Audax events are long distance bike rides where participants navigate the course themselves, stopping off to have a route (or ‘brevet’) card stamped to prove they’ve ridden the distance.
Typical distances start from 200km, and exceed 1000km though there are some shorter 50 and 100km options in the calendar these days. The events are run under the administration of Audax UK and events are listed here.
Audax rides usually have a minimum speed of around 14kph, but they also often have a maximum speed. These rides are not about racing, and an event can also be referred to as a 'Randonnée' which translates to 'ramble or 'long journey'.
The focus on endurance – an area where women are often rather gifted – means that these sorts of adventures are growing more and more popular among the female crowd. Like all cycling styles, the riding discipline does carry with it a stereotype – and that sub cult is largely summed up as ‘slightly grumpy beardy men’. However, get a little further into the community and you’ll find plenty of female participants, and room for more.
We’ve got a basic guide on how to get involved and what Audax rides are about here. However, if you’ve crossed the border from ‘thinking about entering an Audax’ to signing your name on the dotted line, here are some more tips…
Build up slowly
Hopefully it goes without saying that if you’ve never ridden 100km before, it isn’t a good idea to sign up to the 1000km ride next month. There are usually no course sweepers – if you don’t finish in time you’ll just need to find a train home – so choose a distance you’re confident you can complete. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should limit yourself - feel free to opt for something that will present a challenge as you can usually find a few more kilometers in your legs on an event day.
Once you’ve chosen your distance, build up to it. Sit down with your calendar and plan in long rides that gradually increase in distance in the direction of the event total.
It’s a good idea to aim for a long ride each week, just adding a maximum of 10 per cent in distance each time you head out for an endurance ramble. Between your long excursions, build in a few short rides if you can fit them around your schedule – but make sure you get plenty of rest before and after the big days out.
Know your goals
Audax rides aren't about speed - but there are plenty of goals to aim for if you're that way motivated. Every ride you complete within the time limit is recorded by Audax UK in their permanent archives.
Some events are acknowledged also by the prestigious Audax Club Parisien (or ACP) - and records of those who have completed them will be held in their archives. These events are marked 'BRM' in the calendar.
There are several awards available for completing different distances - and special praise will be given in the annual 'Arrivée' magazine for those who have met impressive standards. For example, someone who rides a 200, a 300, a 400 and a 600km in the same season becomes a 'Super Randonneur'
AUK also runs a Championship structure, for the riders covering the greatest total distances in events during the year, with various categories. These have 'individual awards' and 'opposite sex' awards. In some cases the women have surpassed the men which is probably why 'opposite' is used as opposed to 'women'. In the endurance game, the girls can pack a punch!
Get your bike ready
Even if you’re starting with ‘just 200km’, you’re going to be spending a lot of time on the bike. You can ride any bike, trike or recumbent – but the number one rule is that you need to be comfortable on it.
If you’re likely to be taking in some steep climbs along the way, look for a bike with ample gearing, or upgrade your existing bike with a wider ratio cassette and compact chainring (if it doesn’t already have one).
Making sure your tyres are reliable is a mighty good idea too, and if you’re on a road bike, think about opting for 25 or 28c tyres as opposed to the traditional 23c, to provide greater comfort over assorted surfaces. You’ll also want wheels you can trust – a high spoke count makes for a stronger wheel, and that’s always going to be faster than an aero or lightweight wheel that causes you problems.
It really is a good idea to get a bike fit too – a professional bike fitter will be able to help advise you on suitable saddles if you’re experiencing discomfort, as well as setting you up to help avoid knee pain, lower back or shoulder and wrist pain – all common symptoms of a poorly set up bike.
Get your kit ready
It’s up to you how heavy you go on your approach provisions: food, tools and clothing.
In terms of tools, basic puncture repair kit is a must, but you might also want a set of Allan keys, and other sensible suggestions include an adjustable spanner and screwdriver, plus cable ties (because everyone needs cable ties).
Unless you’re riding in the middle of summer, you are likely to need lights – your front beam should be bright enough for you to see the road, and it’s a good idea to have a back-up rear just in case your first one should fail.
Clothing wise – what you need will depend upon the distance of your ride and the weather. A packable water resistant jacket is a good idea, as are back-up layers like arm and leg warmers. Mitts or gloves and chamois shorts will help keep you comfortable as day-long pressure builds up and SPD shoes are recommended over road style cleats as they’ll allow you to walk easily at the control stops.
In terms of food - you could eat energy gels and bars - but over a distance such as this you're likely to want to have some real, solid food. Try flapjacks, rice cakes or maltloaf as snacks to keep you going.
You can carry your kit via pannier racks, in a top tube bag or a large saddle bag – there are many options out there, it’s best to test them out yourself before your big day. Above all, avoid backpacks or carrying your kit on your body which can get sweaty and uncomfortable.
Planning the route
There won’t be any arrows to guide you on the route – that’s part of the fun! Before your event, you should take time to map out the route yourself. You can do this either using pages from an OS map, or by tearing out pages from a road atlas which you’ll then put into a clear plastic holder on the day. You can also map the route out online, using a site such as ‘MapMyRide.com’. Finally, it is perfectly acceptable nowadays to create a GPS route to download to a cycling computer, such as a Garmin.
Whichever option you go for, make sure you understand your route, know the key points on it, and are comfortable using any devices you intend to rely upon. Don’t fall into the trap of following anyone else – they may be more lost than you!
You are allowed to ride in groups
This is not a non-drafting affair! Riding in a group might help the kilometres whizz by a little more quickly – and it’s always nice to have some conversation along the way. However, do be careful not to join a group that’s going much faster than you would usually ride – if it feels hard 20km in, you won’t be a happy bunny after 200km!
If you’re alone, it's particularly important to carry a mobile phone, though of course you can’t rely upon it always having signal. Make sure someone knows where you’re riding, and perhaps send updates every couple of hours so they’ll know the area you’re in should you encounter a problem. The brevet card will also have the phone number for the organiser. Only around 10 per cent of participants don't finish - but do let them know if that's you.
Keep eating and drinking!
The age old rule is ‘if you’re hungry or thirsty, it’s too late’. Calories and hydration take about 20 minutes to get into your system, so if you only take them on when you need them you may find you feel pretty low in the mean time. Keep food and drinks accessible – for example storing some sweets or home made energy bites in a handlebar bag, and if you really struggle, set an alarm to remind you to top up at least every hour.
Sure, it's a cheesy note to end on - but Audax events are absolutely about cycling for the sheer joy of it. Push yourself to the point that you feel like you've achieved something new, but not so hard it hurts and you'll never want to ride again.
Audax rides in the UK are regulated by - you guessed it - Audax UK. They've got plenty of honest, useful advice on their website, check out the FAQ page here.