Note that this is still a work-in-progress (2016-01-12).
There is quite a lot of detail about the nuances of audax, particularly since, in the UK at least, we have a tradition of designing new classes of ride to encourage more cyclists to undertake audax distances.
What is a ‘brevet’ or ‘brevet card’?
When you sign-on at a calendar event (or when you register for a permanent event), you will receive a card with multiple numbered boxes on the inside. Each box represents a control and the aim of the ride is to get proof of passage at each control. The rules were originally drawn up in French, so we use the French word for it.
What is a ‘control’?
A control is a place you must pass through in order to successfully complete a ride. Depending on the type of ride, you may also need to gather proof of passage on your way through:
- Some controls are manned: the organiser arranges for someone to stamp the brevet of all riders.
- Some controls are commercial: you need to grab a receipt or other proof of passage (PoP).
- And some controls are information controls: find the answer to the question and write it on the brevet.
What is an ‘information control’?
Some controls are information controls: there may be a question on the brevet that you wouldn't have been able to answer from Google StreetView, and anyway you didn't get to see the brevet until that start line, so you wouldn't have had time. Most of the time you can ride past and just mentally note the answer, something like "how far to Toy Town on the footpath sign?", and write it down at the next full control. Other times you may need to get off your bike and find it on a headstone or memorial.
The point of information controls is to prove that you went to that place; they are not intended to turn the ride into Mastermind.
What is a ‘secret control’?
We don't use secret controls in the UK, but they are used in France and other countries. The French form of audax requires that you follow the prescribed route exactly, whereas in the UK you are given a free route or allure libre. In order to check you are exactly on the prescribed route at all times, secret controls may be used: if you happen to take a shortcut (or get lost) then you may miss the secret control and your ride won't be validated.
But we don't use them here in Blighty, so don't worry about them for now.
What is the ‘arrivée’?
Arrivée is the official name for the end control of an audax ride. The rules were originally drawn up in French, so we use the French word for it. If you're lucky it's synonymous with cake, but not always …
What is ‘validation’?
Validation is when the organiser checks your brevet to make sure you've provided the correct proof of passage (PoP) for each of the controls and that you completed the ride within the time limit. If you've done all that and signed the back of the card then your ride should be validated and your name entered in the list of finishers.
If, for some reason, your PoP isn't suitable then you may have to argue your case with the organiser. If that fails then, even though you rode the distance, your ride won't be validated and your name won't appear in any of the official lists.
What is ‘proof of passage’ or ‘PoP’?
Proof of passage, or ‘PoP’, is a method of proving you were at a control when you said you were. There are a number of different types:
- Organiser's stamp — an organiser may run a manned control and someone will sit and stamp, time and sign riders' brevets. Often they will keep a list of riders who have passed through the control, too, in order to keep an eye on general progress.
- Till or cash machine receipt — most receipts from commercial establishments include the address and the date and time on them and these are ideal PoP.
- Hand-written receipt — smaller establishments may lack the address on the till roll, in which case a hand-written receipt with the shop's information on, and a signature may be used.
- Signature of a policeman — actually, this doesn't have to be a policeman, but anyone in an establishment, such as a hotel, can sign and date your brevet. It's even better if they have a commercial rubber stamp to stamp your brevet with as well — the Youth Hostel Association used to have one in every premises, but not any longer, unfortunately.
- Occasionally you may be asked to take a selfie in front of a statue or sign — this proves you were there, but doesn't necessarily indicate at what time (or even date!).
Can another rider validate my brevet at a control?
This very much depends on the organiser. Sometimes the organiser will ride with you and so may offer to validate your brevet at a control if you're there at the same time, and this is okay. Other times you may think it's convenient, but without the organiser's prior blessing then you run the risk of failing to be validated and losing any points or record of completion you hoped for.
It does happen, though: on a very busy ride, that a trusted friend of the organiser validates themselves in the normal way to prove when they arrived at a control, and then that person validates other riders themselves. This is most often used near the beginning of a ride with a large field in order to ease their passage through a small commercial control.
Generally, though, you should use the controlling method indicated by the organiser, whether this is a commercial control or a manned control.
Note that information controls cannot be validated by a friend, and it is cheating for the friend to get the answer for you!
What if I forget to grab a receipt, or if I lose a receipt?
Hmm, that would be a schoolboy error either way, but it does happen surprisingly often. (And it happened to me just recently!)
In most circumstances you will have to plead your case with the organiser. This is where riding with other people helps, because most times it's enough for another rider to vouch that you were there with them — although they themselves must be correctly validated to prove when they were there.
You must bear in mind, though, that it is your individual responsibility to get your own PoP: even tandem riders must individually control, and if validating by GPS then they must use two GPSes!
Types of event or ride
There are a number of different types of event:
- Calendar events
- Extended Calendar Events (ECEs)
What is a ‘calendar event’?
A calendar event is any event that is run on a specific date, starting from a specific location, at a specific time. Calendar events are much like a sportive in the sense that everyone starts together (or in waves for very large rides), except that they're fun, they aren't marshalled (we're all grown-ups here: we don't need molly-coddling, thanks), there's no timing chips, and you get to stop and look at the views, and eat cake.
If you can then you should try to ride calendar rides, because the presence of lots of other like-minded cyclists is, for most people, more enjoyable than a solo ride. It's not always possible, though, because you may live a long way from the majority of rides, or you may not be able to ride on the same day as the event itself.
For the uninitiated: you should arrive early to the start of a calendar ride to pick up your brevet, which is handed out at the start, and to check any information-control questions. Bring a pen because you must fill out your brevet as you go and hand it in at the end with your PoPs, although some calendar events don't have a proper arrivée and then you may be required to send it back to the organiser post haste.
What is a ‘permanent event’ or ‘perm’?
A permanent is like a calendar ride in that you are given a specific route to follow, designed by an organiser and risk-assessed, but the difference being that you can ride it at almost any time you choose to. Many calendar events have an equivalent perm version that follows the same or a similar route, enabling you to experience the ride, but any day you choose.
The timings on a permanent are different to a calendar event: the intermediate controls are not time-limited, but arrivée definitely is.
For the uninitiated: the organiser will post your brevet to you. Unless there are information controls on the route, you don't actually need the brevet to complete the ride and for many perms you can enter the day before, ride it using the routesheet from the organiser's website collecting PoPs on the way and then fill out your brevet when it arrives, sending it back to the organiser by return.
What is a ‘DIY’?
A DIY is literally that — do it yourself! If you fancy creating your own routes and riding them yourself then, as an AUK member, you are free to do so. There is a real knack to it and it's great fun, although time-consuming to do it well. You may eventually decide to become an organiser and make those rides available to others, too.
DIYs are validated either the ‘old’ way using paper receipts as PoP and sending back a completed paper brevet; or the new way using a GPS track of your passage. GPS is great, because you can put your controls absolutely anywhere, you don't need to worry about whether shops or garages will be open when you get there, nor whether there's a cash machine (that works). However, if your GPS dies then you may be unable to prove your passage and so your attempt won't be validated.
Oft times we gather paper PoPs, even when we're validating by GPS — it's possible to present a case to the area DIY organiser and get the ride validated in the event of an electronical mishap, if you have alternative proof.
What is an ‘Extended Calendar Event’ or ‘ECE’?
If you need to ride a 300 to complete your SR series but only have 200s available to you, you can extend that 200 to a 300 by adding on an ECE+100 event. For example, if you wanted to ride Tom's Horsepower 200, which starts from Great Dunmow then you could ride to the start, which is 50km; then ride the event, which is 200km; and then ride back to Cambridge which is another 50km — grand total: 300km or 3 points.
Basically you ride the 300km at 14.3kph to qualify for the ECE part, while the middle bit — the calendar ride — you must ride at the organiser's set minimum speed. Since the minimum speeds tend to be 15kph then you end up having to ride the ECE parts at something like 13.5kph, which makes it a whole lot easier.
You can extend any distance ride by a additional increments of 100km up to something like +1000km, although most riders extend only by +100km or +200km.
The big difficulty with extending a calendar event is that, typically, by the time you get to the start line then you've already been riding for a couple of hours. This means that when everyone else sets off fresh and whippet-like, you could end up being spat out the back and riding around on your own all day long. (This happened to me when I ECE'ed a 300 to a 400: I was dropped from the start and barely saw any other riders all the way round.)
What is the difference between ‘BP’, ‘BR’ and ‘BRM’ events?
There are three basic types of event:
- BP or Brevet Populaire is a UK-only classification and is applied to shorter rides of between 50 and 200km. Often these rides are run at a lower minimum speed, so you have more time to complete, and are intended to be enjoyable, relaxed, family friendly rides, while still retaining some sense of against-the-clock as well as requiring the rigours of controlling properly. These rides are generally seen as step-up rides to the longer, harder events.
- BR or Brevet de Randonneur is a UK-specific classification used for rides that are 200km or longer, but aren't homologated with either ACP or LRM in Paris. Most of the speed/time and other requirements for BR are the same as for BRM.
- BRM or Brevet de Randonneurs Mondiaux is the international equivalent of BR. When you successfully complete a BRM event then your result is sent to the relevant international organisation in Paris and is homologated into the international results. This is only important when entering rides such as Paris-Brest-Paris, which requires that you complete an SR of BRM-classification rides before you are allowed to enter (and your PBP result is homologated back into your AUK results).
The most obvious entry to riding audax is to start with BP, move on to BR events and then mix in some BRM events before entering the ultra-distance events of 1000km and longer.
What is ‘homologation’?
The results of BRM-classification rides are recognised first by Audax UK, and then these results are homologated or added to the international register of results held by Audax Club Paris (ACP). Homologated results are used to decide who qualifies for entry into Paris-Brest-Paris and other certain rides. There are also some international awards that are based on homologated results.
Speeds and timings
How much time do I get?
The answer to this is either simple or complicated, depending on how much you want to know.
The simplest answer is: you get as much time as given to you by the organiser and this is stated on the brevet. Typically this is either 6hrs 35mins or 7hrs for each 100km at standard 200 to 600km distances.
The old-standard is 14.3km/h, which is 200km in 14 hours. This is the standard minimum speed for BR and BP events.
The quickest minimum speed is 15km/h, which is the standard minimum speed for BRM events — it is not a race. Most fit riders will be able to get around inside this time, although the fitter you are then the easier it becomes.
You may be given more time for shorter-distance rides, in order to encourage new riders (as the shorter rides are aimed at novice audaxers). Audax UK also run Brevet Populaire events that often have a slower minimum speed and therefore longer to complete the ride, again it's all about encouraging new riders.
Since you must also spend time sleeping within the given time then on longer events you are given more time: events over 1000km, such as London-Edinburgh-London (1400km) and Paris-Brest-Paris (1200km), are assigned a lower minimum speed, although not by much (12.7km/h and 13.3km/h respectively).
What is the quickest time I can complete the ride in?
Many new randoneers may not realise that there's an upper speed limit to an audax ride: audax is not a race, it is a private excursion on public roads. If you want to go fast, ride a sportive. Audax is a marathon not a sprint!
Each ride is given an upper speed limit by the organiser: the fastest upper limit allowed by AUK is 30km/h. This means that you must not complete your ride by riding at an average speed that is higher than this. However, what this actually means is that your proof of passage must not have a timestamp that is sooner than the given shortest time — there is nothing stopping you getting to the control quickly/early, eating, and then getting a PoP after you've finished eating.
On some events, the organiser lowers the maximum speed in order to keep riders grouped closer together on the road.
On calendar events, it's a common story that a fast bunch arrived at a manned control only to be turned away because the control hasn't opened yet. I've turned riders away myself …
The brevet includes opening and closing times for controls … eh?
This is one of those rules that makes audax that little bit more interesting: not only do you have to finish within the overall time limit, you also have to pass through each control within certain times. These times are calculated based on how far into the ride they are and how long it should take you to get there at the maximum speed — opening time — and minimum speed — closing time.
The actual calculation is nuanced and on ultra-distance rides additional rules apply in the early stages — just follow the times given on your brevet and you'll be fine.
Note that not all types of ride include opening and closing times for all controls.
What is ‘time in hand’?
Time in hand is the theoretical time you could stop for and still ride at a constant minimum pace to finish in time (just). Let's say a control opens at 1pm and closes at 3pm:
- if you arrived at the control at 1pm then you would have two hours in hand
- if you arrived at the control at 3pm then you would have no time in hand
- if you arrived at 1pm and left at 2pm after a good lunch then you would be leaving with an hour in hand
On short rides (200km or less) then you should be aiming to get through controls efficiently, because you will probably not have much time in hand to play with. On longer rides, you will be aiming to build a nice time cushion so that you can stop for a proper meal, which may be essential to keeping your energy up, and even time to sleep! (although don't expect more than a couple of hours …)
Can I be ‘out of time’ and still finish?
Yes, but you have to be careful not to push your luck too far.
In most instances you will aim to get your PoP as soon as you arrive at a control: this is the confirmation that you were there while the control was open. However, there is no penalty if you leave the control after it has closed — none whatsoever! What this means is that if you are running a bit behind but need to rest for longer to eat, or indeed to sleep, then so long as you manage to get to the next control before that control closes then you should be okay. This is a well-used tactic on 600km rides in difficult or hilly conditions — just be sure you leave yourself enough time to get to the subsequent control in time.
The issue you could face is an inopportune puncture, a change in the weather, or an unexpectedly hilly next-stage, any of which could lose you enough time that you don't make the next control while it's open. It's then up to the organiser whether your excuse is sufficient to allow you to continue. You will be able to argue your case — often on very long rides then you will be asked “do you think you'll be able to make up the lost time before the next control”, to which the obvious answer is “yes”. You won't always be given this opportunity, though, and the organisers are under no obligation to allow it.
Super Randonneur series or ‘SR’
If you complete at least one of each of the following rides in a season then you achieve the SR award: 200, 300, 400 and 600. Longer distances can be used as a substitute for shorter distances. You can achieve multiple SRs in a single season.
There isn't an award for this one per se, but it's a recognised achievement: if you ride four 600km rides or longer in a single year then you've gone hyper.
Audax Altitude Award — AAA
Some rides qualify for AAA points if they have more than about 1500m of climb in any 100km section — the longer the section that climbs at that constant rate, the more points on offer. Points are awarded on distances from 50km upwards, but tend to be focused, for obvious reasons, in hilly areas of the country — like not Cambridge!
Fixed Wheel Challenge and Super Fixed Wheel Award
If, like me, you're a convert to riding fixed-wheel, then these two awards help measure your progress against yourself and others sans derailleur.
Can I win anything?
Yes. And no. We celebrate completing; we do not celebrate winning.
- Yes: you may be awarded a trophy, which some consider a 'win'. There are trophies for most points in the season in one of the points series, as well as most inspirational newcomer.
- Yes: you may purchase a badge upon completing specific distance rides: 50km, 100km, 150km, 200km, 300km, 400km, and 600km.
- Yes: on the ultra-distance rides, such as LEL and PBP, you may be presented with a medal upon successful completion.
- Yes: for many riders, finishing is the same as winning. Audax is hard, that's why we celebrate all finishers equally.
- Yes: you can blow your friends' minds with the sheer scale of an audax: 200km is a very long way and few cyclists ever go this distance in a single ride. And when you move up to 300s and 400s then you can blow them again, if that's your thing …
- No: if you think this is a race, it's not. There's nobody pointing you in the right direction. There are no team cars. There are no coloured jerseys. There is no podium. You're on your own. And there's often cake.
What is ‘lanterne rouge’?
Lanterne rouge is French for red light and is the name given to the person who is riding in last position. While in club circles, lanterne rouge may be used in jest, in audax circles there is an element of kudos in coming in last, especially if you're last because of some expeditious adventure, such as having to get your frame welded back together halfway round, or stopping at every other pub along the route.
Audax is not a race, and lanterne rouge is usually an honourable title — although you must still get to arrivée within the allowed time to claim the honour. There's even an honorary society for those full-value riders one a certain French ride who come in with mere minutes to spare.
Can I cheat?
You aren't allowed to, but it's possible to. However, if caught then you may be expelled from AUK and be prevented from taking part in future events, so don't!
There are multiple ways you could cheat:
- Get someone else to ride around in your place gathering PoPs while you sit in the pub and wait,
- Submit an old GPS track — or someone else's — if validating a ride by GPS,
We have to ask, though: what's the point in cheating? You won't win anything, you probably haven't ridden your bike far enough, and you'll have to live with your sad, sorry self unto eternity. Don't say we didn't warn you …
What should I do in an emergency?
Hopefully this will never happen to you, but just in case:
- Make the scene safe
- do not move the injured rider if you can help it; if they are walking wounded then get them out of the road
- warn other road users and manage the traffic — you don't want any secondary accidents!
- When it's safe to do so, dial 999/112 and ask for ambulance and/or police
- give clear location details, street name and number, house number or farm name if one is close by
- Look after the victim
- first aid if you know it and it's necessary
- keep them comfortable and warm, but try not to move an unconscious victim and don't remove their helmet
- Notify the organiser
- you should notify the organiser as soon as practicable, so that they can notify the victim's emergency contact
- however, the organiser is not going to be able to assist you on the road, because they are probably 30 or 40 miles away from you.
You may be required to be a witness, so look around the scene and if you're not attending to the victim then take photographs and make written notes — the time, names, reg plates, photos of drivers, positions of vehicles, etc.
If you are involved in an accident or looking after a victim then the organiser will give you additional time to complete your ride equal to the time you were stopped, so don't panic. Stay calm and assist in as best a way as you can — worry about the ride afterwards.
On London-Edinburgh-London in 2013, I came across an accident involving a friend and I stayed with him in the ambulance while he was attended to by paramedics, and I also made a statement to the police. I notified the organisers at the next control and they added on 45 minutes to my allowed finish time. The adrenaline of the situation, plus the opportunity to rest for 45 minutes, meant that I rode faster in my final 150km and didn't need the extra time in the end (by 19 minutes), but it was nice to know it was there.