Audax also known as randonneuring is a non-competitive form of cycling that involves pedaling sometimes mind-bogglingly long distances within set time limits. It has its origins in Italy, is administered globally from France and has a following of enthusiasts throughout the world. This article will focus on the form of Audax followed in the UK but there are other forms popular elsewhere.
Since about 2006 the cycling boom in the UK has largely focused on getting people to commute to work instead of the car and upon the cyclosportive events that have mushroomed during this time but Audax UK has been going quietly under the radar since 1976 and retains a strong loyal following. Events are usually small and so riders will likely experience little of the ire than can be directed at the mass sportives that take place across the country most weekends of the spring and summer.
The distances can seem scary but Audaxers come from all walks of life, very few consider themselves as athletes and the average age of members of Audax UK (AUK) is above 50 at the time of writing. This sometimes gives it its traditional image of beards and sandals (and these people do exist) but audaxers on any given ride include both sexes and can range from children and families to octogenarians.
Audax occupies a ground somewhere between the amateur cyclosportive1 and holiday cycle touring. It is a very sociable and inexpensive form of cycling and events start from as little as 50 km (~32 miles). Rides take place on quiet roads as much as possible, can go off road onto the national cycle routes or canal towpaths and will visit some of the best scenery to be seen in the UK. Audaxes are events created by cycling enthusiasts for other enthusiasts and they want you to enjoy it. It can be a fantastic day (or more) out and is highly recommended. Completion of an audax is always a great personal achievement.
As with any sport there is some technical terminology and jargon - a glossary of this can be found at the end of the article to explain terms such as Brevet, perm and AAA.
Oh and of course don't forget the guilt free cake.
Audax has its origins in late 19th century Italy where day-long endurance sports became popular. The aim was to cover as much ground as possible in 24 hours and participants called themselves 'audax' which translates as 'audacious'. Initially this involved swimming and walking as well as cycling.
In the early 20th century a man named Henri Desgrange2 laid down the first audax regulations and popularised the sport. The first audaxes of this era involved group riding with a team captain leading the way. The team would ride at a steady pace of 18 km per hour3 for 16 to 20 hours before finding a sleep stop. However in the 1920s a split formed in the organisation and Desgrange revoked permission for the breakaway group to follow his regulations. The style of audax cycling then split into two forms. The team form is still practiced in some countries of Europe including France, Germany and the Netherlands and in these countries this is what is recognised by the term audax.4 Other countries mostly follow the newer form of audax cycling termed Allure libre. It is this form of cycling that is practiced by Audax UK riders. Allure libre cycling is individual in nature, cyclists are expected to cover a set distance with defined control points within set time limits and must be self sufficient throughout. No cyclist is allowed help to get from A to B so support vehicles are not allowed and riders cannot jump on a train or get in a taxi - disqualification will occur if evidence of this is discovered. However group riding is not precluded and many will do so.
The original form of audax is governed by the Union des Audax Françaises and the style is called Euraudax. Allure libre audax is governed by the Audax Club Parisien (ACP).
In the 1960s a few British riders gained a taste for this form of cycling and decided to try and qualify for cycling's Blue Riband Audax: a 1200 km ride from Paris to Brest and back again (Paris-Brest-Paris - PBP). Slowly the number of riders grew and in 1976 a few got together and formed Audax UK - this is now entitled through allegiance to the ACP to govern audax events in the UK under its own rules although some events, especially those required to qualify for PBP must run under ACP rules.
AUK is a not-for-profit company and board members do not draw a salary for what they do. In addition, unlike sportives, audax events do not take any profit and all volunteers work for free in their spare time. This volunteer ethos makes audax unique and any members are free to volunteer themselves to help at controls or even train as organisers.
They're just long-ish bike rides
An audax is just a bike ride. Some people might describe them as long-ish bike rides. So the essence of audax is just ride your bike. With this in mind, if you feel you just want to join in then please do so without any regard to the below detailed lists of rules, regulations, awards and advice on equipment and clothing. Don't worry about attempting ultra-long distance events either. The vast majority of AUK members simply enjoy a day's cycling in the countryside with a cafe stop or two.
To reiterate - an audax is just a long-ish bike ride, so just ride your bike and don't worry!
How to Enter an Audax
Entering an audax is easy. The simplest approach is to find a ride near you in AUK's calendar. Just click on your ride of choice and you will be taken to the event page and you can download an entry form. Simply fill in this form with your name address and contact details for someone close to you in the event of an emergency and post it to the organiser along with two C5 self-addressed envelopes and a cheque for the entry fee. About a week before the event you will be sent the route-sheet in the post. The other SAE is to return to you your completed brevet card once it has been validated. Many events will not need this snail mail approach and you can enter online and pay with Paypal. Postal charges for your route-sheet and return of your brevet card are included in the online entry fee. There are even some events that allow entry at the start but do not rely on this, most events do not allow this. If you're really lucky, some events have downloadable route-sheets and even GPS tracks for your convenience.
The AUK calendar is also published in the quarterly magazine Arrivée and this also contains a blank entry form, so it can all be done by post if you so wish.
Once all this is done, just turn up at the appointed time and place, collect your brevet card from the organiser and off you go. Good luck!
Brevets, Rules and Time Limits
In keeping with the French suzerainty of audax, much of the wording is French and distances are measured in km and heights in metres. An audax ride is often referred to as a Randonnée or Brevet5 although only rides of 200 km or above are entitled to use the word randonnée under AUK and ACP regulations.
Audax rides are not themselves organised by AUK or ACP, these are simply the governing bodies. Rides are organised generally by local cycling clubs or an individual or group of volunteers. Even the very large rides such as London-Edinburgh-London are run by a small army of unpaid enthusiasts. So if you ride an event, make sure you thank them for their hard work!
The goal of an audax is to complete a set minimum distance within certain time restrictions. The route is free between the set control points but a route-sheet describing the intended route is provided to entrants. Riders are expected to be self-sufficient and navigate themselves if they deviate from the route-sheet. To make sure distances are completed, riders are given a 'Brevet card' at the start. They are then required to stop, typically at 50-80 km intervals at set establishments or locations to gain proof of passage. Such places are called controls and on calendar events will typically be cycle friendly cafes or pubs.6 They will often have a stamp available to validate your brevet card for time and place of passage. The final control is the end point (or arrivée) whereupon the ride organiser will collect the Brevet card7 and send it to AUK for validation. Occasionally, to prevent riders taking a shortcut on a route8 or to make sure they take a certain route featuring a signature climb or landmark, there will be an 'information control'. This is usually a question on the brevet card such as, 'How many miles to Upper Twiddleton on the sign in the centre of the village', or 'what is the name of the vicar at Lower Twiddleton church'. To gain validation for a ride, all controls must be passed through within the time limits and all info control questions need to be correctly answered. Organisers are wise to the use of Google streetview and will usually make sure the info control cannot be answered in advance using this sort of darkside cheating.
The time limits vary between different types of ride but there is always an upper speed limit to prevent racing. No finishing order is available after the ride so the event is simply completed, not won or lost. The upper speed limit is usually a challenging 30 kph (18 mph) average speed however, so very few riders will be capable of getting anywhere near it anyway. The lower speed limit varies between the types of Brevet.
There is an entry fee associated with audaxes. After all, cake is not free and there are administration costs. However, rides start from as little as £2 an entry and the vast majority are under £10. If you think that's expensive try entering a sportive or even worse, a race. If you are not a member of AUK you will have to pay a £2 supplement for insurance purposes, but there is no requirement to join AUK to take part in an audax. Joining AUK is currently £19 for the first year (£14 thereafter) and will gain you access to their points and awards system and a quarterly magazine dedicated to the sport called Arrivée. Complete enough rides and you will get your name in it and maybe even a photo.9
A BP or populaire is typically a shorter ride in the audax world and these rides are often seen as beginner rides to introduce novices to distance riding. Consequently they typically have shorter distances of 50 km, 100 km or 150 km and more relaxed time limits. Since the goal of AUK is to promote long-distance cycling, rides of less than 200 km do not qualify for the AUK point scoring system although they can qualify for climbing points (AAA points, see below). Nevertheless 100 km rides form a high proportion of AUK's calendar events and are a grand day out. The maximum speed may well be 30 kph for a populaire but the organiser is free to set the lower speed limit as they see fit. A typical populaire minimum speed will be 12 kph. This is really quite slow and so well within reach of any competent cyclist.
Although mostly at the shorter end of the audax spectrum a populaire can actually be of any length and the real division from randonnées is the lower speed limit. Lands End to John O'Groats is available to ride as a populaire. If you do this, you will not get the points you would if you rode it at randonneur pace, but you will get more sleep! Populaires are, perhaps unsurprisingly, generally the most popular events in the audax calendar.
Randonnées are the distances that gain you the most kudos and the biggest sense of achievement. Once completed you are also entitled to the lifelong title of 'Randonneur'. These events begin at 200 km (approx 126 miles) and increase in the classic series, 300 km, 400 km, 600 km, 1000 km, 1200 km and 1400 km although longer distance events do exist. These rides will gain you points in the AUK points and awards system but aside from the distance and a small difference in the minimum speed limit, they are identical to populaires. When you get to the randonnée distances however, controls have a more important function than proof of passage. You will need to eat on the longer distances and high energy foods such as cake are ideal. Do note however, that there is no time allowance for stopping at controls so don't have a leisurely three course meal or you will need to work hard afterwards.
Under AUK Brevet Randonneur (BR) regulations the minimum speed for a brevet randonneur is in the range 14.3-15 kph (about 8.9-9.6 mph) with a maximum of 30 kph. So for a 200 km randonnée you have 14 hours to complete, for a 300 km event, 21 hours, 27 hours for a 400 km ride and 40 hours for a 600km Brevet.
If one spends a little time calculating time limits one will notice that on the longer Brevets you need to go rather above the minimum speed if you want to get any sleep during the ride. For this reason, longer Brevets have a more relaxed minimum speed. 400 km is often considered the most difficult distance as only very fast riders will build up enough spare time to get any useful sleep. For rides of 700-1299 km you must ride at least 13.3 kph, for those of 1300-1899 km 12 kph, 1900-2499 km 10 kph and for more than this 200 km per day is allowed. However only the hardest core of riders will attempt these later extreme distances and the beginner should not concern themselves with this.
Brevet Randonneur Mondiaux
There is another class of ride subject to the rules of ACP. ACP allows governance of audax regulations outside of France subject to their own validation, such rides are known as Brevets Randonneur Mondiaux (BRM). Rides under these regulations must have a minimum speed limit of 15 kph for 200-699 km and there is no extra time allowed for over distance rides. So a 620 km ride must be completed in the same time as a 600 km ride (this is not the case for BR rides). The difference is small but for a rider to qualify for PBP, each qualifying ride must be done under BRM regulations. Most of the rides of 200 km and above in the UK are organised to AUK Brevet de Ranonneur (BR) regulations but some are registered with ACP as BRM events run under ACP regulations but in PBP years when many riders will wish to qualify, most become BRM events. This gives riders multiple opportunities to complete BRM Super Randonneur series (see below) to qualify.
Some rides do not contain designated control stops and so are not catered. In these events controls are simply designated as a town or village en-route and riders are expected to gain proof of passage and feed themselves on their own. Typical ways of achieving this are to get a till receipt from a shop, cafe or pub. Alternatively cash machines will give a location and time and date or failing that a time stamped photograph may be accepted by the organiser. In any case it is incumbent on the rider to ensure that all necessary information is accurate. Check your receipts carefully!
The AUK calendar contains a large variety of rides of all distances although most are 100 or 200 km. For reasons of daylight hours, the longest events tend to take place during late spring and summer although events are scheduled throughout the year. These events take place on specific dates and will run come hell or high water although in extreme weather conditions organisers have discretion to advise riders not to turn up. Audaxers can be a tough lot and many will ride in weather conditions that would make the average person astounded. Nobody is forced to ride though and you need to look to your own personal limits on what you are prepared to put up with. No refund is given for a rider who does not start however.10
In addition to the calendar events are a series of so-called permanent (or 'perm') rides. These are generally ridden alone and purchase of a brevet card is still necessary. A group perm may also be organised however where all riders are expected to buy brevet cards individually but ride at the same time. This is a less solitary form of permanent ride. Because they are necessarily X-rated, perms are a little more hardcore than a calendar ride but you do have the luxury of choosing your date and therefore have more control over weather conditions. Most calendar events are at weekends so perms allow for weekday riding should you have the opportunity.
DIY and ECE rides
With the modern availability of the satellite global positioning system (GPS) devices, riders themselves can now navigate and devise their own routes to be ridden as perms at their own convenience. Such rides are called DIY perms. Riders must carefully make sure their ride cannot be ridden under the minimum distance they claim. The advisory method is to plan your route using googlemaps set to walking. You must put in control points as in any other ride typically every 50-80 km and obtain proof of passage. A control must be designated whenever there is potential opportunity to take a shortcut and go under distance.11
An extended calendar event (ECE) is a special kind of perm that allows a rider to include riding to and from a calendar event start point from anywhere they choose. This allows riders to extend say a 100 km calendar event to a 200 km (and thereby point scoring) ride by riding 50 km to and from their house or any other chosen starting point. This is considered an advantage to those who may not have an appropriate ride for their desires within easy reach of their house and allows them to avoid either driving or paying train fares to and from the destination. As with any perm, a brevet card must be purchased in advance for an ECE (in addition to that of the calendar event itself) and the route subjected for approval and validated by proof of passage or GPS track.
Flèche Velocio, Arrows and Darts
An Arrow event (otherwise known as flèche velocio in French) is a kind of one-way audax event. A typical randonnée is either a circular or there-and-back-again route. In an Arrow event, riders ride to somewhere. The main Arrow events in the UK are the Easter Arrow to York and the Summer Arrow to (wait for it) York. These rides are a bit different to a randonnée in that they are a team event and must take place over 24 hours. Teams of up to five vehicles12 must design a route that covers the minimum distance for an Arrow event (360 km) but may nominate any distance they choose. In order for the ride to count it must be a 24 hour ride with the last two hours being compulsory riding (to prevent sleeping at the end; a control receipt two hours and at least 20 km from the arrivée is required). At least three vehicles in the team must complete the ride and the ride is not considered complete unless each of those three completes at least 80% of the nominated distance (minimum 360 km).
A dart is similar to an arrow but can be randonneur distance (200 km+) and can be ridden alone. The main dart of the season is the so-called 'Dinner Dart' which takes place so riders can go to the AUK Annual General Meeting in November on their bikes. The 'After Dinner Dart' should speak for itself. All AUK members are entitled to attend this dinner and vote on any committee business.
Medals, Badges, Points, and Awards
Although strictly speaking, non-competitive, there are elements of this to keep the interested rider occupied. Every rider who completes a brevet may purchase a badge or medal from AUK to commemorate their achievement if they wish. Prices for these start from £2. In addition, further badges, medals, and if you're really keen13 trophies can be gained as detailed below.
Brevets of 200 km and above will score points for AUK members. 1 point is awarded per 100 km (minimum of 2) and so a 200 km ride gains 2 points, a 300 km ride 3 points and so on. Riders may see a list of their completed rides and points awarded in the members section of AUK's website and non-members can have a look at event results and awards sections if they are curious. There is a trophy awarded each season14 for the rider who accumulates the most points. However, forget even thinking about this. The 2013 points champion gained 228 point which requires an almost unbelievable amount of cycling - good luck if you wish to try beating this rate of points accumulation. This requires the equivalent of one 200 km ride approximately every other day! Points accumulation is very much a personal goal. Riders with more than 50 points in a season (called a Brevet 5000 award) gain recognition in the AUK handbook and Arrivée magazine. In addition to the points winner, the opposite sex award is a trophy given to the rider of the opposite sex to the points winner who has gained the most points for their gender. It is not the case that men have always won the main points award.
A complete list of Brevet awards can be seen on AUK's website and will not be listed here. The more attainable awards for the beginner are...Brevet 500
Ride 5 x 100 km rides in one season to gain this award. 150 km rides can also count but not 200s.
Ride 10 x 100 km over any time period to gain this award. It can also be achieved by cycling 5 x 200 km rides in a single season but longer rides cannot substitute.
Ride 20 x 100 km or 10 x 200 km rides over any period of time to win this award. No mixing of distances or use of longer rides is allowed.
Ride any mix you like of 50 km, 100 km, 150 km and 200 km rides up to 500 km in total (but including a 200 km brevet) to achieve this award
Ride 1000 km of randonneés in total in a single season to achieve this award. Your rides must include a 300 km event to qualify for this award.
This is one of the Blue Riband goals of audax and considered one of their top awards. A super randonneur or SR series is typically a series containing a 200 km, 300 km, 400 km and 600 km ride. You must ride a 600 km brevet but longer distances can substitute for shorter in this award. In 2013, out of approximately 5000 AUK members, 214 people have achieved SR status at the time of writing. This Researcher15 is very proud of achieving this goal in his first season of audax. A subdivision of this award is called a Hyper Randonneur whereupon the rider has completed 4 x 600 km brevets in one season. Very few riders typically do this in a season and there is no formal award - it's 'just for fun'. A special boxed medal can be purchased for an SR series.
Ride an SR series plus a 1000 km event and you will gain a Randonneur 2500 award.
Randonneur Round the Year
The last of the awards attainable by the mere mortal, randonneur round the year award (or RRTY) requires one ride of 200 km or more each month of the calendar year. An RRTY can start any month you choose so is not bound by the audax season. This has been quite challenging for some with the harsh winters of recent years. It is a major challenge as not only does the weather have to hold but your health must also. Don't try and ride a long brevet when you have a chill!
Other awards do exist but are more difficult to gain and are there to encourage such things as yearly mileage totals and participation over multiple seasons. The interested rider is directed to AUK's results pages for details on event results and a full list of awards available.
Audax Altitude Award (AAA)
Anyone who has cycled much at all will know the dread that comes upon you as the road slopes upwards. Hilly audaxes are often also known as 'grimpeurs' coming from the French word for climbing and climbing itself is sometimes known as 'grimping.'
AAA points recognise the achievements of those who like the torture and challenge of climbing. Any ride can count for AAA points but the rules governing AAA points are somewhat complex. There is a minimum rate of climb per distance. Typically 1500 metres of climbing at least are needed for a 100 km event to qualify for AAA points. One AAA point is awarded for each 1000 meters climbed on an event, rounded to the nearest quarter. So the minium points on offer for a 100 km event would be 1.5. The AAA rules also need to take account of the free route available to riders on rides and so AAA points will be awarded for the flattest route reasonably possible on a given ride. This can be quite disappointing when you are awarded only 4.25 AAA points having actually (say) climbed 6000 metres.16 Many organisers have not bothered to work out a climbing rate for their rides so don't be fooled by a ride's zero AAA point status. This does not mean it is flat. More information on AAA points can be found on a website maintained by AUK's AAA supremo.
Gold, silver and bronze Grimpeur medals are available to riders who complete AAA qualifying rides depending upon the number of points available for the ride being claimed. As with the points championship there are trophies awarded for the rider and that of the opposite sex who achieve the most AAA points in each audax season. There are also awards for the accumulation of 20 points in one year and 40 or 60 AAA points over any period of time. The AUK handbook has a AAA roll of honour published each year where every rider who achieves 12 AAA points or more is listed. In the south of England an award is available for completing a series of rides that sends riders up just about every hill in the South East, this is known as Brevet des Grimpeurs du Sud.
For the newcomer it is advisable to be wary of AAA scoring rides - they are likely to be highly arduous although of course come with an even greater sense of personal achievement if completed. Some AAA pointed rides are very extreme indeed. The Pendle 600 audax is a 600 km event that features 10 AAA points. That's 10,000 metres (or 33,000 ft) - more than the height of Everest - of climbing in almost 400 miles of riding and there is no concession for the climbing in the brevet randonneur time limits. This ride also features the UK's toughest individual cycling climbs, Hardknott Pass17 and Wrynose Pass in the Lake District. Only the most hardened and experienced climbers should attempt rides such as this.
Some cyclists enjoy audaxing on the darkside of cycling and ride weird and wonderful machines such as Bromptons, Moultons, fixed-wheel fixed gear bikes, trikes, recumbents, tandems and velomobiles. There are awards available for achievements on these machines also. Riders are directed to AUK's website for details on claiming these awards. Note that ACP and AUK's rules on vehicles for audax state that they must only be human powered, less than 1 meter wide and be road legal so many, many forms of human powered machine can be used for an audax. In 2013, the 1400 km London-Edinburgh-London brevet was completed by two riders on elliptigos. The only thing these guys didn't have to worry about was saddle sores!
Major Audax Events
Audaxes are, generally speaking, small scale affairs with perhaps 20 riders sharing the experience. Most people, including cyclists themselves will have not even heard of the sport. There are however a number of large scale events, some of which are very famous indeed. These are magnets for audaxers and even some non-audaxers and can have very large fields of cyclists. These rides tend to be longer distance events and may need to be qualified for or be oversubscribed so the key to riding them is in the preparation.
This ride is a 1200 km brevet that goes from Paris to Brest on the west coast of Brittany and then returns. First held in 1891, PBP is one of the oldest and most famous cycling events in the world and attracts thousands of riders from across the world. In 2011 approximately 5000 riders from 60 countries took part. Originally it was a race featuring both amateurs and professionals but in 1951 professional cycling abandoned it in favour of the grand tours and it is now solely an amateur event. Slightly confusingly there are two PBP rides. Each audax code holds their own event. That of Euraudax (called the PBP audax) is held every five years, that of ACP in the allure libre form of audax (called the PBP brevet) is held every four years. The last PBP brevet was in 2011 and the next will be in August 2015 so get training if you fancy taking part. Unlike other audaxes PBP gives out a trophy to the rider who comes first.
PBP is the ride of audax and anyone who gets hooked on audax will feel it calling to them from afar. It is the holy grail of audaxing and is a major event in France. Riders on british audaxes will not be familiar with people cheering them on at the roadside, crowds awaiting their return at the finish and even some householders camping out in the middle of the night to provide homecooked food and drinks to participants. It is generally the highlight of any audaxer's career.
To take part in PBP it is a requirement that you belong to a cycling club and that you must complete a super randonneur series under BRM rules in the calendar year of the brevet. For this reason, many of AUK's rides change from BR to BRM rules in PBP years. There will also be an increased number of 300, 400 and 600 km rides in these years. This qualification requirement should not be seen as a bad thing - it is good training for the ride itself and if you cannot complete a 600 km brevet then you should not be attempting one of twice the length. PBP can also be oversubscribed but ACP allows riders who achieve long distance rides in the preceding season to subscribe for entries early, the longer the better - so people who complete a 1000 km brevet in 2014 will be able to pre-register first, followed by those who complete a 600, then a 400 and finally a 300.
LEL is the flagship ride of Audax UK and is held every four years, two years apart from PBP. Along with PBP it is considered one of the 'grand tour' rides of audaxing. The first LEL ride took place in 1989. It is a 1400 km brevet that begins in Loughton, North London, heads up the east coast of England turns left at Scotch Corner to traverse the Pennines and then up to Edinburgh before returning to London via a slightly different route. The last LEL began on July 28th 2013 and featured approximately 1000 riders with just over 800 completing it. Riders from over 30 countries took part. As with PBP it is a purely amateur event and is a major audaxing attraction. Both PBP and LEL attract riders on an amazing range of human powered vehicles. People can be seen completing the ride on recumbents, tandems, elliptigos as well as vintage bikes, plus of course many on standard bicycles. Unlike PBP there is no qualification requirement for LEL and there is a rider limit so it can be heavily oversubscribed. Just because there is no qualification however, this does not mean that you should not be well trained up for what is a seriously challenging endurance event.
The Bryan Chapman Memorial
Many moons ago a fellow named Bryan Chapman organised a ride called The Anglesey 600, which quickly became very popular due to its audacious nature and stunning scenery. Since he sadly passed on, AUK holds one of its classic rides each year in memory of him. The ride takes place in mid May in the form of a 600 km Brevet that travels from Chepstow to Menai Bridge in Anglesey and back again over the usual 40 hour time limit. It is slightly over distance at 620 km which occasionally has been an issue in PBP years when the BRM rules apply and slower riders struggle to complete it in the BRM time limit. Although not considered a tough Grimpeur, it does gain 8.25 AAA points but the climbs are mostly on the gentle side. As it is one of AUKs flagship rides it offers slightly more TLC to riders than is usual on calendar rides and entrants, for a small extra fee, can have a bag containing fresh clothes/supplies dropped to the control near Anglesey.
The National 400
This is an unusual event in the AUK calendar in that it is not fixed to one geographic location and the ride does not follow the same route each year. It is supposedly an introductory ride to novices at the 400 km distance and so is reasonably benign in its route. Although one researcher will attest to the fact that the words 'benign' and 'flat' can have varying meanings to some hardened cyclists. It is a bit more expensive than your average audax but all controls are manned with AUK volunteers and riders should not have to pay for any food or drink on the ride (unless they feel the need between controls of course). The 2013 national 400 began at Tiverton in Devon, headed to Minehead then across the Somerset levels to Bath and then through the Bath-Bristol cycle path (featuring musical tunnels) on the way to the halfway point at Chepstow. The return night-time ride, looped around Bristol before returning to Tiverton. The 2014 National 400 is rumoured to be taking place in Yorkshire.
The Snow Roads
Another classic of the AUK calendar, this is a 300 km ride in some of the best scenery to be had in Scotland. It is a grimpeur with 4800 m of climbing but does not feature the extreme gradients found in Wales and North England that can dampen the most ardent cyclist's spirit . It starts in Kirriemuir heading to Braemar and back and is a tour of the central highlands. Despite its name, it takes place in June and should not feature too much snow at that time of year (you hope!). In late 2012 the Snow Roads Audax was the subject of a BBC2 documentary.
As in any sport Audax UK has a few people who have shone and completed exploits that others can only dream of. These are just some of the people who have completed the Ultra-Randonneur award which is available to anyone who comletes an SR series in 10 separate seasons of audax. Here can only be given a taster of their audax exploits.
Special mention should go to George Berwick, also known as 'McNasty'. George's first SR series was in 1979 and his latest was in 2012. With 20 seasons containing at least one SR series George is one of AUKs most ardent riders and is a familiar face in Scottish audaxes to this day. He once had the frame of his bike break in half during a long brevet in Germany yet still completed the ride. A true audaxer he simply ziptied the frame back together.
Steven Abraham has 21 years of SR series completed between 1992 and 2012. In 1996 he set the AUK record points total at 287. In 2007 Steven completed 14 SR series and 5 simultaneous RRTY during 40,500 km of brevets, mostly comprising permanents ridden on a fixed wheel. Steven was voted Hors Catégorie by the AUK AGM in 2008 for this exploit.
David Lewis was an audaxing legend from South Wales, who sadly died in January 2013. As well as being a legendary audaxer with 47 SR series in 21 seasons, two points championships, two opposite sex awards, and who rode 6 PBPs, he created many of the rides still ridden in South Wales by UK audaxers. Dr Foster's Winter Warmer, Dr Foster's Summer Saunter, Making Hay and the Malmesbury Mash, amongst others leaving from Cardiff, are all rides down to David. His legend lives on. You can read about his exploits in his own words here.
Jack Eason is a legend in UK audaxing having 11 seasons of SR series between 1994 and 2004. In 2000 he was declared 'Randonneur of the Millenium' by the president of Les Randonneurs Mondiaux for completing The Rocky Mountain, Boston-Montreal-Boston and Perth-Albany-Perth 1200 km events in that year. Jack was 77 years old when he won the points trophy with 141 points in 2002.
Liz Creese is probably the most successful woman in Audax UK with three victories in the points championship and four opposite sex awards between 1990 and 1996. David Lewis and Liz vied with each other for the championship for several years in the mid 1990s and Liz even set a record points total of 222 (for either sex) in 1995 but the record only stood for one year with Steve Abraham beating it in the following season.
Drew Buck is famed for not only being one of eight British riders to complete six PBPs but in 2011 and at the 2013 LEL Drew rode and completed on a one hundred year old bike with only two gears, one of which requires pedaling backwards!
Sheila Simpson18 has completed seven PBPs and has 29 SR years (2nd only to Jim Hopper, who has 32). She was 3x Ladies' National 24-hour Champion. She once got a Gold Marmotte and was 'Premiere Dame' in the Brevet Randonneur des Alpes.
Two AUK riders, Richard Leon and Jim Hopper have completed eight PBPs.
Audax UK's rules on transportation are quite lax. You simply need to have a machine that is human powered only (so no electric bikes), is one metre wide or less and is road-legal. So you should have all the required lights and reflectors on your bike - if indeed you are on a bike. Tandems, trikes and other types of machine are often seen on audaxes. Occasionally organisers will require mudguards to be fitted so it is worth checking the event page on AUK's website for information on mudguard requirements. In the summer you will get no grief, but at other times of year, other participants may be quite happy to comment on your lack of mudguards even if there is no strict requirement. Audaxes will be group rides in the early stages and it's not much fun to be face-splatted with road grime from the rider ahead. It is also worth mentioning that mudguards do a lot to keep the bike clean, and a clean bike will sustain much less attack from corrosive dirt with mudguards fitted.
The style of bike typically seen on audaxes varies greatly but you will not see the preponderance of £3000 carbon race machines that sportives tend to feature. Audaxers are largely not weekend road warriors. Most bikes will be traditional steel-framed light tourers with panniers and saddlebags a feature for carrying spare clothes and supplies. As long as it is reliable, just about any bike will do for an audax. The real key is reliability. Don't turn up to an audax on a rustbucket with bald tyres. Riding 100 miles from home on a bike that's likely to break is not advisable. Audaxes provide almost no support for riders (audax is self sufficient) so if you break down in the middle of nowhere you can be in big trouble. Make sure you check your bike over and repair it as necessary, clean it and lube it before you leave for the ride and keep it well-maintained at all times. Keep an eye on chain wear and check that gear and brake cables are sound and in good working order. It is a good idea to learn how to service your bike yourself as this will save you a lot of time and money at your local bike shop in the long term. Make sure tyres are free from stones and glass chips before setting out and are pumped up to their ideal pressure. Make your bike comfortable, a good comfy saddle is highly recommendable (although don't go overboard, gel saddles will chafe over time). Being OK cycling 5 miles to work or down to the shop is not the same as being comfortable in the saddle all day.
Any type of bike will do for an audax as said, but it is a good plan to use a road bike, either a tourer or a road racer. Mountain bikes feature wide knobbly tyres, smaller wheels and heavy suspensions. All of these things will slow you down and are entirely unnecessary on tarmac, but knock yourself out if you wish to use one. Extra kudos is earned for using a heavy bike. Also a decent bike is highly recommended. There is no need for a state-of-the-art carbon framed race-machine but equally, a cut-price bike from your local supermarket will likely contain poor-quality components and is not advisable.
Spring, Autumn and Winter 200s are likely to start and finish in darkness and even in the summer rides of 300 km and more will likely feature night-time riding. It is important to be road legal and have good lights fitted. Furthermore, in the countryside there will be no streetlighting and so you need lights that are not just to be seen but to see with. Powerful front lights are therefore needed to see where you are going and to read the route-sheet, GPS device or your bike in the event of a needed roadside repair. Good front lights of this kind are not cheap, do not expect to pay less than £100 for one but they are an invaluable investment. Ultrafire torches with powerful LEDs can be bought online for much less than this but they tend not to be very waterproof. Rear lights should be bright but you do not need to splash out as you do with a front light. It is an excellent plan to have two of each light so that you have a spare should one fail. Spare batteries are also advisable.
Although much maligned in the non-cycling world, Lycra really is the best material for a road cyclist's main garments. It does not flap about and cause drag in the wind, it does not catch in the chain and keeps your body and muscles warm. Heck, after a few months of cycling it may show off that fantastic new slimline body you've developed. It is therefore worth investing in a good set of shorts with good padding as they protect the posterior from the harshness of many hours in the saddle. Bibshorts are best as they have shoulder straps that prevent the pad from moving around during the ride and will prevent that most heinous of fashion crimes - builder's bum. It is not a good idea to wear underwear under cycling shorts and you are not meant to do so - underwear will move around and chafe on a long ride.
A good cycling jersey is useful as it contains pockets on the back that can be used to carry supplies of food, tools, extra clothing and even a small pump. In addition to these bare essentials you should wear clothing appropriate to the weather you will be facing. Cycling leaves you fully exposed to the vagaries of the weather but the the old adage that states 'there is no such thing as poor weather, only inappropriate clothing' is true to a large extent. Hand mitts are very handy in good weather as they have gel pads that can relieve pressure on your hands but in poor weather full fingered gloves and even liner gloves can keep out the cold. Your extremities will suffer first in cold weather - so along with winter gloves for cold weather a good set of cycle specific warm socks will keep your feet warm. Base layers are useful to keep your legs and body warm in cold weather and shorts can be replaced with tights in cold weather also. Some cyclists prefer leg and arm warmers instead of long sleeved tops and tights. Finally rain proof gear is a must in wet weather. A light rain jacket is useful in the summer but breathable heavy rain jackets and waterproof overtrousers are very useful in colder weather. A cycling cap with a peak is handy for keeping rain out of your eyes or glasses. Most experienced cyclists will wear eyewear whilst riding as it keeps stones that can flick up and insects out of your eyes. The need for helmets is hotly debated in the cycling community. Most non-cyclists think they are essential but standard road helmets will only protect you from collisionsup to 12 mph. They will be of little value if you are mowed down by a fast moving vehicle or come off at 25 mph. They might just make neck injuries more likely in such a scenario. Certainly they will help if you fall off at low speed on your own and hit your head on the road. They are also useful for protecting your head from thorns on overhanging bushes. Helmets are not compulsory for road riding in the UK, whether you wear one or not is up to you.
The old toe-straps on pedals have largely gone the way of the cathode ray tube TV these days. Most keen cyclists will now have pedals and shoes that 'clip in' during rides. This requires a pedal with a clip and shoes with bolt-on cleats that clip into them. These are invaluable as they make your pedaling much more secure (your feet won't slip off in the wet) and increase the power of your pedaling as you can pull up on the pedal on the upstroke. Climbing is much easier when clipped in. Newcomers to clip-in pedals will probably fall off a couple of times at the outset when they forget to unclip on stopping but this comes easily and quickly with practice - they are certainly much safer in this regard than the old toe straps.
All the extra bits and bobs you're likely to need will not likely fit in your rear pockets unless you are a real minimalist audaxer. On shorter distances many audaxers will survive with just a small rear wedge or saddlebag but on longer brevets larger saddlebags, panniers and handlebar bags will appear as the need to carry more stuff increases. Beware the danger of carrying too much stuff however, the lighter the load on your bike the easier your ride will be. What you carry with you is up to you and with more experience you will learn what you are comfortable with bringing and leaving behind but some discussion of this will be made here.
Tools and spares
It is essential to carry some basic tools with you on an audax in case of simple mechanical breakdowns. A multitool with hex-keys, screwdriver and spoke key is ideal, a chain breaking tool and spare links are also essentials. These are small and can be easily carried in a small saddlebag. You will also need a spare inner tube (preferably two) and a pump and repair kit in case of a puncture. Some tyre levers will also be needed for this eventuality. A tyre boot is also useful in case of a bad hole in a tyre but a folded five pound note or crisp packet can work just as well to sit on the inside of the tyre and protect the inner tube until you get home. On longer brevets some riders carry a spare folding tyre. Some audaxers bring along emergency spares such as spare spokes, fresh gear and brake cables and zip-ties. You cannot possibly bring enough for all eventualities though - if your frame breaks or your wheels do a pringle impression your ride is over. Make sure you have a means to get home in such a scenario. Bring along your phone and some money and/or bank cards. Cash is useful for getting food and drink at commercial controls as well of course.
Your brevet card will often require an info control to be answered, bring along a couple of pens/pencils to write the answer down. In addition to the route-sheet it is a good idea to carry some alternative forms of navigation aid. A map is good but most riders rely on torn-out pages from a road atlas. A GPS device such as a bike-specific Garmin is invaluable and your smartphone may allow use of google maps if you can get a signal. This Researcher also finds it useful to examine the route in advance and write out a list of villages the ride passes through. This is a useful secondary navigation tool. Many traditional audaxers will shun modern technology and strap the route-sheet to a small clipboard attached to their handlebars but feel free to use any method of navigation you choose. Batteries can run out, rain can turn maps and route-sheets to mush and short circuit electronic devices. Try and make sure you have all eventualities covered. Laminating maps and route-sheets will prevent damage from rain. Keep your Brevet card DRY - it usually comes in a sealed jiffy bag at the beginning of the ride, keep it there. Spare batteries are useful aids for restarting both GPS devices and lights. On really long rides even the rechargeable batteries of the best GPS devices will not last so it is helpful to carry a portable rechargeable battery (often known as a powermonkey) to provide back up power.
The most important thing to consider in audaxing is you. Shorter populaires such as 50 km or 100 km rides are within reach of the casual cyclist but for longer rides you will need to be fit. It is a good idea to be cycling around 100 miles a week to be fit enough for randonnées. In preparation for your first 200 km ride it is a good idea to ride up to 100 miles in private training - the extra 26 miles should come as no great task then. You should also be in reasonable health - it is dangerous to partake in any serious form of exercise if you are ill. Do not ride a brevet with a cold. Remember though that audax is not racing, you do not need to be a superb athlete to complete these rides, the time limits are very generous and even randonneur pace is overall not much faster than how fast aunty Georgina cycles on the way to get her hair done. It is the distance that is the challenge, not the speed.
The average person has enough immediately available energy within their body for about 2 hours of sustained exercise. Audaxes last much longer than this so you will definitely need to eat on a brevet. Audaxes are no time to think about the waistline and starve yourself. Furthermore you will sweat out salts as you ride and you need to replace these or it will harm your body - cramping is a good first indicator that you need some salts in your body. A couple of bottles of isotonic sports drinks work wonders for energy during a ride and can be readily home made. 500 ml of water with a quarter teaspoon of sea salt and a teaspoon of sugar is a perfectly decent electrolyte drink for a ride. On longer brevets you can carry electrolyte tablets to supplement water from taps at controls. For food, high energy food in small quantities on a regular basis is generally advised. Flapjacks, cake, Soreen malt loaf, dates and jelly babies all have their advocates. On longer rides you will need protein too so a good hearty pub meal on a 300 km event is perfect. Beans and poached egg on toast at a control is an audax favourite and some even claim beer is good (purely for the carbohydrates you understand).
Most will be familiar with the term 'hitting the wall' when it comes to running marathons. Whilst cycling is not as high-impact as running there will come a time when a similar thing happens to the body if you have not ingested enough calories. In cycling it is termed 'bonking'19. Bonking is when the body runs out of all available energy reserves in the bloodstream and suddenly needs to burn fats in the body instead. This causes a sudden drop in your work rate and riders undergoing the bonk have been known to fall onto the road with no warning, hit trees and parked cars and ride into ditches and hedges as the brain stops working properly too. It is advisable to carry energy bars and sweets as 'bonk rations' on long brevets - your body will need a good twenty minutes or so before the bonk recedes once you have ingested them. It is vastly better to avoid the bonk in the first place though. It takes a while, but learn to eat properly during long audaxes.
From 400 km upwards sleep will become an issue on audaxes as the time required to cover the distance stretches to more than one day. Slower riders need to develop an ability to contend with sleep deprivation. Many cope by taking caffeine tablets or using electrolyte drinks with caffeine added. These will only work effectively if you abstain from caffeine for about two weeks prior to a brevet. Alternatively if you cycle at (say) 20 kph average between controls on a 600 km brevet you should build up enough time buffer to get three or four hours sleep at the halfway point. Some hardened audaxers sneak into a field, use a park bench or a bus shelter for snoozes but others like to plan stops in advance and book a room in a small hotel, youth hostel or guest house in advance. The very long brevets will be too long for you not to sleep, so it is worth planning sleep-stops in advance. If you really have to keep your bike in the open during this time then bring along a small cable lock to deter the opportunist bike thief. D-locks are too heavy and bulky generally to carry with you on an audax, but it is rare that the bike is out of your sight on one of these events. Don't ever expect to get much sleep on a long brevet however. Riders on LEL in 2013 typically got around 6 hours sleep over the 100 hours of the ride. Rest is for after the ride.
Physical Effects on Your Body
If you're only going to tackle Brevet Populaire distances you should not suffer any undue problems to your body, the worst you are likely to get is sore muscles, fatigue and a sore backside. Longer brevets though are taxing on the body and you can take steps to mitigate these problems.
Sitting on even a comfortable saddle for 40 hours will eventually hurt. If you have chafing of clothing it can lead to ride-ending sores. It is therefore worth investing in chamois cream that is applied to both ones personal areas and the padding on your shorts. Don't apply it in public of course. You will be much more comfortable on the ride.
If you do get chafing leading to rashes and sores and also to deal with any cuts you might get on a ride then an ointment like sudocrem can be invaluable. Antiseptic creams keeps everything sterile which will help prevent ride-killing saddle sores. These are boils that will make sitting on the saddle very painful indeed if care is not taken to prevent them.
Carrying a few mild painkillers such as ibuprofen can help get you through a certain amount of pain and help complete a ride than might otherwise be psychologically difficult to finish.
Bike Fit Issues
Finally, riding a lot is a very repetitive business and there are some issues that may creep up on you. Many riders can experience knee pain, back pain, neck pain and hand pain. Often these are down to the fit of the rider on the bike. A saddle that is too far forward or back, too high or too low can cause problems to the knees in particular over time. Handlebars being too high or too low or too far forward or back can cause problems in posture leading to back, neck and hand problems. A rider who has poor strength in their 'core' (abdominal muscles) may also have poor posture leading to these problems (do some sit ups if so). Poor posture leading to a rider leaning heavily on their hands for long periods can lead to pins and needles in the fingers initially but eventually nerve damage resulting in conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome. The answer to all these things may well be just getting your bike fitted correctly to your body shape and riding style. Many bike shops offer a bike fitting service and this is invaluable to the long distance cyclist. Padded handlebar tape and gel padded gloves will help with hand comfort also.
Audax Glossary and Abbreviations
The reader has already probably spotted that audax is full of jargon and abbreviations, here is a list of the more commonly found audax jargon explained.
- AAA - Audax Altitude Awards - a points scoring system to encourage riders to participate in hilly rides
- ACP - Audax Club Parisien, the governing body of Audax worldwide
- Arrivée - either the end control point of an audax or the quarterly magazine published by Audax UK
- Arrow - an Arrow is a team audax that takes place over 24 hours and is not a circular or there-and-back-again route
- AUK - Audax UK, the governing body of audax in the United Kingdom
- BP - Brevet Populaire, generally lower distance or lower speed limit rides. BPs do not score in the AUK points system.
- BR - Brevet Randonneur - BR rides are of 200 km or more and the speed limits are more strict than for BPs
- Brevet - any audax ride in ACP allure libre style may be called a brevet
- Brevet card - a card given to riders at the beginning of an audax. It is used to enter info control information, control stamps and has the riders name, details and emergency phone number on it also.
- BRM - Brevet Randonneur Mondiaux. BRM rides come under the rules of ACP, time limits are stricter than for BR and no time allowance is made for over distance rides. Brevet cards must be validated by ACP themselves.
- Calendar event - AUK publishes a calendar of cycling events to publicise upcoming rides to interested riders
- Control - a fixed point, often a cafe or pub where riders must obtain proof of passage to demonstrate they have done the required distance on a brevet
- Dart - an individual audax ride of 200 km or more that is ridden from somewhere to somewhere else (i.e not a circular or there-and-back-again route)
- DIY- a DIY ride is one that has been constructed by the rider themselves and approved of the required distance by AUK
- DNF - Did Not Finish. A rider who starts an audax but does not make it back to the arrivée within the specified time limit is said to be a DNF. If you DNF you should let the organiser know with a telephone call. Their number will be on the route-sheet.
- DNS - Did Not Start. A rider who registers and pays for the ride but does not begin the brevet is said to be a DNS. DNS is considered preferable to DNF as an excuse for not completing. It is polite to let the organiser know if you DNS.
- ECE - Extended Calendar Event. A rider can purchase an additional brevet card and ride to and from the finish to extend a calendar event to their desired distance. An ECE event distance must be proved and validated as with any ride.
- GPS - Global Positioning System. A handy navigation help for technofriendly audaxers.
- Grimpeur - a ride that features a lot of climbing
- Info control - a question on the brevet card that must be answered by visiting a specified place is called an info control
- LEL - London-Edinburgh-London. A 1400 km brevet held every four years in the UK
- Perm - a perm (or permanent) ride is one that does not (necessarily) feature on the audax calendar and can be ridden at any time by an individual
- PBP - Paris-Brest-Paris. A 1200 km brevet held every four years in France. The Blue-Riband event of audaxing.
- Randonnée - a brevet of 200 km or more ridden at at least 14.3 kph
- Randonneur - any rider who has completed a 200 km brevet or more
- RRTY - Randonneur Round the Year - an award available to riders who ride a 200 km brevet or more in each of 12 consecutive months.
- SR - Super Randonneur - a rider who has completed a 200 km, 300 km, 400 km and 600 km series of rides in one season
Audax Speak - Euphemisms
- 'The ride is a bit lumpy' - expect extreme climbs and you'll need a new pair of legs afterwards
- 'The ride is flat-ish' - see point 1
- 'Conditions are a bit breezy' - you'll be riding into storm force winds
- 'Technical descent' - dangerous as hell - the narrow road is broken up, lots of blind corners after steep drops, ditches either side and it's WET
- 'Undulating' - very hilly indeed (see point 1)
- 'Scenic' - see point 1
- 'Only three major climbs' - three huge mountains with lots of smaller hills in between
- 'Routesheet is a bit old school' - take a map, as the instructions are indecipherable and probably wrong in places
- 'Carry some overnight provisions' - you are going to be cycling beyond the generally accepted boundaries of civilisation
- 'Alternative route' - this is the faster and shorter route the organiser would like to suggest and uses himself, but the risk assessment suggests he should not be seen as encouraging
- 'Delightful views of "xxxxxx"' - see point 1
- 'Control has basic facilities' - is one comfortable using leaves instead of peach-scented Andrex?
- 'mudguards not compulsory' - you'd be better off riding a full-suspension mountain bike, or perhaps a donkey.
- 'minimal navigation' - straight up and down an A road
- "a bit damp at about 2" - biblical storm / horizontal rain / gales from 1 pm to 2 am*
- 'For experienced riders only' - near death experience possible, please don't sue the organiser if it all goes horribly wrong
- 'Travelling light' - doesn't care that they smell like a dead badger, but even worse, after 3 days on a bike at PBP
- 'I was feeling rough and found it hard going' - the reason you didn't see me at the arrivée was because I finished a couple of hours before you and was on my way home.
- 'Catering for the self sufficient' - no shop or garage where you can buy food or drink will be open for ~140km
- 'This stage is for people who know how to pace themselves' - it's uphill for 80 km with no respite whatsoever.
- 'If I can do it, anyone can' - I am a cycling god and you are but a worm
- 'Early season warm-up' - bring your skis
- 'Easy winter route ideal for RRTYers' - I am just going outside and may be some time.
- 'concentrate on the route sheet' - lots of people get lost at this bit and, despite feedback, the organiser can't be bothered making the route description any clearer.
- (from instructions on route-sheet) 'easy to miss' - you will ride past it and need to retrace.
What the General Public Will Say
When/if you encounter the general public on a long brevet there are generally three things that will be said to you...
- 'You're mad'.
- 'Are you doing it for charity?'
Audax is an amateur cycling sport that ranges from happy afternoons out involving a 32 mile cycle drinking tea and munching cake in the park at the halfway point, to rides of stupendous difficulty that only the most ardent and weather beaten cyclist should attempt. It's got something for anyone who enjoys a bike ride on a Saturday afternoon and newcomers are always welcome. Why not give it a go?
Warning - audax can be highly addictive.