What the heck is an audax?
Steeped in tradition, boasting excellent cake and absolutely no willy-waving – here’s everything you need to know about audax from Emma Nicholson and Grace Lambert–Smith…
Do you want to be part of a close-knit community of super-fit and super-hardcore long-distance riders and randonneurs? Then the fabled audax might be the discipline for you. We get the low-down from Grace Lambert-Smith, who took up ‘audaxing’ a couple of years ago and hasn’t looked back.
What is an audax?
An audax event is an organised ride such as a randonnée or brevet which take place over long distances – typically more than 200km, although you’ll find plenty below that mark on the Audax UK calendar.
Riders use a good old-fashioned brevet card on almost all audax events and must get it stamped at various checkpoints along the way to prove they rode the route. There’s a not-so-brief history of the audax here.
What does the word mean?
The word is Latin for ‘bold’ and was first pinned to endurance sports towards the end of the 19th century.
Why put yourself through such an ordeal?
Audax events are welcoming, challenging and allow you to expand your horizons in a way that’s unparalleled elsewhere in cycling. They’re also incredibly good value for money, with most 200km events costing less than a tenner. Compare that with your big sportives, where admission can be five times that, and you begin to see the value.
Oh, and among the initiated, it’s said that the cakes on audaxes are without equal.
So, an audax is basically just a long sportive?
Audax events are considered, by those who ride them, to be the most organic or authentic form of road cycling there is. For want of a better term, audax is free of willy-waving cyclists who think riding a sportive is a race.
There are other difference too. Audax events are not supported like sportives. Sure, there might be cake at the start and finish, but the rest is up to you and at your own cost. There are also no medals or prizes for finishing within certain timeframes and no timing chips to record your elapsed time.
Ordinarily, these events carry a minimum speed, usually around 14-15kmh for events less than 600km. Although, keep in mind that the average speed is calculated for a ‘non-stop’ ride and does not account for breaks – rest, sleep, mechanical issues – so it’s important to think about your own personal strategy for finishing within the time limit. That said, the timeframes are usually pretty generous. Speed is really not a big factor in these events, and in some cases, if you go too fast the organiser won’t even validate your brevet card!,
What do all the stamps mean?
Depending on the distance of the ride, your brevet card will have a number of spaces for stamps which must be collected en route. Riders will follow the route until they reach the point in their brevet card where it says to collect a stamp. These checkpoints are called controls. Riders must get there within a specified time window otherwise no stamp will be given.
There are also information controls within a brevet card whereby the organiser asks a question of the rider, such as: “At 89km, what time is the church service on Sunday?” and the rider must write the answer in the box. Part cycling event, part local trivia game.
What extra kit do I need to audax?
Nothing! You can ride whatever bike you like with whatever gear you like. At any audax start line, you’re guaranteed to see a whole array of bikes and kit on display.
Obviously, some components are useful across the board, such as a dynamo hub in your front wheel to power lights and charge GPS devices.
Another staple of many an audax rider is a Carradice saddle bag. The Lancashire brand is famed for its charming handmade waxed cotton satchels secured to riders' saddle rails. The contents vary from rider to rider, but generally you’ll find a few jam sandwiches and a couple of extra layers in there.
What mental make-up do you need to be an audaxer?
You need to be willing to break down your own barriers and you need a PMA – positive mental attitude. If you leave the house thinking you’re not going to complete that day’s ride, then you probably won’t. Sure, there might be tears at silly o’clock in the morning when body parts hurt and you’ve fallen out with your bike for the fifteenth time in the last hour, but it’s all about keeping those pedals turning.
How do I get started?
Visit Audax UK to become a member, then enter your first event using their calendar. Warning: some might require a cheque book to enter – #OldSkool! There are also some clubs around the country that cater for those of a particularly long-distance persuasion. Audax Club Bristol is one that springs to mind though there are plenty more around the country.
What else do I need to know?
A few things: try not to be overwhelmed by the distances. “600km sounded like a lot to me when I first started,” says Grace, “and it is, but you’ll be surprised how quickly your fitness builds up as you add events to your calendar”.
Prepare to be amazed at how fit older audax riders are, and don’t be surprised if you’re dropped riding up a hill at 2am by a man pushing 70.
If that does happen, don’t worry, audax riders are a friendly bunch and they’re full of wonderful stories and anecdotes of rides gone by. “I am grateful to have met so many generous people through audax who I would never have come across had it not been for this type of riding,” says Grace. Sounds good to us.
Who are the more well-known female audaxers?
In no particular order:
Grace Lambert-Smith (@thisisgrace on Twitter or @thisisgrace_ on Instagram) who scratched the Transcontinental Race in 2017 (“I’m cool with it, by the way!”) and is hoping to finish Paris-Brest-Paris in under 84 hours this August
Ange Walker (@veloelle on Instagram) who is a regular in The North as she pursues her Randonneur Round the Year (RRtY) award (>200km every month for a year)
Ede Harrison (@edeharrison on Instagram) who was the fastest woman at last year’s 6th edition of the Transcontinental Race
Alaina Beacall (@highcadenceliving on Instagram) who did the Trans Am Bike Race and has written for Arriveé Magazine (Audax UK’s member magazine)
Think you’ve got what it takes? Then it’s time to sign up