An intro to the world of Audax
Audax are essentially just long-distance bikes rides. However, they’ve been around a very long time so they come with a well-established rule book, a whole host of acronyms and slang, people that have been doing them longer than you’ve been able to ride a bike and even their own awards system. Being done on a shoestring budget by volunteers, the website, “marketing” and events are functional rather than glitzy. They also go up to utterly ridiculous distances such as the recent 1400km London-Edinburgh-London.
All that can add up to something that’s very confusing and/or off-putting to the newcomer but the basics of Audax is actually really simple – you just ride your bike between a series of pre-agreed places either on your own or as part of an organised event. They’re surprisingly easy to get into, a lot of fun, great riding, very cheap and full of the most weird, wonderful and kind cyclists you’ll ever meet. They also start at a more manageable 50km!
So how do you do an Audax?
Rather than go into a wordy explanation, let’s just look at how you’d do the easiest type of Audax – an organised event done with other people. Known as Calendar Events, this is where you’d want to start your Audax journey and you’ll find a list here.http://www.aukweb.net/events/
Most items should be self-explanatory, but some require a bit more explanation:
- Online Entry – Some organisers only allow postal entries, so if you’re not a fan of cheque books and SAEs then look out for events with the PayPal logo, which means you can do it all online. There may be a small extra charge for PayPal to cover their fees, but remember the organisers are all volunteers and put these events on very cheaply, so it’s only fair and usually cheaper than the stamps.
- Event Type & Rules – the specific rules/organisation this event is being run under. Not important for the casual Audaxer so ignore it.
- AA (also known as AAA) – unless you really really like hills, avoid events with this on (see glossary for more information).
- Total Climbing – not always shown but if present usually means the event is hilly (even if it doesn’t qualify for AA points).
Once you’ve found an event that has potential, click on it for more detail. Again, most of it should be self-explanatory, but look out for:
- Distance & Time – these not only tell you the distance and start time, but also the amount of time you must complete the event in and the finish time that equates to.
- Facilities – Audax start locations vary from village halls to pubs to sports centres. This will tell you what to expect on this event. It is in shorthand form but click the ? to get the plain English version. The number is the maximum people they’ll allow on the ride.
- Route Sheet – this contains the route, directions and further detailed instructions about the ride. Many riders use only this as their only means of navigation.
- GPX – if the Route Sheet method looks too difficult, many organisers now provide a GPX file for navigation via your GPS computer. If they don’t, and you’d like to navigate by GPS, then it might be easier to chose a different event.
If you’ve found an event that ticks all your boxes, then go ahead and hit [Enter This Event]!
Note that Audax UK (AUK) are the organising body in the UK. There are lots of benefits to being a member of AUK, including a regular magazine, but you don’t have to be to enter an event – you’ll just pay a small surcharge (currently £2) for each event you enter – so you can try before you buy as it were.
On The Day
Don’t Panic! Get to the start line in plenty of time and any fellow Audaxer will be only too happy to answer any questions or point you in the right direction as to what to do.
The ride itself consists of riding between a series of predefined places, referred to as Controls, collecting a “proof of passage” at each one to confirm you completed the event as it was intended. Some people like to think of it as a “treasure hunt”.
To facilitate this, you’ll be given a card when you sign in at the start of the ride, known as a Brevet Card (note the one shown on the left is a completed one).
Notice how the Brevet Card not only lists the controls, but the distance and allowable times of each one. Details of each control will be in the Route Sheet but the main types are:
- Manned – a volunteer will be waiting for you at a given place and will stamp your card.
- Named Café/Shop – they will be expecting you and will stamp your card if you ask nicely.
- Free – it’s up to you; easiest is to get a receipt from a shop or ATM (often acceptable as an alternative to the others if they are busy).
- Information – a question written on the card that can only be answered if you are there (see 3rd control @ 80km in above Brevet Card, though it was manned that day).
At the end, you hand your card in to the organisers to be validated and that’s it! If you’re a member of AUK, you’ll get your certificate/points etc. added to your online account.
What makes Audax great?
- The fact that they’re unsupported and unsigned.
- The array of awards/badges you can work towards (if that’s your thing). There are many awards such as SR, RRTY and AAA (see glossary for details) and fancy badges for each.
- The challenge (there’s always a tougher Audax waiting for you!).
- The routes – Audaxes often use the little lanes, researched and ridden by the organiser over many years to give the best views, the best riding etc.
- Other Audaxers – I cannot stress this enough! Everyone is battling their own challenge, but still has time to be one of the nicest cyclists you’ve ever met.
- Food – there is often an abundance of food on Calendar Events, usually free or very low cost.
- Attitude – there are only three statuses in Audax: DNS (did not start), DNF (did not finish) and Finished. No-one talks about average speeds or finish times, it’s simply not important as every finisher is treated the same. No-one really cares what bike you’ve got or what brand you’re wearing – look around and you’ll see a huge array of bikes and kit, all chosen and cherished by the individual on whatever criteria/merit they deemed important to them.
Audax are unsupported and unsigned! It’s up to you to find your way between controls and up to you to get out of any problem or situation that may arise. There is no broom wagon or support vehicle – if your bike breaks and can’t be fixed, then you must find your own way home (but do let the organiser know).
Audax are time-limited, though the allowances are very generous. The clock never stops and quoted average speeds include stopping. So if you need to eat or wee then you’ll need to be aware of the time in hand.
Audax often use quiet country lanes with varying surfaces. Many seasoned Audaxers favour steel or titanium frames over carbon and wheels with lots of spokes and wider tyres.
Who shouldn’t do an Audax?
Audax isn’t for everyone, especially those who:
- Value speed over everything else and/or want recognition for their speed.
- Can’t fix a puncture or do basic repairs at the roadside.
- Can’t navigate.
- Like a safety blanket/don’t do self-sufficient.
- Expect paid-staff tending to your every whim, pre-ride bike doctors, post-ride massages etc.
Who should do an Audax?
Anyone that likes long distance bike rides and doesn’t fit into the “shouldn’t” category! But be warned it can be addictive!
Like most things, Audax comes with it’s own language, full of acronyms and slang. Here are the most common things you need to know:
- AA or AAA – Audax Altitude Award. Really hilly rides qualify for AA points, collect enough and you can get awards.
- Brevet Card – The card you get at the start of the ride that includes ride details as well as the controls. This is also where you collect/record your proof of passage.
- Control – A mandatory stop on the route where you must get proof of passage.
- Calendar Event – A pre-organised/approved route on a given day, done with multiple participants.
- DIY – An Audax where you design the route and do it on your own at a time of your choosing (but still allows you to get Audax points/awards).
- Entry On The Line – Turning up and entering on the day. Not always permitted and maximum number of riders still applies.
- [Going] Full Value – Someone who takes close-to the maximum allowed time, thus getting maximum value out of their entry fee. Not a derogatory term, in fact full-valuers are often admired! And it matters not, anyone that finishes gets the same points/recognition.
- Permanent – A pre-approved route that you do on your own at a time of your choosing (but still allows you to get Audax points/awards).
- Route Sheet – Detailed instructions about the route.
- RRTY (Randonneur Round The Year) – An award given to someone that does a 200km (minimum) Audax every month for 12 consecutive months.
- SR (Super Randonneur) – An award given to someone that does a 200, 300, 400 and 600km Audax in the same Audax year (Oct-Sept).
- SRRTY (Super Randonneur Round The Year) – An award given to someone that does an SR every month for 12 consecutive months.
- Time In Hand – the amount of time between now and when the ride cut-off is.
Hopefully that’s given you a good overview on how to get started. My advice is if the idea appeals, then definitely try one. Rafe