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Audax Riding

Simon Doughty is a professional cycling coach and writer. He has toured extensively and competed in most cycling disciplines, twice ridden the prestigious Paris-Brest-Paris randonnée, and crewed in the Race Across America. Under Simon's guidance riders have won medals and set national and world records in road, track, mountain-biking and cyclo-cross events. Here, Simon provides advice for those tackling randonnées of 200km and above. The information is reproduced with the permission of Simon and Audax UK.


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Basic Preparation for A Randonnée

Fitness, miles, cycling technique, choice of equipment, luggage, lighting


If you are a regular club rider you should find a 200km randonnée a 'comfortable challenge' and you're probably looking forward (maybe with a little trepidation) to the longer rides, and perhaps the Super Randonneur series [events of 200, 300, 400 & 600km completed in the same season] which will take you through the night and to new personal limits. If, however, you are new to cycling, or have not ridden more than say, 50 miles in a day, then a 200km event could be quite a hurdle. Here are some tips.....


The secret to tackling any challenge is to build up to it progressively. How far have you ridden in a day before ? 40, 50, 60 miles ? And how did you feel after that ? Bright as a button, or perhaps a bit sore, or totally wrecked ? And now you're going to ride two or three times further than you've ever been....


You have to create stepping stones to make your goal achievable and realistic. Ideally, you should be on your bike 3 - 4 times per week, throughout the year. Ride to work, or use a turbo trainer, 2 or 3 times per week, and then cycle once or twice over the weekend. For the long-distance cyclist or randonneur, there is no substitute for 'getting the miles in'. Every two weeks or so, increase the distance you cover at weekends by about 5 - 10 %. Soon you'll be covering greater distances with ease and that 125 miles won't look quite so daunting.


Counting 'hours on a bike' rather than miles covered in training you can compare different types of cycling. If you go mountain-biking at weekends, you won't cover as many miles as if you were on your road bike, but you can compare the time and effort between the two activities. If you can get 10 - 14 hours 'training' during a week, then you should get through most events quite comfortably. There does come a point where you can do too much and become 'overtrained'. So, every 4 - 5 weeks, cut your riding back by about 20 - 25%. In the summer time, when you are spending more hours in the saddle at weekends, you don't need to spend so much time on your bike during the week. This is a good time to ride shorter distances faster. This will help you to recover and prepare you better for the weekend randonnée.


You can ride whatever bike, trike or recumbent you like, provided it is roadworthy and for most events, fitted with mudguards. What suits one rider may be wholly inappropriate for you. (Beware of magazines and advertisements touting 'the ultimate audax bike'!) Here are some guidelines though:


  • Adjust your bike to fit you. A coach, good bike shop or an experienced clubmate should be able to help you. Do not over-stretch to reach the handlebars or pedals.
  • Err towards more low gears than high gears. A triple chainset is a good idea. You do not need racing gears. Talk to experienced randonneurs. You'll get a spectrum of answers which you will have to filter, but at least they will be based on real knowledge.
  • For distance riding, comfort is much more important than absolute speed. If you use 700c tyres, 23mm really is the minimum depth you should consider. 28mm is a good compromise.
  • Choose a saddle which is reasonably firm, to give you support over longer distances. Modern padded saddles are popular but traditional leather saddles still have their loyal devotees - if you can tolerate the breaking-in period.
  • SPD style pedals and shoes are excellent. You get full power from them, your foot will not slip (if adjusted properly) and unlike racing shoes, you can walk about without waddling like a duck or risking going AOT on smooth floors! Not everyone can find cycling shoes to fit, however, and if this is your problem, traditional toe clips on your pedals allow you to use whatever shoes are comfortable.
  • Carry essential spares and tools. Recommended: 2 spare inner tubes, puncture repair kit, tyre levers, allen keys to fit your bike (3 - 6mm). Small penknife - usually includes a screwdriver blade. Small adjustable spanner. Selection of cable ties. Good pump, capable of achieving 100psi.
  • Clean your bike before any ride. Check for damage or wear and replace any item before it expires in the middle of nowhere on a Sunday afternoon.
  • Wheels need to be strong, but comfortable. Nothing fancy, 36 spokes front and rear, crossed 3 times will give reliable service for most riders. Avoid deep section 'aero' rims. These may be strong and sexy, but they're too unforgiving for long-distance riding.


The length of event and the time of year will dictate how much luggage you take. Carry a lightweight waterproof jacket with you on all rides in case the weather deteriorates. You may also need to take clothes off during a ride (gloves, track top, etc.) and you'll need somewhere to put them. 'Top bags' which sit neatly on a pannier rack are very popular and are taking over from the formerly ubiquitous saddlebags. Use the pockets for tools, food or whatever you need to hand, and the main compartment for larger items like spare clothing. Alternatively, you may use panniers, or a handlebar bag. Some riders cram everything into overloaded jersey pockets or a seatpack the size of a pea but filled so much that it looks like a car's airbag about to explode. It's up to you but the golden rules are:


  • Whatever method you use, make sure it is secure.
  • Do not carry unnecessary items.
  • Do not forget essential items.
  • Carry as little as possible on your person. Avoid any bag on your back, even if they're 'designed for cycling'. Use the bike instead.
  • Never carry tools in your pockets - they can make an additional mess of your body should you fall.


For any ride over 300km, or any ride before April or after mid-September, you'll probably need lights. Good lighting is required for your own safety (and the law), and for you to see where you are going! Although it's over 30 years since Man landed on the Moon, only now is technology getting us anywhere near a decent set of bicycle lamps. Like all things audax, there are a number of opinions on the best method to tackle this. For rear usage, LEDs are almost universally adopted, being lightweight and reliable. For front lights, you have the choice of batteries - rechargeable or regular (and a choice of chemicals therein) - or generators (sidewall, tyre tread or hub-dynamos); LEDs or filament bulbs. There are advantages and compromises to all systems. The jury is still out about what's best but for the latest ideas, keep reading Arrivée.[The quarterly magazine of Audax UK - free to AUK members] You must though, ensure that your lighting system will be sufficient in terms of brightness and run-time. For reasons of back-up and safety, most riders adopt two independent lighting systems.


Some words on clothing. Buy cycling specific clothes, from a good bike shop. For most audax riding, road-style garments are more suitable than mountain-biking togs because they tend to be closer fitting and flap about less in the breeze. Comfortable shorts are essential; opinions differ as to the efficacity of padding but knowledgeable riders with a seat insert smear it with some sort of antiseptic cream such as Sudocrem to prevent chaffing and saddle problems.


Carry gloves and a hat for cooler conditions and keep your legs, especially your knees, covered unless it really is quite warm.


Wear bright colours for greater motorist awareness and use reflective materials if you're riding at night.


Now, if you're paying attention to all this, your rides await you!



On the Ride

Navigation techniques, sleep, hygiene, get-you-home repairs, do's & don'ts


Okay, so you've entered the randonnée, you've got your route sheet, you know where the start is, what now ?


I have assumed you have cleaned your bicycle - an ideal opportunity to check it over for wear and damage and that you have replaced anything that looks remotely dodgy - and your machine is now in tip top condition ready for the ride, all legal and everything.


Follow the route on a map at home. You will then understand it much better when actually riding. Regular 1:50,000 OS maps are too large a scale for most randonnées and would cost a fortune and you'd be carrying a library with you! Buy yourself a road atlas, 3 or 4 miles:1". Tear out the relevant sheets and cover them in clear plastic. You'll rarely ever have to carry more than 3 sheets. Fold them in the 3x3 sections and they'll fit neatly into a jersey pocket. Road atlases are also cheap enough that you can update them every year or two.


Keep checking the route. Many riders sport a route sheet holder attached to their handlebars. This is usually after years of not paying close enough attention to the route sheet and having spent many hours off-course! There are commercial holders available or you can make your own. Do not assume the person in front knows where he is going! Having a handlebar computer (set to kilometres) is useful to gauge your location.


Ride in a group or with one or two others and your ride will be much easier. You can chat and take turns at the front of the group sheltering one another from the wind for a minute or two at a time. On your own, audax rides can be lonely and more difficult. Don't try to keep up with those who are too fast for you. You'll only pay the price later in the event. It's better to have a little in reserve than to do 40kph at the start with the fast boys, get dropped and then get lost because you weren't paying attention when hanging onto their back wheels!


If your bike is well maintained you should not encounter many mechanical problems. However, accidents can happen and disasters do strike. You'll need to be self-sufficient enough to get yourself out of trouble. That may mean bodging a repair or it may mean a long walk to a telephone box, and a call for a taxi to a railway station. Make sure you are equipped to cope. Widespread acceptance of credit cards and cash machines in many places means that you don't have to carry wads of cash with you but once on the ride you are on your own.....Look in your brevet card or on your route sheet and, if there is a contact number, phone the organiser if you are going to abandon the ride.


You must eat and drink. Have a good carbohydrate rich meal the night before then snack on other high carbo foods during the ride. 'Energy bars' are good but can be expensive and you'll tire of them in longer events. Two bottles on your bike are definitely recommended. Expect to drink about 500ml (1 regular bottle) per hour, more if it's hot.


After a while you'll get fitter and faster and you'll meet up with some of the seasoned campaigners who don't dash about  too fast. Note their habits. Don't waste time off the bike. Many slower riders just keep going like Aesop's tortoise, but they all get round. If you are faster, then you can afford to spend some time having teas and toast at a control or two. Be polite, say thank you to the controllers, obey the rules of the road, smile and I guarantee you'll be making friends and coming back for more.


Simon Doughty - Professional Cycling Coach



Want to read more ?


"The Long Distance Cyclist's Handbook", by Simon Doughty


If you have ever wanted to ride a bicycle further than the end of your road, this book is for you.


Packed with straightforward information, it details the preparation and equipment needed to take a novice from the challenge of a 50-mile charity ride to gearing up and comfortably covering 600 km in a weekend randonnée. Guidance and advice is also given for marathon events such as 12-hour time trials, and the ultimate test – the 3000-mile Race Across America.


The Long Distance Cyclist’s Handbook is essential reading for anyone contemplating a cycling holiday or any challenge that takes you outside your usual comfort zone. It brings you the most up-to-date information on training, technique, nutrition, health and travel, and combines the latest in sports science research with years of experience cycling beyond the horizon.


Simon Doughty is a professional cycling coach and writer. Under his guidance riders have won medals and set national and world records in road, track, mountain-biking and cyclo-cross events. He has toured extensively and competed in most cycling disciplines, twice ridden the prestigious Paris-Brest-Paris randonnée, and crewed in the Race Across America


Now in its second (expanded) edition "The Long Distance Cyclist's Handbook", by Simon Doughty, A&C Black, RRP £17.99, ISBN-10:  071 3668 326, ISBN-13: 978-0713668322