The all singing, all dancing blog of Alex Guite

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Dunwich Dynamo: I'm not a spokesman

Full moon in July means cycling 200km on the "turn-up-and-go challenging slightly-scary free-entry overnight on-road" Dunwich Dynamo ride. I completed it last year, despite moderate rain, two broken spokes and a ripped tyre. For good measure I did an extra 50km to a train station at the end.

I'd been looking forward to this year's ride pretty much since I recovered from the last one, the achievement of pulling into Dunwich as the sun rises in the morning is awesome. I headed over to London Fields on Saturday evening to start this year's ride looking for a good training cycle and a bit of adventure.

Learning from last year's ride when I ran out of food at four in the morning, I over compensated this year. But four bacon sandwiches, two packets of fig rolls, five bananas, one energy bar, two electrolyte sachets and a tray's worth of flatjacks, alongside all of my mechanical stuff (basic tools, inner tubes and spare tyre) not to mention maps and a change of clothes in case it rained were all be too much for my courier bag. So with the even greater baggage needs of LEJoG in mind I figured the time was right to get a pair of panniers.

Along with cycling over 100 miles a day for ten days, one thing I'm dreading about LEJoG is that I'll have to de-pimp my bike down to a tourer. Hello panniers, goodbye racer. I guess I could put some go-faster stripes down the side to make it look a bit cooler.

Weather forecasts for the ride were pretty poor, but having survived rain last year I didn't think much of it. Didn't look like the hundreds of others in London Fields on Saturday evening thought much of it either. I bumped into some riders from the Central London CTC who I'd cycled with before so joined them to set off. There's no official start to the Dynamo, at around 8pm people start setting off and then a kind of momentum develops and the streets fill with bikes.

An hour in and the drizzle started. But with a good tailwind and plenty of energy we plunged on into the darkening night, following a trail of red LEDs through into the countryside. Many of us were cycling along two a breast along the wider roads, sharing cycling anecdotes with complete stangers or pushing on in silence with cycling buddies. However, for reasons I can't adequatley explain I was chosen as the spokesman for all cyclists when a boy racer pulled along side me and shouted across his girlfriend "Oi, you ride single file. Single file". I started back at him by begining to explain that the highway code allows cycling up to two abreast on wide roads, but before I could get more than "Nah mate, we're fine like this-" he swerved his car towards me. Sometimes it might be best to keep quiet. I wonder how many other breaches of the highway code he's made whilst compensating for his presumably small genetalia.

Only 40km in I heard a noise I'd been dreading since last year's ride: the twang of a broken spoke. Fortunatley we'd just past a village so I turned back into the light to inspect the damage. With one spoke down my back wheel was wobbling around, all I could think was "man, this is untrue!". In the slight panic which gripped me with the realisation that if one spoke was gone, another might be about to go, that it was raining harder and harder, that if I couldn't continue I was in the middle of nowhere and that it was too late to find a bed & breakfast, I couldn't remember how to true my wheel. After almost an hour of uber-faffing, spending over five quid on a pay phone (no mobile reception) to get someone to look up which way to turn a spoke key to tighten spokes and trying to get the number of the nearest travel lodge, the good sense of an old cyclist prevailed: "loosen your rear brakes and don't worry about it, you've got lots of other spokes".

So once more I plunged roughly back into that good night. The next 70km to the food station were pretty unremarkable along dark country lanes: my waterproof became saturated and I got wetter and wetter, but with a good tailwind and a plentiful supply of fig roles things didn't seem too bad. Pulling into the warmth of the food station at just past two in the morning made me realised just how cold I was. Completley drenched and shivering I huddled around one of the radiators to dry out whilst shoving down bacon sandwiches, flapjacks and bananas.

I found some of the CTCers who I'd become seperated from earlier and discovered that I wasn't the only one who wasn't looking forward to going back out into the worsening rain. They'd even found out that there was a train back to London in five hours and so, along with many others, my Dynamo finished in a village hall on the outskirts of Sudbury.

Along with the rides to the start and the station back I clocked up 160km. No Dunwich, but I did discover that my Ortlieb panniers really are totally waterproof, even in torrential rain.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

A weekend of cycling and peddaling poor puns

True story: I'd planned to do a 50km ride yesterday, but too much drinking and not enough eating on Friday night meant that, er, I spent most of the day in bed. I eventually managed to get out to buy a spoke key to true my back wheel. It was surprisingly satisfying to finally deal with the slight lateral bulge in my wheel. It made me wheely truly happy. (Aside: if you're thinking of truing your wheel but like me just couldn't be bothered, it's well worth it. Bike feels a lot smoother. Good instructions here.)

Made up for yesterday's laziness by joining another excellent Central London CTC ride around Hertfordshire. Including cycling to and from train stations I clocked up 125km, averaging a little over 24km/h. Pace was a bit slower than normal, but that sometimes happens on group rides. Physics joke: surprisingly the group velocity was slower than the phase velocity.

I got a puncture just before lunch, but I didn't allow myself to get too deflated by this. Even if I had, I would have been uplifted by our afternoon tea stop at Panshanger Aerodrome (if you enjoy full stops between sentences don't visit their site).


Monday, July 16, 2007

Bitten by the cycling bug

I seem to have got a fly in the ointment whilst out training at the weekend. When I got back from doing laps of Richmond Park (average 29.5kph) I discovered that my left leg was unusually swollen, seems that I've got a possibly infected bite, much like this one which started my blog in the first place. A good reminder to buy some insect repellent to fend off midges in Scotland.


Friday, July 13, 2007

On my bike

At the end of August I've decided that I'm going to go to the most southerly point in Britain (Land's End down in Cornwall), aim my bike towards the North and start cycling. Hopefully 1600km and about 350,000 turns of my pedals later I'll arrive at John O'Groats right at the top of Scotland. Those with an eye for these sort of things will have noticed that what I will be doing the so called Land's End to John O'Groats.

So I'm starting a new section of my blog so you can keep up to date with my training and the ride itself (subject to me being able to get onto the interweb).

This will be the longest ride I've ever done and to make it more of a challenge I'm going to do it solo in the shortest time I can manage, averaging at least 100 miles per day. Although I can't wait to travel across the country, cycle through Cheddar (I understand I should be able to get some cheese there) and inspect Loch Ness for signs of life along the way, I'm also hoping to raise some money for Afasic.

I chose Afasic because across the UK there are over one million children and young people affected by speech and language impairments. In fact research shows that six in 100 children will at some stage have a speech, language or communication difficulty... that's about two children in every classroom.

Afasic helps these children, working for their inclusion in society and supporting their parents and carers. They provide a telephone helpline, publications, organise training workshops, run activities and events for the children and young people and have a network of local parent support groups across the UK.

Having needed speech therapy when I was younger I know what a difference a bit of support can make!

You can sponsor me at!