By Ian Oliver, audax rider and audax event organiser.
Audaxing is similar to riding a Sportive in many ways, but there are distinctive elements. The old joke that Sportives are ridden by people pretending to race and Audaxes by people pretending not to race has an element of truth. They are generally smaller scale than Sportives and a good deal cheaper – and therein lies the main difference – self-sufficiency.
In an Audax you have to complete a ride between an upper and lower time limit. Indeed you should pass each ‘control’ (waypoint) within time – see below. On my rides the upper limit is the maximum the rules allow, 30Kph (Audaxing’s continental roots means Kms get used + they go quicker). This speed is set to stop out and out racing. The lower limit is 15Kph on rides between 200K and 600K, so on my 300Km rides me and the helpers can go home to bed in the small hours. The limits include stops, not just your time in the saddle.
The visible reward is your name on the web, a signed card (and a medal if you want to order one) and points towards a national championship if you are a member of Audax UK. In my opinion the satisfaction of taking on a tough challenge, is the bigger reward, though.
So audaxing does not fall foul of laws about racing, only a list of finishers is published, order and times are not.
The rides must be unsupported. Essentially this means anyone having a vehicle following them will be disqualified – nobody minds if you pop into an en-route friend’s house for lunch – but you will need your repair kit and all necessary clothing with you all the way round.
If you are not a member of Audax UK or the CTC then you are obliged (no exceptions) to pay £3 “temporary membership” for the ride, which is added to your entry fee. If you are UK Resident this offers you third-party insurance for the ride. Note this does not cover you for personal loss or injury and so you are recommended to have suitable insurance. Non residents (even CTC and AUK members) have to arrange their own third party cover – and pay the £3 if not AUK/CTC members.
The ride and its planning
The ride is defined by a series of ‘controls’ and these are the points you must pass. The controls are there to ensure you ride the distance and also have adequate opportunity to feed and drink. Rides have two sorts of controls:
- Full controls (church halls, cafes, convenience stores etc.) where you pick up a proof of passage. Where a control is in a town or big village you may be allowed to pick your pit stop, collect a receipt.
- Information controls where you have to answer a simple question (like “how many miles is it to Ambridge?”) from something you can spot at the given location, like miles on a sign post. The question is not available in advance of the ride.
How you ride between the controls is up to you for most rides, sometimes the route is mandatory, but you will be supplied with a detailed routesheet and (most rides now) a GPS file in advance of the ride. If you are going to use the routesheet, print it out at home and make sure you can read it easily on the bike, that it won’t turn to mush in the rain and won’t fall off (see tips, below, for a simple system). The routesheet and GPS file describe a route that is probably optimal, so there is usually no reason not to follow it. It will be reasonably direct between the controls, carefully planned by the organiser and will have been risk assessed, so you will not spend much time on busy main roads or be routed after dark down steep lanes covered in muck. My routesheets, like most, are designed to be foldable so you can easily refer to them on the bike. It is very exceptional to have directional signs en-route.
The GPS file, almost invariably supplied as a GPX, may or may not work with your unit straight off. A longer Audax may have too many points to be one track in your device, sometimes the GPS gets confused with out and back routes nearly touching and crossing, so check things out on your device after downloading. I and many organisers give a link to ridewithgps.com or similar, which gives you some downloading options, a full view of the route and a detailed route profile.
Have some backup in case your primary means of navigation goes wrong or you screw up badly (see tips, below)
On the day you will get a card (called the ‘brevet’) that you use to record times at controls and answer the information control questions it poses. It also gives starting and closing times for controls (not information controls) that correspond to the minute to the speed limits. Between these times should be when you arrive at a control. If you arrive early you should wait. If late, you should assess whether you can catch up or not by the end of the ride, let the organiser know if you cannot. It is up to the organiser to decide what to do if you are outside limits. My stance is that I won’t accept early arrival at the finish, but it’s OK to be a bit late at an intermediate control as mechanicals may slow you right down, but you do need to get to the end in time – I go home.
Depending on the controle you may get a stamp, pick up a sticker or get a receipt (which should have date and time) at a control. Each ride should give instructions. If for some reason you cannot get one, use your initiative to get a proof of passage. There is no proof required from the start point.
At the end you hand the card in with receipts. Rides up to 200K are usually validated on the spot. For longer rides and rides marked as “BRM” in the calendar the organiser has to mail your card for central AUK validation and the card is posted back to you a few weeks later. “BRM” rides are those validated by the organisation running Paris-Brest-Paris, audaxes’ premier international event and are needed in pre-qualification and qualification for it. You may need BRM rides as qualifiers for some other events outside the UK. The finish list goes up on the AUK website within a few days.
On my 300K rides, even Cat. 1 racers who have done it take around 12 hours (you will need some breaks as you are unsupported), most riders take 14-17 hours and almost everyone gets in with a hour or so to spare. Even if you reckon you can complete it in daylight, you’re best having lights for backup as a couple of punctures or getting lost can mean you will ride in the dark. City dwellers will be amazed how dark it is on country roads, so good LED lights essential!
Most Audaxes do not require mudguards, and mine don’t, but if conditions are wet you may prefer to fit something – even raceblades make a big difference and cafes may be less than keen to serve someone with thick mud from head to backside. Helmets (or not) are entirely up to you.
Bring repair basics. Assume you may have several punctures, so a couple of inner tubes plus patches, pump, levers and a “boot” to place inside tyre cuts. I take a multi-tool with chain splitter, spare bolts and a short bit of chain. Insulating tape and cable ties for bodges.
- Beware of depending on other riders for navigation. They may be rubbish at it and you may get separated – even if you planned on riding all the way together.
If you have a GPS use it (remember, Smartphones probably won’t work in the wet or when you wear gloves and the battery won’t last as long as with a GPS). Take a routesheet as backup. The chief weakness of GPS is that if you need to turn off the road you are on but are keeping straight (see picture), the GPS may not flash up to indicate the turn.
- If you depend on a routesheet take along a map in case you get lost – tear out the pages of an old road atlas that cover the ride or print out from the Streetmap.co.uk site at Zoom Level 6 (1:200K) or use a Smartphone to help you get back on route. You don’t have to backtrack unless it’s a mandatory route – just make sure you get to the next control. Maps are not a bad idea if you are using a GPS either: you can see much more at once than with a GPS or Smartphone.
- Many routesheets give the distance between turns, and intermediate distance (in Kms) and a bike computer is very handy to tell you when to expect one.
- You can make a routesheet holder from something that can act as an armband (Velcro is good) and a safety pin. You can then cut up and plasticate the routesheet (best) or failing that use a clear, sealable plastic bag with a folded routesheet inside, reinforced with duct tape where the pin goes, and assemble them. You then fit it on the lower arm. Make sure you orientate it so you can read it on the go.
- Routesheets (mine included) normally make two assumptions.
- Directions are normally only given for junctions where you have to cross a give way or stop line. If a country lane meanders for miles but keeps priority you will get no directions. The converse can be lots of directions along what is essentially the straight line route as the roads crossing have priority. Many routesheets try and highlight turns where the risk of missing them is high.
- Villages are assumed to start when you pass the entrance sign. So “L in Little Snoring” may be some way before the first house in the village.
Most routesheets use abbreviations – usually they are self-evident ‘L’, ‘R’ etc. but read the key the organiser should supply the first time or two you ride with one
After dark you will want a torch to read the sheet. If you don’t have a head torch or helmet light, get a cheap cylindrical torch with its on/off at the rear of the cylinder and fix it to the side of your helmet with cable ties.
Plan for if your day goes tits up. You will not be rescued by an organiser, nor can you expect an organiser to help you navigate over the phone down lanes 100 miles from their home. This is where a smartphone does score, Google Maps will help you get to a station and give you train times. If you head straight home without finishing, please let the organiser know – the brevet card has their phone number. If you feel like giving up my suggestion is ride to the next control or stop off somewhere suitable en-route, like a pub, take a break, eat and drink and the odds are you will want to continue.
Just carry food and drink needed between controls and a couple of gels or whatever in case you are about to bonk. You will burn around 9000 Calories over 300Km and sweat a lot of salt. Stock up at controls and convenience stores en-route. Either use salt tablets (Nuun etc.) in your drink or eat packets of crisps, or whatever is salty and takes your fancy. You cannot live by cake alone.
Audax riding etiquette
- I’d be cautious about drafting and close formation riding with fellow riders you don’t know. Quite a lot of the field will not be comfortable with it and to be honest many entrants are not very good at it. Ask as a courtesy. It’s nicer to ride next to someone and have a chat with them.
- With longer audaxes it’s understood that riders have different paces and that you go through faster and slower spells. It’s OK to pull away or drop back, certainly during daylight. People tend to stick in groups more after dark, though.
- If someone looks like they are having a mechanical or a puncture ask if they need help as you pass, even though there’s a risk they are just looking for a hedge to disappear behind. If you have a problem don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Have rear lights on constant, not flash.