Anyone can do it.....
Audax is probably the fastest growing area of British cycle sport. Membership of Audax UK is climbing rapidly, the number of events increases each year. What's the big attraction ? Having given this matter some serious thought since riding my first Audax (and I think that my own experience reflects that of many of the multitude of riders I have ridden with in this time.) there is something for everyone.
The sheer variety of events from 50 -100K pan flat, to really evil 600K (and longer) endurance tests over every nasty gradient the organiser can find is a major consideration. The usual minimum speed of 15kph makes the shorter rides well within the capabilities of most riders. If you are fit and want to crack on a bit then the maximum speed of 30kph is a hard target to hit (these averages include all stops at controls). A state of the art, titanium, carbon disc wheeled flying machine that gives you a pain in the overdraft is not necessary. A glance around the machines at the start of any event reveals everything from mountain bikes with slicks fitted to bikes that are at least 30 years old if they are a day. A custom made Audax bike is nice (plug plug) but not essential.
Then there are the people you meet ! ! !
|Tan Hill 200, August 2000|
Audax, it appears, can be many things to many people whatever your inclination or fitness. It is also horribly addictive! I started by riding a local 200k that went round Northumberland. Despite being slightly the worse for wear afterwards, I entered another one slightly further afield. Before I knew it I'd ridden three more 200's that season. The next season it rose to nine events including a Super Randonneur series of 200, 300, 400, and 600k . This season it was considerably more!! The "grin factor" is usually incredibly high in these events and as a frame builder I can justify it as legitimate Research and Development!
During the coming months I hope to examine various aspects of Audax riding, equipment, preparation etc and hopefully persuade some of you to take part.
The bottom line is, "anyone can do it".
Further is easier than faster
The thing that puts a lot of people off riding Audax events is the perceived distance. Most riders can ride much further than they give themselves credit for, and, not all events are mega distance.
One of the first things to strike me when I started riding audaxes was that distance is easier than speed! Coming from a racing background, all my previous riding was of the "get there as quickly as possible" variety. After suffering a bit in the first few events due to ambition outrunning ability, I found a pace that I was able to maintain without undue discomfort.
Audax events are non competitive. All participants get the same recognition whether they finish just inside the maximum time limit, or get round at the fastest possible speed.
The problem of the distance is addressed by not thinking beyond the next control. Every event has controls where your brevet card is stamped. Even in long events these are rarely more than 35 -40 miles apart, usually closer, often in cafes.
When you arrive at the control try not to hang around too long. If you are in a group delegate someone to get the cards stamped whilst someone else deals with the refreshments. A lot of time can be saved this way, I've seen some very long queues at controls !
None of this is new ! The founder of the French magazine "Le Cycliste" Paul de Vievie, known as "Velocio" who died in 1930, published this advice for long distance cyclists. Known as Velocio's Seven Commandments it is as sound today as it was then
1. Take light, frequent meals; eat before you are hungry and drink before you are thirsty
2. Stop rarely and briefly so as not to lose your drive.
3. Cut out, at least when on the road, wine, meat and tobacco (remember this was written by a Frenchman some 70 years ago)
4. Put on extra clothes before you get cold and take clothes off before you get hot; don't be afraid to expose your skin to sun, air and water.
5. Don't force your pace, ride within your capabilities, especially in the first few hours when you feel strong.
6. Never ride until so fatigued that you cannot eat or sleep.
7. Never pedal to show off.
In August 2000, with my partner Debbie (who had only started cycling in 1998) I put the theory that further is easier than faster into practice during a 1500Km End to End permanent ride.........
For more information about our End to End ride click here
Planning your season
One of the great things about riding audax events is the great variety of venue, distance and type available, and If, like me, you live in an area where there are few events then its an excellent excuse to go and see other parts of the country.
The first step is to obtain a calendar of events. The Audax UK handbook, free to AUK members, is available to non members from Amorel Young, 10 Huntingdon Drive,The Park, Nottingham NG7 1BY for £4 This lists all the events, over 300 this year, and also contains a wealth of information on all aspects of Audax riding. If you plan on riding a few events it is worth joining. Riders who are not members of AUK , The CTC or The BCF pay an extra 50p per event for insurance purposes. Entry fees are usually in the range £3.00 to £6.00 One of the major benefits of membership is that you receive a copy of the club magazine "Arrivée", published quarterly. Reading of members exploits is a sure fire way of getting inspired !
Another source of information is the Audax UK website at http://www.audax.uk.net This contains in addition to the handbook info. lots of links to other Randonneur sites world-wide.
|If this is your first season start gently with a local event if possible so you are on known territory. Part of the technique of riding Audaxes is navigating from the route sheet and being on familiar roads helps a great deal.|
Having a target to aim for is an excellent way of obtaining more enjoyment from any activity.
Audax UK has an award structure designed to encourage riders to ride more and longer events. This is an ideal way to set yourself targets for the season. There is a medal or badge available for just about every event on the calendar. By completing a series of events other awards can be achieved The Randonneur series of awards from 500 to 10,000 kilometres are based on a single season The Brevet series starting at 500 kilometres is designed to give longer term goals over several seasons.
|The range of awards means that whatever your level of involvement, at the end of the season you have a visible reminder of your achievements.|
Bike prep 1 - Check your equipment!
The bikes that get used for Audax are many and varied. I have seen everything from a forty year old Flying Scot to a state of the art Carbon TVT fitted with a carbon fibre saddle no padding whatsoever. Both riders must have been happy with their respective mounts and this is the most important point, your must be comfortable. You need to sit on it for a long time so the three points of contact (Saddle/shorts, Bars/Gloves, Pedals/Shoes) must be "right" for you. Saddles are very personal things. There are two basic schools of thought on this, leather or not leather! I used to swear by the Brooks Pro’s but over the years I have found a number of plastic saddles that suit. Once you have found a shorts/saddle combination that works, stick with it especially for the longer rides.
The handlebar, hand covering area is probably easier to sort out. There are a variety of bar shapes on the market. The most important factor is to make sure they are wide enough and not too deep if you are using drops. Don’t be afraid to raise the bars a little. I’ve sorted out several aching necks and backs just by raising the riders bars a bit. Gloves or track mitts are going to be on your hands for a long time so flat seams and a bit of padding are sensible options. Another useful addition is a layer of shock absorbing foam under the bar tape.
With pedals it’s a choice of clips and straps or clipless. Again a personal choice. Whatever you choose the shoes must not be too tight. Your feet change size during a ride - mine shrink! So a velcro fastening system is an easy way to compensate. Having tried a variety of systems, I prefer Road SPD pedals with mountain bike type shoes. The pedals give more lateral support to your feet than ATB pedals and the shoes allow almost normal walking as the cleats are recessed. This is quite important well into a long event when bits of your body seem to become disconnected!
The bottom line is everyone is different so you need to sort out what suits you. If it works for you stick with it.
Bike prep 2 - Sort out your gear
I regularly get asked about equipment for Audax when people come to order frames. The advice I always give is a) Get a frame that, above all, fits and is suitable for the purpose. b) get the best pair of wheels and tyres your budget will stretch to, and c) make sure your bottom gear is low enough !
As with all areas of cycling there are several schools of thought on frames Steel is still the predominant material with a growing number of aluminium, carbon fibre and titanium frames appearing. It is far easier to obtain a steel frame to suit your exact requirements. Ensure your frame is a good fit. If you are not sure then seek advice from experienced sources, but bear in mind that every body is physically different and what suits one may not be ideal for you.
A good pair of wheels can transform a bike. Wheels for Audax must above all be reliable. Superlight 18 spoke aero rims look good on a time trial bike but Audaxes can go along some pretty dire roads (tracks !) A sensible selection of rim and tyre with reliability in mind built by a good wheel builder will go a long way towards reducing problems. My own choice is Mavic SUP rims with Michelin tyres. I have used these for three years with no problems.
Work out what you think will be a low enough bottom gear and add one or two teeth to the sprocket ! When you are well into a long event the hills start getting steeper and gears you would not normally contemplate become very inviting. I consider a triple chainset a must although some still ride a double. A well thought out triple set up can actually weigh less than a double with big sprockets. The weight of the inside ring is negligible, the sprockets can be much smaller saving quite a big chunk of steel My own preference is for a 48-40-28 chainset with a 12-21 or 23 block I know its a bit high but you get the general idea.
The most important aspect of choosing equipment for Audax is reliability. The spirit of Audax riding is self sufficiency. There is rarely any back up and you need to have confidence in your equipment to eliminate any worry.
What’s in your bag ?
The spirit of Audax is self-sufficiency. Riders are expected to look after themselves and there is rarely any back up. A basic "Survival Kit" is essential. This can vary from a pair of panniers to a small wedge pack. I regularly see people riding 200s with enough equipment for a fortnight’s tour and at the other extreme I have seen people riding 600s with little more than a spare tube and a racing cape!
|Over the years I have refined the contents of my kit to what I consider to be the minimum necessary for peace of mind. Most of it fits into a medium sized wedge pack on a quick release fitting (same fitting on all my bikes)|
Two tubes wrapped in cling film to prevent chafing. I discovered loose tubes in bags chafe and wear after a double puncture on a cattle grid in the rain. Both spare tubes were worn through and useless ----- patches don’t stick very well to wet tubes! Lesson learned the hard way. Two tyre levers, although some rim / tyre combinations need three! a patch kit and also in the tyre department a section of old tubular to reinforce any severe cuts.
|There are several good quality multi tools available. I carry a Topeak, which has lots of useful functions including splitting and rejoining chains and a spoke key. A gear cable will double as a brake cable as a "get you home" solution and a selection of zip ties are invaluable.|
For those of us that use STI or Ergo shifters and still have standard down tube lever bosses a right hand downtube lever will allow you to get some gears in the unfortunate event of damage to your levers. A selection of M5 and M6 screws and nuts are useful, if you are weight conscious nylon screws are remarkably strong, if not stainless steel is best.
I know many will consider this list minimalist in the extreme. However, no matter how much or little kit you take the one essential item to take with you on every ride should be the knowledge that your bike is in good condition to minimise the possibility of needing any of the survival kit.
Dave has also written for Arrivée - the Audax UK magazine. You can read his article on frame design considerations by clicking here
If you feel inspired to tackle an audax event you can read more about preparing for and riding randonnées of 200km and more by clicking here, where Simon Doughty (professional cycling coach and writer) provides advice.