reading a road sign as we went past, later on seemingly everyone else was asking the answer as they’d missed it whilst making the turn out of a junction. The next stretch was windy and we’d ended up in a group that was spaced out quite a bit which meant keeping track of both the guys was difficult, I ended up losing them briefly on a descent before picking them up again the other side of the A46 after having a bit of a chat with another rider as he went past. We were heading for Wellesbourne and the road was kind and in our favour, allowing us to pick up speed for a bit. We entered the village and looked for the next control (a proper village hall, tea and cake stop) but after turning off the road we weren’t sure where to go next, until 30 seconds later another rider went flying past down a driveway, that confidence convinced us to follow. It had turned out we’d been the first riders to get there (just) so it wasn’t obvious with no-one else to follow (we were also spot on the earliest time of arrival allowed). We put a sticker in our card and treated ourselves to cake.
We allowed ourselves a leisurely break before setting off again, now properly into a stiff headwind. We took the back way out of Wellesbourne to Kineton rather than going over Spring/Fizz Hills and then started heading towards Edgehill. I teased Rich about us maybe having to go up the impending climb, knowing full well we were going to turn off right at the bottom of it, eventually I put him out of his misery. It was along here that someone ahead somehow managed to crash going over the railway lines that go from one part of the Temple Herdwycke army camp to the other. He seemed alright and turned down the offers of help from us so we left him to it. We began to see the Burton Dassett beacon and I let the guys know that we were definitely going up this one and that once it was done, we’d done the hardest climb.
I’ve done this one a few times, the climb starts by going across the cattle grid before gradually rising itself up into a double figure gradient on the turn, a brief respite gives the legs chance before the short final kick up to the beacon. I’d gone at a fast but reasonable pace and figured that’d be enough to beat everyone, near the top I could hear Rich’s gears and breathing making a racket as he’d taken on the challenge of catching me up. On the top bend with a car for cover, I spun up the legs and across the top to the next cattle grid distanced him properly. I then had to go back because I’d missed the answer to the next control question which had been on the bend where I shot off. I told the guys to carry on and caught up with them again shortly afterwards.
We were now out of the worst of the headwind and plodded on quite happily together, eventually reaching the next proper control in the village of Harbury. Just like last year, they’d put on a good spread and we spent 40 minutes there relaxing out of the worst of the oncoming drizzle. Plenty started ahead of us so we’d given up on thinking we’d be one of the first pack and found ourselves attached to the back of 3-4 riders going at a decent sensible pace for the final part of the ride. As the legs began to tire, Rich was quiet and I presume heavily focused on following the wheel in front of him – he turned down offers to do his turn on the front. George found himself fine on the flat but each time the road gradually rose up, found himself dropping back, keen to keep the group together and it only being small moments of struggle, I helped by giving him a push up the gradients to keep his speed up so he could then stay in the group and hide out of the wind on the flat. Later on one of the older guys in the group queried George as to why I was helping George when he was much older – the best response seemed to be to suggest that the older guy was a better rider.
Having kept myself sensible on this final stretch and knowing the last short climb before the finish, I let George know my intentions and zoomed off out of the group to blast up the hill and then down the descent the other side. Surprisingly one of the group tried to come with me but I crested the climb ahead and stayed in front. Rich wasn’t far behind and George had taken it easy arriving about a minute later. The card was checked, had our paid for beans and toast and then we went down the pub.
Another weekend, another reliability ride somewhere across the West Midlands! This time I’d managed to convince both George and Adam to accompany me to lovely Redditch for a 45 mile ride down to the very edge of the Cotswolds and back up again.
Redditch Reliability Ride
Driving down, we managed to find Adam in the car park surprisingly easily, touched base, took the bikes off the car, paid our £4 entry and upon the promise of a track pump, decided to pump up the tyres properly. Getting to Adam’s car it became clear that it had either wandered off or more likely had been left standing proudly to attention in the kitchen back home.
We set off tagged to the back of a group I knew would be quick (with many black and gold clad Sette Dodici riders from the Saturday morning sufferfest), only to immediately drop back at our own pace as we went straight into a decent leg warmer of a climb in the first half a mile. We found ourselves behind 3 or 4 riders as we left Redditch – the only drama being when one of their bottles decided it didn’t want to go for a rider and jumped out of its holder into the road, narrowly avoiding my wheels.
We found ourselves on top of The Ridgeway, a 3 mile long ridge (unsurprisingly) that stretches south from Redditch with great views for miles around and being slightly downhill in this direction, we were tanking along. We kept that speed up for awhile, tucked out of the wind because our two leaders whose pace we were happy to follow. We eventually went past them at Bidford upon Avon, where I used my local knowledge to tell the story of the tractor that took out the bridge, with the new stone clearly visible.
We took one of my unexplainable least favourite roads, the long straight road into Honeybourne, which always seems to be a headwind no matter the day or direction. I took the front and tried to keep a sensible pace, only forgetting when I saw a couple of riders up ahead which meant my competitive spirit kicked in…plus I’m a terrible pacemaker. We reached the turning around point at Willersey, had a bit of a conflab and then headed back to where we’d come from.
The route was nearly an out and back straight line, but we chose to do the optional loop for a bit of variation (and because I don’t like that aforementioned road). The road to the top of Marcliff was a long long not remotely steep drag, but the headwind made it feel far steeper than it was. Riding with two skinny guys, headwinds are where I have a bigger advantage being able to generate more power to push through them. The average speed began to drop and disappointingly the headwind made the descent back into Bidford rather tame as it made it feel more like flat than a drop.
The other side of the village, Adam began to drop back which was the start of a grind to the finish, as despite the obvious checks, nothing appeared to impede but Adam’s feedback was that all flats had begun to feel like they were uphill and even downhills weren’t offering a respite. Consensus seemed to be that it was rear wheel bearings, a tough one to fix on the road and we toughed it out to get to the finish together. George and I had a bit of a race up the hill into the village of Dunnington, he started off quickly and as I pegged him back, I reckoned he would pop before the top, at which point I would shoot off. Strava says I won by 11 seconds, but we both finished well above the average that day.
Heading back up onto the Ridgeway, Adam’s speed really dropped as the effort required to keep his bike turning over started to hit the legs and the power disappeared. We were averaging around 10-12mph at this point with just under ten miles to go to the finish. We stuck together and tried to diagnose whilst riding but the bike was giving no clues, not even loosening off Adam’s back brakes (without him knowing) at a set of traffic lights seemed to help. We got ourselves back through Redditch and enjoyed the swoop back down the starting hill into the rugby club we started from.
Our £4 paid for a cup of tea and some cake at the end, we’d definitely earned some and the cherry sponge thing I had was frankly amazing! A nice ride, the fun of which taken a little bit by some bearings and once again I fell into my old habits of not taking photos again, bah.
Right so in the traditional Christmas style, gather round children, I have a story or two to tell…
I’ve been very neglectful and haven’t been writing for awhile and eventually the guilt and haranguing from family members has meant that my last acts of 2015 will be to finally write up my Dunwich Dynamo and London to Paris experiences and enter 2016 with a clean conscience.
And so onwards…
A Potted Dunwich Dynamo History
The Dunwich Dynamo is an overnight, 120 mile, ride that leaves Hackney in London around 8pm and sees riders reach Dunwich on the Suffolk coast shortly after daybreak the next morning. It’s half organised, free to enter, and the non-competitive nature of it encourages all sorts of riders to give it a go, from club warriors to those that normally just cycle to the shops and back. The equipment on show is a bewildering mix.
Now me and the Dunwich Dynamo have a history. For some reason it has become the most ill-fated ride I continue to do. I first gave it a go in 2010 only for 5-6 punctures and a lack of route sheet to put pay to our ride, the night was ultimately spent trying to sleep in Braintree station waiting for the first train. The second attempt in 2011 was successful and the beach was reached, despite a puncture at the ‘Welcome to Dunwich’ sign and a wobbly descent on a flat tyre. 2012 was probably the worst attempt, I managed to get around 10-15 miles in before a weird, power out type feeling kicked in that ultimately resulted in a 12 day hospital stay to cure Guillain–Barré Syndrome. The years 2013 and 2014 were skipped because of Luke, firstly he booked a Scout trip on that weekend and secondly because he hit a cat and broke his elbow. There were no excuses left for 2015.
The Dunwich Dynamo Tandem Idea
For 2015, I managed to rope in my flat-mate George and the idea to do it on a tandem surfaced. Ebay was consulted and one was bought for under £100. I really wish I’d made a copy of the original picture because nothing I describe will do it justice – the short version is it looked like it had been kept in a barn for at least 30 years and had no discernable maker’s name or anything to distinguish itEdit – Found one!
It then promptly lived at George’s dad’s workshop for 4 months where it was cleaned up, shot blasted and given a new coat of paint. By the time we got hold of it, it was unrecognisable. Best estimates based on the stem and original Cyclo derailleur are that it’s from the 1920s or 1930s. We ended up deciding to build it as a single-speed because of the ease and the route being a more or less flat one, it wouldn’t cause too many issues.
The Dunwich Dynamo
Getting it on the train and down to London was surprisingly easy, with our limited practice, the part I was most worried about was cycling across London but even that wasn’t a problem bar one incident. Coming to a T-Junction and wanting to keep the speed up, rather than stop and reset, I looked, saw it was clear and turned left. Somehow out of the options that were laid out in front of us of cycle lane or road, I chose the very narrow raised ’causeway’ between the two. The drop was too great to just stop and put feet down, but with an abrupt end clear ahead we had to hop off the raised part into the cycle lane, which surprisingly worked. Then the saddlebag fell off.
The afternoon was spent in a cycling café watching the Tour de France Prologue and sunbathing in the park next to the starting point. As the afternoon turned into evening, the amount of bikes and cyclists kept growing, with plenty interrupting a nearby pétanque game by cycling through it unintentionally. Eventually Luke and Will arrived and our contingent of two veterans and two newbies was together. We made it a full 50 yards as a foursome.
Will managed to start his own run of Dunwich Dynamo misfortune by completely destroying his chain less than a minute into the ride. It was completely unrepairable and an 8pm start time meant that all nearby shops were long shut. We gave our commiserations and left Will with an unfortunate long walk/scoot to Liverpool Street station to get home.
A couple of thousand bikes all leaving London at the same time always has the same effect, queues of traffic and frustrated drivers. These first 20 miles or so were very fun on the tandem, needing to keep some space due to our limited braking power, we often forged our own path and discovered that on the flat and any small bumps we were quicker than almost everyone else without much effort. At this stage we were pulling over regularly to wait for Luke who was caught up behind others and not willing to match our 20mph quite so early into a long ride. We found that riding a tandem with bright green wheels lended itself to quite a bit of conversation from others who seemed impressed that we were young people on a tandem and that it was a singlespeed…it’s hard to imagine not having gears until you don’t!
About an hour in, just shy of the M25, we stopped at a petrol station and stocked up on potentially the last chance for refreshments for awhile. I tried to put a bottle of coke into our frame triangle bag, only to split the bag and make all the gels fall out. With no other place to put the gels as the pockets were already full a fix was fashioned using a footstrap and we were able to continue. I can’t remember the exact point, but it can’t have been too soon after we had our first visit from the rear wheel gremlin. Each time we put in a bit of extra effort, the back wheel came out of its fixing and jammed everything up. We had to keep stopping, turning the bike over, re-place the wheel and tighten everything back up. This kept happening and got worse and worse. We ended up making Luke wait at least 30 minutes at one of the villages with a pub still open because we were faffing so much with these issues.
The next stretch was where it all came to a head. 10-15 miles where it felt like the wheel came off every two minutes anddd a puncture thrown in for good measure. The puncture was especially bad because my pump chose that moment to break, so we resorted to hailing riders as they went past for someone with a pump until one eventually stopped. With the tyre pumped up and ready to go, we eventually stopped a few miles afterwards because the rear wheel had popped out for the thousandth time. The despair of stopping every 10 minutes without respite had finally got to us and we were ready to throw in the towel.
Attempts to get hold of Luke took awhile and when we finally spoke, it turned out he was already in Sudbury, a full 18 miles or so ahead (an hour with a working bike) and so we agreed to go our separate ways – him to home and bed and us to the lovely city of Colchester. Having consulted the map for options, it was decided this was our best option, the nearest station was 25 miles away but the first train wasn’t until 8am, Colchester was 30 miles away but there was a promised train just before 6am. We had around 4 hours to get there so the pressure was off provided we could coax the rear wheel to stay on. As it happens the last thing I did whilst we were stopped proved to be the life saver. I’d managed to find some modern style wheel bolts packed away that were probably worth a go and were attached by spanner within an inch of their lives. Closer inspection showed the vintage ones we had been using were worn smooth on the inside and just couldn’t grip any more. The rear wheel didn’t come out again after this.
Spirits renewed because we were on the way home and we were no longer fighting the bike, we had music playing to keep us going (and awake) and walking up the steep hills on the way to Colchester was no problem – turns out gears would have been useful for this bit. Breakfast was served at a garage a mile from the station and desperately needed. We spent around 40 minutes in Colchester station car park waiting for the rail replacement bus service, which had no problems putting a tandem in the back. The final drama was the bus driver forgetting to call at Stratford on the way to Liverpool Street and being about 2 minutes from the latter when deciding to turn around to go back to Stratford. Some of the passengers were vocal in expressing their displeasure at this decision as they pointed out they may as well get off now. The furore woke me up and knowing roughly where we were (Aldgate East as it happens) decided it made sense for us to get off too. Nudged George awake, took the bike out of the hold and cycled across to Euston to go home.