What is ‘audax’?

Audax, in its simplest terms, is an excuse for a long bike ride!   In this case ‘long’ is anything over 50km, although we tend to think of long rides being 200km or longer.

What madness is this?!

Don't blame us, it's an Italian invention!! The story goes something like this: a guy down the pub in Rome challenged his mates to a quick ride to Naples, 200-odd kilometres away. Since this was the late 19th century then bike lights weren't up to much, so a rule was set that the ride had to be completed in the hours of daylight, roughly 14 hours. These riders proved themselves audax, or audacious, by achievement, and the 14-hour, 200km audax was born.  Henri Desgrange (of Le Tour fame) subsequently formalised the rules in France in the early 20th century.  It's all on Wikipedia

And it's only mad when you're looking in from the outside; when you ride audax then your perception shifts.

(Just in case you hear the term, audax is also known as 'randoneurring', although strictly speaking they're different.)

Is there an audax club in the UK?

Yes: in the UK it's called Audax UK, or 'AUK' (www.aukweb.net).  Membership is inexpensive for the year and you get a quarterly magazine into the bargain.  However, you don't need to be a member to ride audax rides, but you will then have to pay £2 extra each time for insurance and any points and awards won't count — although CTC members are covered by the CTC's insurance and don't need to pay the surcharge.

Similar clubs exist in many countries around the world, although the UK's is one of the oldest, largest and most active.

So, what are the rules?

There is a simple set of rules:

  • Start from the given start location,
  • Ride to each of the other locations — controls — in turn, collecting 'proof of passage' at each one — a receipt showing time and place, or a controller's stamp and signature, or even the signature of a policeman!
  • Return to the start/finish — known as arrivée,
  • All within a given time, which is “not too quick, not too slow” — between roughly 3.5 and 7 hours per 100km (the limits are marked on the brevet).

You record your passage on a brevet or official card — which you must sign — which is returned to the organiser with your receipts when you finish — if you play golf then it's very similar to a scorecard.

There is a formal set of rules governed by AUK, which summarises as above.

Do I have to ride on my own?

Rides are ridden individually or in groups, it's up to you. Some rides are calendar rides and everyone sets off at the same time on the given date, and you'll be in a group, at least at the start: you may find you start out with one group of riders and join another group later on. You may even end up riding on your own for a significant distance, passing puncturees along the way. 

Other rides are permanents, which means you can ride them at any time, but that probably means you'll be on your own, unless you brought a friend.

Do I have to pay to ride?

Yes: entry typically costs just a few pounds, for which you get the brevet, the route sheet, insurance while you are on the ride, and validation (points) recorded at the end. For a calendar ride you may also get to ride with others, as well as refreshments at the start and/or end.

You can, of course, print a copy of the route sheet or grab the GPX file from this website and ride the route without paying, but it is considered bad form in audax circles to do so. You also won't get any official recognition for your efforts, nor will you have third-party insurance from AUK.

Who wins an audax?

There is no winner except you against yourself: for many riders, simply finishing is a win. For others finishing quicker than last time is a win. Others again want to be first back, which is okay. And there's a significant group who take great pleasure in stopping along the route to enjoy food and a beverage and arriving back just within time!  It's all cool, it's up to you how you ride it.  Depending on the distance, you may be able to buy a badge to show other people — how cool is that?!

Are there any prizes for finishing?

For the infrequent audax rider, simply finishing the ride is enough. For regular riders there are points on offer: points give each rider a measure of achievement through the year, but there aren't any prizes for doing this:

  • For a ride that is 200km or longer then there is one point per 100km: 200km = 2pts, 300km = 3pts, etc.
  • For rides shorter than 200km there aren't any points, but you can get a badge for successfully completing 50km, 100km and 150km rides.
  • There are also points for climbing on rides that qualify — the ride has to have at least about 1500m of climb per 100km to qualify for points, so these 'AAA' events are uncommon around Cambridge!

If you ride enough then there are AUK awards for accumulated distances, as well as round-the-year and other challenges.  Most awards are annual, but some awards can take ten years or longer to achieve.

I got this tatty routesheet, do I need to follow it exactly?

No, not in the UK (or Australia): all you must do is pass through each of the controls in sequence, acquiring proof of passage as you do so, all within the prescribed time.  The routesheet is the organiser's opinion of a nice, safe route, but you are free to use a different route between controls if you'd prefer.

Ah, so audax is like orienteering-onna-bike?

No, not really: orienteering controls tend to be difficult to find and that's the challenge of orienteering.

For audax rides the challenge is to ride a long way, the navigation is supposed to be straightforward, and if you follow the route sheet then you should end up exactly where you need to be without needing a compass. 

On the other hand, if you decide to follow your own route between controls then perhaps …

Okay, but surely I need an expensive bike for audax?

Not at all: all it has to be is human-powered (no batteries or motors; gravity is okay, though).

Most people ride lightweight racing bikes of one form or another with many gears, but there are plenty who ride singlespeed or fixed, some ride recumbents, others ride touring bikes, a few ride mountain bikes, one chap specialises in bikes from between 1900 and 1910.  A number of racing trikes, several Brompton folding bikes and a couple of classic shoppers have been spotted; even a BMX!  Tandems, two [natch].  The latest new-age two-wheeler is a group of Elliptigos, who are quite determined and reasonably successful.

Audax is not a race and you don't need a race bike: comfort is much more important than speed, so use whatever's most comfortable.  You could ride a unicycle if you wanted (although we wouldn't recommend it).

Am I fit enough?

The only way to find out is to try!

Most new riders start with a 100km or 200km audax — if this is you, then you are better off riding a calendar event (everyone rides it at the same time), because audaxers are a friendly bunch and will help you around.  You will probably discover that it hurts after 50km and really hurts after 100km.  But then you'll discover that it doesn't hurt any more than that and you just have to keep pedalling — at which point it becomes a mental battle. 

As you ride more audaxes then you'll get stronger and you'll also work out how to pace yourself, so it will hurt less, and then it's time to move up to a longer distance!

What if I get tired?

Audax is definitely an endurance sport: you should ride to finish within the time, not to finish first.

Most riders will, at some point, hit the wall and have to spend a few minutes recovering. You could stop at this point if you felt you couldn't physically go on — but getting you and your bike home is your problem.  Most riders take a rest for a few minutes and eat something before continuing — the human body is amazingly resilient and it surprises many new audaxers just how long they can continue by resting and riding.  So long as you don't rest for too long and so run out of time then you should be okay.

What if I break the bike?

You did check your bike before setting out, didn't you?  Sometimes you will have issues that could have been prevented through good maintenance; other times you will just be unlucky.

You are expected to be self-sufficient, though: no outside assistance is allowed (although what that really means is you can't have a soigneur in a team car to fix your punctures for you). If you puncture then you're expected to fix it yourself — and your riding companions are quite within the ethos of the discipline to leave you to it!

Some riders carry a lot of spares including gear and brake cables, but that's probably excessive. Other riders set out with just a single tube and a CO2 canister and nothing else, and that's probably asking for trouble.

If you are unlucky enough to have a mechanical, but are within striking distance of a town then you could probably walk your bike to the nearest bike shop and get it repaired on the spot. A bent wheel can be trued in a few minutes with the right tools; broken equipment can be replaced for far less cost than the taxi fare back home.

A couple of riders in the past have suffered broken (steel) frames: one got a garage to bodge a weld and continued on to finish the hilly 600 he was riding!!  Another got a couple of drumsticks and a lot of gaffer tape, which was strong enough for him to ride (carefully) back to the start.  Not every mechanical leads to failure!

Carry tools. Carry spares. Know how to use them.

Is it any fun?

Yes, although that depends … if you like dragging your body and soul beyond the level of endurance you think you have and finding a whole new level, then, yes, audax is fun.  If you like to have a bit of a rough ride in the weather of the UK and still smile through it, then yes audax is definitely fun.  On the other hand, if you would just prefer to get fat sitting on the sofa playing Call of Duty then it's probably not for you.

You may not have realised it yet, we did tell you at the top of the page: audax is an excuse for a long bike ride!  Most of the UK consists of the most amazing variety of countryside anywhere in the world and to have an excuse to be out in it in all weathers, what could be better?  And you get to eat as much cake as you want, too …

Is there any history behind it — surely this is a new form of torture in this sportive age?

There's quite a bit of history to it, with its roots laid down in the late 1800s when everyone rode a fixie — look to Paris, those French cyclists know how to throw a party!, with a little inspiration from those audacious Italians!  This all pre-dated sportives by nearly a whole metric century.

What are the longest rides?

Standard long-distance distances are 200, 300, 400 and 600km, but rides can be any length, although points are only awarded for whole 100km multiples over 200km.

In the UK the longest organised ride is London-Edinburgh-London, which happens every four years.  It's 1400km and you have 116 hours (just over four and a half days) in which to complete it. The last one was in 2013 and so the next is in 2017.

The blue-riband event in the world is Paris-Brest-Paris, which happens every four years as well (although interleaved with LEL).  It's only 1200km and you have 90 hours (just under four days).  It's a jamboree for anything on two (or three and sometimes four) wheels and is well worth the effort.  The last one was in 2011 and so the next is this year!  Qualification has already started for 200s and a full collection of four rides at the four standard distances (or longer) are required in order to register.

There are longer rides elsewhere: Russia has one that crosses Siberia north to south and is over 2000km!  There are a lot of 1000km and 1200km rides in the US of A.

Okay, looks interesting, what next?

Well, since you've read this far then something has clearly caught your interest …

If you want to ride then the next step is to choose a route or event: if you want to ride when it suits you then you are better off riding a permanent, such as one of ours around Cambridge, or one of the many others organised by AUK members. Alternatively, if you want to experience an audax with lots of other riders then you should choose one of the many calendar rides that take place most weekends throughout the year, although you may need to travel to the start if it's not local to Cambridge.

Alternatively, if you want to read more about audax then a good place to start is on the audax board of the "yet another cycling forum" or yacf (although be warned that it can get a little punchy!).