We answer some of the most common questions about audax cycle events. What exactly are they? How do you start? And what kit do you need?
(Header image credit: derby.graphics)
Imagine sportives that don’t cost an arm or leg to enter. Where showing off expensive kit isn’t top of the agenda (and we’re not talking about our equally affordable and fuss-free RIDE IT series here ;)). Where there is an organised structure inspiring you to extend yourself further, to the point where you can complete almost superhuman efforts of endurance. And where it is all done with an international outlook but a homely bonhomie. Really, you don’t have to imagine all this — it’s already here in the form of audaxing.
So what is an audax?
There are actually two types of audax, although here in Britain we tend to mean ‘randonneur’-type events when we say audax. This is an organised long-distance ride for individuals, rather than the ‘euradax’ form of audaxing, which is popular in Europe and involves dedicated teams. Essentially, randonneur audaxes require participants to cycle a set distance — normally a nice round number of kilometres, such as 50, 100, 200 or more — within a specified time limit.
So it’s just like a sportive then?
In a sense, but there is a much more simple charm about audax events. For example, entry fees are generally much lower, typically single figures, such as £5 or £6. Part of the reason for this is there aren’t feed stations en route (although some audax promoters are famed for their home-cooked refreshments). Also, it’s very unlikely an audax will feature mechanical support or a ‘broomwagon’ to pick up stragglers. The idea is to complete the distance in the time allowed while being self-supported. That may sound relatively easy for shorter length events such as 50 or 100-kilometre events, but not so simple when you start aiming for 300, 400, 600, 1,000, 1,200 or even 3,200km events.
What? Did you say 3,200km?
That’s right. While shorter distance audax events are great fun and do offer a similar but simpler challenge to sportive rides, keen audax participants try to accomplish as many different distances as they can. Anyone who completes 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km audaxes in the same season is awarded the ‘Super Randonneur’ title by national body Audax UK. And if you want to take part in some big international audax events — such as Paris-Brest-Paris — successfully completing some of these longer distances forms part of the entry requirements.
Surely you can’t ride 600km non-stop?
Nope, or at least not without pushing yourself very hard. So the challenge for audax riders attempting longer distances is to ride ahead of schedule and plan where they are going to sleep and eat, while still keeping within the time limit. One audax rider we know of has a list of friendly guesthouses around the country who will let him arrive after midnight, catch a few hours sleep, and then ride off again before anyone else wakes up.
Others may choose to simply “bivvy” somewhere close to the road for a few hours before continuing their ride.
Do I need any special kit?
Not really. You can use pretty much any bike although, because there is a time limit, go for something that is reliable and relatively speed-orientated. A decent road bike should do the business. Audax UK events used to require all bikes be fitted with mudguards but that’s not the case anymore. That said, individual promoters may encourage riders to fit ’guards for specific events. If a ride is likely to enter the hours of darkness, you’ll also need lights.
Depending on your chosen distance, you may also need to think about extra “bike packs” to carry essential clothing, tools as well as food. And there’s one more thing: your ‘brevet’. Created long before the days when challenge riders were GPS tagged around a route, on an audax you carry a brevet, which is a card that gets stamped at different control points around the course. Essentially it is an old-school way to prove you actually did the required distance.
That’s the problem — will I make the distance within the time limit?
Don’t worry too much about the time limit. For beginners trying shorter events the necessary average speed may be as low as 10kph (6mph), which really isn’t very fast at all. For longer distance events the average speed should be between 15-30kmh in order to remain within the cut-off times.
OK, great. So how do I get started?
Audax UK is the organising body domestically and also the biggest long-distance cycling organisation in the world. It’s website has all the details you may ever want to know about audaxing, including a fulsome calendar of event. Check it out!