What is an Audax?

This is a guide for those of you who might be entering an audax event for the first time. Some of you may have never ridden with a large group before, others may have done sportifs or 'charity' rides but not an audax. This is not a definitive guide. Audax events, especially at the more extreme end, attract and cater for a number of individuals who are beyond definition.

Audax is Latin for 'bold', as in 'audacious'. There's nothing particularly bold about most 100km events, but we've all got to start somewhere. 1400km unsupported and no time off for sleep is a little more like it. That's the prime UK event and over 800 finished in 2013. Audax is about endurance and self-sufficiency. But it's also about cake. If you want to read more on the history and activities of Audax UK, go to their website.

So there is a distance, a time window for finishing, a route to take. The rest is up to you. There is no signage. There is no sag wagon. And there probably aren't any cheering crowds. It's not meant to be competitive, there are no winners or losers. It is meant to be fun, though some organisers have a slightly warped sense of humour.

I would advise anyone against doing an event more than double the distance they have ridden before. If you are riding outside your usual area, check how much climbing is involved. If an event is described as 'scenic', you may need crampons. Specifically, events with 'Audax Altitude Award' points can be brutal, even if short.

There will be a stated minimum and maximum speed, usually 15-30 km/h. That gives an earliest and latest finish time, to include any stops or delays made for any reason. You can of course go faster or slower at any time on the ride. If you exceed the overall speed you'll just have to wait at the controls (see below) or the finish. If you drop below the overall speed, you may find everyone has gone home. But no riders times are published, and many of the fastest will stop for a leisurely tea. A classic mistake is to start too fast, then struggle home. It's said that while a Sportif is for riders pretending to race, an Audax is for riders pretending not to race. If you want, go for speed, fly round in a trail of gel wrappers. No-one will be impressed.

You will be given a 'brevet' card and a route sheet. This is a series of instructions (using abbreviations as below) to guide you from start to finish, via one or more 'controls' to give proof of passage. At a 'control' there will be someone to stamp your card, at an 'inforrmation control' there is a simple question to be answered on the card – so bring a pen. There will often (but not always) be toilets, food and drink at 'controls', not at 'infos'. The organiser may also provide a .gpx file of the route. You will not be given a map. There are no signs, there is no leader to guide you. The route will be the shortest practical course between the controls. You can choose to go a different way, but you must pass through the controls. Just follow the route unless you're very experienced.

When you get the route, make sure you understand it. Trace it out on a map and look at the turns. Maybe also look at potential bale options in case things go wrong. On a computer, I use Ride with GPS. I take with pages torn from a 2.5 miles to 1” road atlas, or an OS Touring 1:100,000 map. If there's any chance of rain, put your route sheet in a clear plastic bag, or it will dissolve. An unprotected brevet card in your back pocket may turn to mush from sweat. Take the route sheet and map even if you are using a GPS device, as anything digital can fail. Don't rely on internet-based maps on a phone – when you get lost, you will have no internet coverage. If relying on a phone with downloaded maps (like Viewranger), carry a spare battery. Having the GPS on and the screen on is very power hungry, and your phone may be vital in an emergency. If you are relying on the route sheet, find a way to clip it to your bars or stem such as this or a home brew version. Even if you are with others, make sure you always know where you are on the route – you might get separated, they might get lost. I once tagged on to a group only to find they were just on a club run.

Anyone can ride an audax event, from pre-teens to over 80's. New cyclists or ex-racers. Everything in between. There's probably a healthier number of women than in many other events. Just don't overreach yourself first time out, we all want you back for more. You can use any type of bicycle or tricycle without a motor. Tandems, recumbents, small wheel, fixed-wheel, mountain bike or road bike. But it must be roadworthy and reliable, as there's no breakdown van to pick you up. You must be able to fix a puncture and should carry a pump, at least one spare tube and some patches (you may get more than one visitation). I also carry a few cable ties and some pvc tape wrapped round my pump for luck, also a tyre boot for a split sidewall. You should perhaps learn how to fix a broken chain with a chain tool and a quick link, and how to deal with a damaged wheel with a spoke key, but there's no point in carrying tools you don't know how to use. If it's a 200km take lights, just in case. Suitable clothing, but travel light. There's rarely more than 50km between stops, but carry sufficient food and water.

There aren't really any rules. Obey the highway code, respect other road users, and don't frighten the horses. And please don't upset the locals with comfort stops. Mudguards are a politeness to following riders, as is turning rear lights to constant, not flashing. Slower riders should keep to the left, letting others pass courteously on the outside. Signal where needed rather than shout. Look out for your fellow riders, they will look out for you. If by any chance you can't finish, please send a message to the organiser – phone number on your brevet card.

That's it then. Find an event, enter and enjoy it.

Common Routesheet Abbreviations

L = Left; R = Right; SO = Straight on; Imm = immediate;
T = T Junction; X = Cross Rd; Tri = (grass) triangle; J = Junction;
Rbt = roundabout; mrbt = mini roundabout; Tfl = Traffic Lights;
CH = Church; PH = Pub; Sch = School; Sp = Signpost.

Usually, placenames either in CAPS or bold are passed through, other placenames are for directions only.

Further reading

AUK Website and Calendar
YACF Audax Forum
Simon Doughty. The Long Distance Cyclists' Handbook (A & C Black)