Not A Sportive #273

VecchioJo doesn't do a sportive and has a great time.

by VecchioJo   January 25, 2012  



E-mail from friend, usual suspects in the cc. Want to do this? Pedal to the Lewes Wanderers Reliability Ride that starts about 25 miles away, do that, ride home, stop for some cake somewhere in the middle, should be about 80 miles all in all.

Sounds just like a Sunday ride then, but a little bit different, a good day out.



A Reliability Trial is very much like a sportive, but predates them by about a century and doesn’t have the direction arrows, or the expense. They’re not races, which sportives can turn into if you’re too scared to enter an actual race and want to willy-wave your time during the Monday office kitchen coffee-break, but long distance rides that concentrate on fitness, self-reliance and the ability to read a map. A bit like an Audax then, but with less beards, maybe. There are no trade stands at the start selling spares and gels, there’s no mechanic to make your bike roadworthy before you set off and no sag wagon to climb in the back of if you get a bit weary or it starts to rain. The clue’s in the name, reliability.

Rather than try to get round as fast as possible, to beat some personal best, or bragging rights, at a Reliability Trial a rider chooses what time they reckon they can complete the distance in and it’s up to them to maintain the average speed required to do that whilst navigating by following the route card. They can have as many wee and tea stops, getting lost moments and mechanicals as they like, they just have to be back in their chosen time, and can be chastised just as much for finishing too early as late.

The one we’re doing today is a mere 45 miles so we opt for the 3 hour option which leaves us an average of 15mph to manage, which should be easily doable what with the usual chatting and faffing that gets done. Sign in, pay some loose change, oh yeah, to enter this event costs a full £3 if you can be bothered to enter beforehand. But that requires the old fashioned notion of sending a cheque to the organiser, and the tangible commitment of actually signing your name to the event and posting your intent that brings with it, rather than the easy anonymous slapdash easy-enter easy-bail one-click on-line entry. Even look-at-the-fair-weather cyclists are only charged a fiver on the day. So we pay our £5, pick up the map and printed directions, even if some of our group have downloaded the route onto their GPS it’s good to keep it traditional, help ourselves to a cup of tea and a banana and get shooed out the door so we meet our designated departure time.

We instantly become unreliable when after exactly 472 feet the one rider in our group who doesn’t have a map or GPS shoots up the main road perfectly missing the right-hand turn we have to take. Good start. A few minutes are wasted while we retrieve him and point him back on track and it takes us less than a mile to realize that we’re not on a sportive as the roads are totally devoid of a seething meandering migration of mamils. Wonderful. We pass and are overtaken by a few wheels along the way but no more or no less than if you were just riding your bike around these lanes on any Sunday.

About halfway round we turn into a checkpoint manned by a couple from the hosting cycle club, their large camper-van and a pair of trestle-tables holding cake. They take our personal orders for teas and coffees while we wonder how much of the home-made cake we can snarf, it’s chatty and relaxed, a far cry from the scrum for the left-overs of half-bananas and out-of-date energy bars of most sportives.

We have been dawdling a bit so with eyes on computers and a wind on our backs for the final stretch we try to make up time but still roll into the finish late and get cheerfully told off as our names are ticked off the clipboard, we clearly haven’t got the hang of this. Leaning our bikes alongside a reassuring mix of full-on race Cervelos and old Italian steel bikes with racks and down-tube shifters we totter into the warmth of the Village Hall to look for some sustenance to see us over the last leg of our day. We’re not to be disappointed, a glut of hand-made cakes and flapjacks, plates of toasted tea-takes and lots of tea are supplied. There’s a “Donations Welcome” bowl by the side that riders have filled with enough money to show that their conscience is probably bigger than their bellies.

Suitably filled we head off again, back into the wind that’s been bothersome all day and strike for home, some taking the long way to make it a conveniently round number of miles and some of the money saved on not doing a Sportive is spent on some beer as a reward and a toast to a great day out.

21 user comments

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Great description of this sort of event - thoroughly enjoyable. Smile

posted by John G [53 posts]
25th January 2012 - 14:09


You're shaping up as an old git nicely Jo. Can I adopt you?

posted by nick_rearden [864 posts]
25th January 2012 - 14:17


That sounds just perfect. Lewes eh? i'm down that way a fair bit. Must investigate.

posted by bashthebox [764 posts]
25th January 2012 - 14:37


Lovely, you had me at 'trestle-tables'.

In the running world you can race cross country any weekend in winter for free, or do a fell race for £3 or £4 by turning up at some obscure car park in the countryside. Or you can enter the Great Somethingorother Run for £40 quid and get stampeded by a pantomime dromedary.

posted by stever [64 posts]
25th January 2012 - 14:54


nick_rearden wrote:
You're shaping up as an old git nicely Jo. Can I adopt you?

i've always been an old git, i've only recently reached the right age to get away with it though

posted by VecchioJo [809 posts]
25th January 2012 - 14:56


Aaah, the voice of reason. I still laugh at the memory of "The Comic" publishing an article bemoaning the huge drop off in Cat 4 riders. Turning the page, another article (same journo) praising the huge increase in riders at sportives. Err correlation?


Wooliferkins's picture

posted by Wooliferkins [50 posts]
25th January 2012 - 15:13


Sounds like a good laugh.

The hating on Sportives is a bit rich seeing how much this site pushes them, but then they have got a bit out of hand. Like this site's review of a £4,500 Sportive bike that was done not so long ago.

What's next on the horizon? Perhaps a quick 10 Shilling bet on your Penny Ordinary Vs a Horse over three furlongs?

posted by thereandbackagain [159 posts]
25th January 2012 - 15:40

1 Like

oooooooh, no hating at all, just pointing out that there's a cheaper, less crowded alternative to sportives for those that can read a map and mend a puncture
Big Grin

posted by VecchioJo [809 posts]
25th January 2012 - 16:40


Sounds ace!

posted by GavinT [78 posts]
25th January 2012 - 16:40

1 Like

Cool - it just came across as a wee bit snarky, but like you I appreciate the road less travelled.

I went out for a wander in Hertfordshire on my bike, and about 25 miles in just pointed it in a random direction, allowed myself to get lost and found one of my fave teashops for riding.

Also beards show mechanical authority, everyone knows that. The guy in the group with the beard always has the best chance of fixing a problem.

posted by thereandbackagain [159 posts]
25th January 2012 - 18:07

1 Like

Reliability rides used to be winter training rides in preparation for a season of racing. Audax, on the other hand tends to be all year round - albeit the longer events are in summer - and more aimed at touring types.

In my view, both are far better value than Sportives. Not saying Sportives don't have a place - just they largely seem to satisfy those who feel the price they pay for both bike and event is reflective of their ability.

Long may all three continue; all of them get people out on their bikes and that's what we want/need to see.


posted by Michael5 [121 posts]
25th January 2012 - 19:52


"unreliable when after exactly 472 feet" - that wasn't John L again was it?

Nice read Jo, ta.

mooseman's picture

posted by mooseman [85 posts]
25th January 2012 - 20:00


Please correct me if I'm wrong on this, but whereas reliability rides were originally regarded as winter training rides for racers, as Michael 5 says, I think audax events were considered more for tourists. (There was of course some cross-over, and all this is in the UK context - on the continent, audax rides were something else again.)

I was recently leafing through some old ‘Cycling’ magazines (the forerunner of today’s Cycling Weekly) from the 1960s. One contained a report on a reliability ride, with specific mention of the first three riders to reach the finish (presumably they all started at the same time). In the following week’s issue, the letters page contained a disgruntled communication from another rider who had finished before all three of them, but not been noticed.

So back in the day, despite them not being races, it seems some reliability rides were pretty competitive, with some riders definitely out to ‘win’.

I’m not knocking sportives - I love ‘em - but that attitude from 50 years ago does seem rather familiar...

David Else

posted by David Else [320 posts]
25th January 2012 - 21:34


I suppose it's that innate competitive instinct David - some people struggle more than others to suppress it.

I remember Roger St Pierre doing a really good piece on reliability rides of the 50s & 60s and got the distinct impression that for racers of the time like him that although it was a light hearted affair and not a race - getting round pretty sharpish was still high on the list of priorities for the day.

As for sportives - is definitely not getting snarky about them and I'm sure Jo isn't either (partly cos I know he's got his name down for a few in the coming months) although this is his blog so his views rather than the party line.

MAMILs are great for cycling and while reliability rides and the like are also great you do probably have to have some connection to the local club scene to find out about them - which lots of new cyclists don't have. Good to see them cropping up in our What's on Section - Diss & District Cycling Club are running the One Big Pedal Reliability Trial this weekend if you're tempted.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4201 posts]
26th January 2012 - 10:01


In a similar vein, I enjoyed the Isle of Wight Randonnee last year - It's 100km (essentially a lap of the island, clockwise for 2012) on mostly quiet roads. You can start at any of the six checkpoints at any time from 9am which spreads people out nicely. Cheap tea/coffee/homemade cakes at the checkpoints. And no entry fee at all, although they'll accept donations. Tough to beat that for value Smile

posted by David Portland [89 posts]
26th January 2012 - 11:21


VecchioJo wrote:
oooooooh, no hating at all, just pointing out that there's a cheaper, less crowded alternative to sportives for those that can read a map and mend a puncture
Big Grin

Get some puncture-resistant tyres fitted, then all you need to do is follow some directions. Nowadays quite a few events have downloadable GPX files or online maps you can check beforehand and point the bars where the gizmo tells you.

I think the distinction between an Audax and Reliability is a moot point. They're both cheap and a good reason/excuse to do a long ride.

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2421 posts]
26th January 2012 - 12:29

1 Like

I really enjoyed that and it reminded me of the Old Ports Reliability rides I did in the late noughties. good stuff.


posted by seanieh66 [197 posts]
26th January 2012 - 14:36

1 Like

Just one question, what is a map?


posted by FATBEGGARONABIKE [734 posts]
3rd February 2012 - 16:34


Obviously 40 miles can't be called an Audax, but I like the idea of reliability rides. Do not like it when Sportives are refered to as 'races', yes your bike has a number & you get a finish time but that is as close as it gets. I did the ToB prostate ride to Sandringham last year (the 125miler) I wanted to complete at an average of 18mph and took 7 hours to finish, so hit my time! does that make it a reliability ride?

Currently going slower than I'd like...

posted by stealth [258 posts]
8th February 2012 - 22:01


stealth wrote:
...does that make it a reliability ride?

Absolutely! To be honest, as everything settles down the distinction between what is an 'Audax' and a 'Reliability Trial' and a 'Sportive' will blur but the title will obviously offer a useful pointer to what an entrant can expect when they're reading the details . All that matters is riders ultimately feel like they've had value for whatever they paid and their expectations are met.

posted by nick_rearden [864 posts]
8th February 2012 - 22:17

1 Like

There's a joke going around our parts:

Q. What's the main difference between a Sportive and an Audax?
A. About £20 Wink

Each to his own, all that matters is to get out riding!

newsonoid's picture

posted by newsonoid [16 posts]
10th April 2012 - 12:12

1 Like