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 regular audaxers tend to think of long rides being 200km (124 miles) or longer.
This page is intended for riders new to the idea of "audax" who are looking for a little more information.
Audax is not a sportive and it's certainly not a race, and audaxers tend to be relaxed when riding events. With experience the sheer scale of the undertaking of long-distance cycling becomes far less daunting.
Club riders may find the differences intriguing — we're all part of the same clan, with emphases on different types of riding. Most audaxers are also club riders; the reverse is not usually the case. Audax and bike-packing seem to share a common long-distance-plus-self-suffiency ethos.
Audaxers are usually very friendly and happy to chat — at length — when on a ride, as the pace usually allows talking and there's plenty of time.
Table of contents
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.)
So, like a sportive, then?
Not really, no — sportives are for cyclists who like to pretend they’re racing; audax is for riders who like to pretend they aren’t.
Sportives in the UK seem to me to be like "pretend races" for non-racers and invite some questionable riding onto the roads. I've ridden a few, I didn't really enjoy them. They are also quite expensive for what they are (closed-road sportives aside).
Audax is much more about the distance, not the speed it's ridden at — audax emphasises endurance, cameraderie and self-sufficiency over outright speed, and even has a maximum average speed which riders must keep within (it's usually 30kph — incredibly hard to exceed over long distances, but with a strong tailwind it is possible).
Removing the "speed" element means audax events are much more relaxed and sociable than sportives.
Plus, entry to a typical 200km audax is a tenner or less, compared to £40+ for a sportive.
And you get to eat cake — a lot!
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 permanent events, which means you can ride them at any time, but that probably means you'll be on your own, unless you take 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 could, 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, and if you do so on the day of a calendar event then you may cause paid-up riders to be disqualified under the "outside-assistance" rule. And you wouldn't get cake.
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 Audax UK, which summarises as above.
Who wins an audax?
There is no winner except you against yourself and the distance.
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 the cut-off time!
It's all fine, 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 non-existent 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 proofs 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.
There are a very few new events that are "mandatory route", where you must follow the route exactly. Only one or two at this time (2020).
(In case you're wondering what a routesheet looks like, here's one.)
Is there a GPX/TCX/pinnable GPS route?
Yes, usually — the organiser, or someone close to them, will usually post a link to the route in electronic form a week or two before the event.
Not always, though — some organisers are resolute technophobes and, while not actually Luddites, don't provide any digital hand-holding to riders, and that's entirely their prerogative. You'll get a routesheet, which describes the route in some detail, and not much else in the way of navigational assistance.
Most organisers do provide something usable, although some are better at this than others.
The important thing to remember when following any digital breadcrumb-trail through the countryside is exactly where the controls are, where you must get proof of passage as you pass through, because you probably won't get a beep from your Garmin to remind you.
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 …
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.
Regular club riders should have no trouble getting around a 200km event without any additional training. I did my first 200 based on a daily 15km commute, and I rode it on a Brompton.
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!
Am I old/young enough?
There is no lower limit on age, nor upper limit. We regularly see riders as young as 12 on events, as well as riders in their 70s, and occasionally 80s, even on the longest multi-day events.
Audax was, originally, a young man's sport. That was over 100 years ago when roads were unsurfaced, the pneumatic tyre was a recent invention, and all bikes were fixed-gear.
That changed as racers got older and their power started to decline in their forties, then they took to endurance riding, and audax was the natural fit. They discovered that, mostly, they could continue well into their seventies before hanging up the bike.
More recently, i.e. the last 50 years, neither age nor gender has inhibited riding audax. The greater limit has been the pressure "household responsibilities" and compromise between partners.
(Note that riders under the age of 14 must be escorted by a responsible adult.)
What if I get tired?
Audax is definitely an endurance sport — you should ride to finish within the time, and 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 really couldn't physically go on — but getting you and your bike home is your problem.
However, most riders simply 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.
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-gear, 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. Generally a relaxed geometry is better for the neck and shoulders, and hands, but not a requirement. You could ride a unicycle if you wanted (although we wouldn't recommend it).
For experienced club riders on 200km or shorter rides then whatever you ride on the Sunday run should be fine; pack a waterproof and an extra spare tube, just in case. On longer rides you may need to carry more clothing options and the Big Bottles.
Does it take a long time?
The simple answer is yes: with most events being 100km or longer, for most riders that's at least four hours on the road, and typically five to six hours with stops.
Double the distance to the most common 200km event, and you can expect to be riding for eight to nine hours, with another hour or two stopped to eat cake. Triple it to 300km and … you get the picture.
Audax is definitely a time-selfish endeavour and many people can find it hard to fit into a busy lifestyle, particularly when they have young children. I, myself didn't start riding long distances until our boys were old enough to be left alone for a few hours, so that my hobby did not become too much of a burden on Mrs W.
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 …
Yes -- 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 fixed-gear bike — 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.
Is there an audax club in the UK?
Yes: in the UK it's called Audax UK, or 'AUK' (www.audax.uk).
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 a £3 non-member surcharge each time, and any points and awards won't count.
(Note that Cycling UK (CTC) members are covered by the that organisation's insurance, for historical reasons, and don't need to pay the non-member surcharge.)
Similar clubs exist in many countries around the world, although the UK's is one of the oldest, largest and most active.
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. The last one was in 2017 and it was 1400km, which had to be completed in 116 hours (just over four and a half days). The next edition is in 2021 and will be 1500km, and about five and a half days long.
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 experience an audax with lots of other riders then you should check out our list of local rides, or choose one of the many calendar events that take place most weekends throughout the year, although you may need to travel to the start if it's not local to where you live — many regular audaxers think little of riding over 50km to the start of an event, and 50km home again after.
- If you want to ride when it suits you then you are better off riding a permanent event, such as one of ours around Cambridge, or one of the many others organised by AUK members.
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!).