Audax events are long distance bike rides; they're all about being self-sufficient over a long distance, and with events ranging from 50km up to a staggering 1,400km, there’s something for all tastes.
Arguably the jewel in the crown of the Audax calendar is the mighty Paris-Brest-Paris, a 1,200km route that tests stamina, endurance and mental fortitude to the limit. It only takes place every four years, and it's a serious test of rider and bike.
Audaxes are not competitions or races, there's no medal for the fastest times. Instead, it's a test of your long distance riding ability and self-sufficiency. As such they are generally a lot more laid back, friendly and sociable than most events, and there’s more shared camaraderie amongst participants.
Instead of signposted routes with marshals at every junction, you’re expected to be able to navigate yourself using either the traditional route cue sheets with turn-by-turn directions, or as is much more common these days, GPX routes downloaded to your preferred bike computer.
The event you choose will have a start and finish, usually at a village hall where you can fill up with tea and coffee, and along the route, there will be checkpoints where you get your Brevet card stamped to prove you’ve ridden the route. Checkpoints can vary from manned stations with acres of cake and homemade treats to unmanned checkpoints where you’re required to get a receipt from a cafe, shop or cash machine to prove your passage of route.
If you want to learn more about Audax and where your nearest one is, the Audax UK website has a wealth of information.
What to look for in an Audax bike
In reality, any bike can be used to ride an Audax, and indeed you’ll see a wide range of bikes being ridden: everything from carbon fibre race bikes with a tiny saddlebag of spares to classic steel touring bikes with racks and panniers and maps clipped to the handlebar.
Whatever bike you choose needs to be reliable and comfortable for the chosen distance. You can get away with a lighter setup for a short Audax, but for the longer events, especially those that run through the night, you’ll likely need extra clothing and a lot more food and spares, so luggage and comfort will be a consideration.
Mudguards are good to have, given how changeable weather can be and how unpleasant riding on wet roads for hours is. In the past, some Audax events required all bikes to be fitted with mudguards, but you’ll find most organisers are a bit more relaxed about them today so don’t fear, mudguards aren’t essential for taking part in an Audax... You might just find yourself riding on your own if you don't fit them and it starts to rain though!
If you need to carry luggage, you can either use a rack and pannier or go with a large saddlepack (Carradice is a popular choice) or handlebar bag, or one of the frame packs that are fashionable with the bikepacking crowd. What to carry and how to carry it comes down to personal preference and you’ll see many different luggage solutions at an Audax.
Frame material comes down to personal preference and budget. Steel has long been the favoured choice because of its famed comfort, but other materials are fine too. It really depends on what sort of bike you want and what type of ride you prefer. Any material will do just fine.
Proving you don’t have to spend a fortune on a new bike, the Triban RC 520 Disc with its comfortable riding position and mounts for racks and mudguards is a really good option. The super tall head tube and short top tube gives a comfortable upright riding fit and delivers steady handling.
One of the earlier test bikes in my career testing bikes still rates as one of the nicest I’ve ever ridden. It was a Thorn Audax and provided the most sublime ride quality I’ve ever experienced. The British company still makes the Audax and has been refined since it was first introduced some 20 years ago. The heat-treated steel frame and fork accept up to 31mm tyres with mudguards, there are rear rack eyelets and three bottle cage mounts, and it can carry up to 20kg of luggage.
Many Audax routes will keep you away from busy roads and so use quiet country lanes which can often be badly surfaced, making wide tyres a good option. The latest breed of adventure and gravel bikes with their capacity for very wide tyres are a potential choice. The Secan here provides space for very wide tyres whether on 700c or 650b rims and has two choices of geometry for each frame size allowing you to get the right fit. It’s also a bike I’ve used on a 300km Audax last year and can vouch for its comfort and pace.
Cross, Gravel, Road, that's what the CGR initials stand for on Ribble's all-rounder, but you could add an A for Audax in there as well. The aluminium frame has a long wheelbase for a stable ride and mounts for mudguards and racks, and there’s also space for wide tyres.
The Equilibrium has long been a solid choice for long distance riding, with a choice of steel or titanium frames and a sorted geometry that just work. It has many fans over the years, including our own Dave Atkinson who built one for Audax riding a few years ago. Combine a Reynolds 725 frame with a carbon fork, relaxed geometry and all the eyelets for racks and mudguards and you have a good pick for Audaxing.
Steel is often the preferred choice for an Audax bike but don’t discount aluminium especially when it’s done as nicely as the Definition from Mason Cycles (there’s also Mason's Resolution if you prefer steel). It’s got a focus on speed without diluting the essential comfort, with a dialled back geometry, space for wide tyres and eyelets for mudguards and it’ll take a rear rack.
The Van Nicholas Yukon has long been a popular option with UK cyclists wanting a titanium touring bike capable of turning its hand to commuting, training, touring or Audax, and now the rim brake model has been joined by a disc brake version. It’s got space for 35mm tyres, has eyelets for mudguards and racks and all the cables are internally routed. It’ll even accommodate a dynamo with internal routing.
Endurances bikes are natural choices for Audax because they are designed to provide a smooth and comfortable ride and most cater for wide tyres. The Cannondale Synapse is a popular choice with aluminium and carbon frame options, and both will take mudguards. There are no rack mounts on the carbon version though so you’ll want to look at large saddle packs, frame or handlebar bikepacking bags for your luggage solution.
If you want maximum comfort, then the Specialized Roubaix with its innovative Future Shock front spring could be a bike to consider. Like the Synapse, there’s no fitting a rack but it’s got mudguard mounts and space for wide tyres and the geometry is designed to provide a relaxed riding position.
If you want to spend a bit of cash on a high-quality bike, then the Enigma Etape with its beautiful titanium frame is surely worth a closer look. The geometry has been developed over a decade to deliver long-distance comfort and ride quality and it has space for wide tyres, there are rack and mudguard mounts and the tubing is size-specific across the 50 to 60cm size range.
UK brand Kinesis Bike offers a number of suitable Audax bike choices but we’ve plumped for its RTD, a lightweight scandium frame with a carbon fork, clearance for 34mm tyres, three bottle cage mounts and mudguard eyelets. And because it's a frameset only you can either build it yourself, or get your local bike shop to build it, with your dream parts to suit your requirements or budget.
If you're planning to take part in an Audax this year we'd love to hear about it, so let us know in the comments section below.
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David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.