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What is Audax? A simple guide to the world of long distance riding

If you've ever felt the urge to so something 'bold and daring' on your bike then audax riding might be for you

“I ride to rest and to tire myself out; I ride to do myself good and to do myself harm; I ride to be alone and to share the road with friends.” Paul Fournel, Need for the Bike. 

Audax is strange, even in the odd world of cycling, and it’s hard to know where to begin when introducing it. But everyone has heard of the Tour de France, so let’s start there. 

BBB Audax - route sheet on the Genesis

The Tour de France began in 1903. 

It was created in a newsroom to help boost the sales of the struggling L’ Auto sporting newspaper. The editor of L’ Auto, and the godfather of the Tour, Henri Desgranges, believed that cycling at its purest, was a form of attrition.

When the bikes were made of steel, weighed over 25kg, and had only one gear, speed was not the raison d’etre for these early races. 

Maurice Garin, the winner of the inaugural Tour, won the 2,428km race, over a six-day period, with an average speed of 25kph.

Tadej Pogačar, 2021’s Tour de France winner, completed the 3,414km race, over a period of three weeks, with an average speed of 41kph.

The 1903 Tour and the 2019 Tour are very distant cousins. 

In that first Tour, each stage was well over 400km long, began before light and ended well after its departure. There were pockets filled with pills and shots of bourbon in bidons, but no peloton, no support cars, no team-mates, and of course, no Lycra. 

It was moustachioed men rattling over cobblestones and drinking watered down red wine from wooden carafes in dark cafés in the middle of the afternoon. They toiled away in woollen jerseys that sunk you when it rained and drowned you when it was hot.

A few years earlier, in 1897, the idea of an Audax (meaning bold or daring in Latin) was first formulated in Italy. 

Originally, an Audax required participants to swim, run, walk, or cycle a set distance in 14 hours which was approximately the time between sunrise and sunset. The distance to be covered by cycling was 200km.

In 1904, one year after the first Tour de France, Henri Desgranges produced a set of Audax regulations - these ‘rules’ were the property of L’Auto and formed cyclists into groups, each with a captain, that stayed together for the entire 200km ride. 

This method of riding is now known as Euraudax.

A few members of this group eventually formed the Audax Club Parisien (ACP) and organised events for L’Auto throughout France. 

BBB Audax - riding the lanes north of Bristol

In 1920, ACP upset Desgranges by assisting in an event sponsored by a rival newspaper and he withdrew the club's right to organise Audax events. 

The following year, the ACP pedalled out on their own and created the Brevets de Randonneurs (certificates for long-distance-cyclists). 

To gain these certificates you had to ride a 200km Audax, sometimes known as a Randonnée (long-distance-ride). 

These rides that the ACP ran differed from Euraudax events in that cyclists did not have to ride as a group. 

Each rider could go at his own speed - ‘a allure libre’ (free-paced). 

To stop riders racing, because an Audax is not a race, time checks were established at control points with minimum and maximum time limits; modern Audax was born. 

Longer distances began to be included, first 300km, then 600km, and eventually the pinnacle of audax riding, the event that overshadows every other ride, the 1200km long, Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP). 

PBP has actually been around longer than the Tour, it started in 1891. 

It was originally the world’s longest stage race and was open to amateurs and professionals alike. 

Eventually the pros decided it was too demanding and the effects on their bodies would be felt too much later in the season, effectively ruining their chances of winning anything else that year. 

BBB Audax - Audax ready Genesis

In 1975 ACP created the rule that completing a 600km Randonnée in 40 hours would serve as qualification for PBP. 

So that British cyclists could qualify for future PBPs, in 1976 the Windsor-Chester-Windsor 600 km was instituted7 and Audax UK (AUK) was formed. The eagle logo of this event eventually becoming the AUK logo.

Nowadays, to qualify for PBP, Audax members have to complete a 200km, 300km, 400km and a 600km ride during January – June of one year. PBP is run in the third week of August. 

The modern-day Tour and the 1903 Tour might only be distant cousins with very few similarities but modern day Audax is a much closer relative. 

It is hard to explain exactly what it is about an Audax that is different to simply riding a long way on a bicycle. 

BBB Audax - Dave with tea

Adam Watkins, 32, from North Bristol, has been riding Audax for the last five years. 

He posts videos of his rides on YouTube. The videos are slow, there is no rush, no fast-paced background track. It is one man completing lots of long rides, chatting to other riders as he meets them and then losing contact with them as one goes faster than the other. 

Adam talks like that too, speaking as he remembers; “Three years after university I was working a job and we were sat down in the pub one evening… 

“I said to my boss, ‘I wonder if it’s possible to ride to work.’ 

“It was ten miles, nothing too hilly… a few little bumps perhaps… rural roads… 

“So I, I bought a ladies hybrid bike, which I’ve still got, and used that to go to work and back, first one day, then two… yeah it was very gradual… the first few times I rode in it nearly killed me.” 

Adam joined his local cycling club and began to go on club rides, and then one day he did his first Audax; the 100km Jack and Grace Cotton Memorial ride. Like so many Audax riders, he couldn’t say why he enjoyed doing them more than just riding by himself. In the last five years though he has done nearly 150. 

“I could just go out and ride 200km and often that is what I do, but if you’re an AUK member you collect points and there’s a league table…” 

So, is that why he does them, to collect points? 

“No, not at all… I mean I don’t most of the time, sometimes I go for it…” 

Adam did not know why he rode Audax. 

He wasn’t entirely sure why he filmed them either, but he didn’t seem to care. 

“I guess I wanted a record for myself so I could look back. When I’m old and in a wheelchair at least I’ll have some video to look back on.” 

Long distance cycling often looks effortless in documentaries. Professional filmmakers produce wonderfully edited videos that show their subjects pedalling across incredible landscapes in soft light. Their movements are always smooth, kit always colourful, faces tired, but never angry.

Adam’s videos show the other side, the ordinariness of vacantly choosing chocolate bars and banana’s in shops, in unremarkable towns, on wet, grey Sunday afternoons. 

BBB Audax - the early peloton

Audax riding is for those who want to escape into a long day of tiredness, travel, fragments of conversation, hours of solitude and periods of being pissed off at everything. No wonder middle aged men like it so much. 

Hugh Mackay, 66, from Cardiff, is an organiser of Audax and a hardened cyclist, who this year completed yet another PBP. A week before he rode from Lands’ end to John O’Groats. 

Hugh is not normal. 

Hugh had thought a lot about why he preferred to ride Audax rather than cycling alone: “Well I, by my nature, am quite lazy.” 

Are you though Hugh, are you really? 

“I think it’s sort of like why you check in to a history class instead of just reading history books. You know, it helps guide you, it encourages you and means you develop more.” 

“More than that though, I think the reason why we do it, is not to impress others, but because we ourselves can’t quite believe that it’s possible. 

“It never occurred to me when I was younger that I could cycle 100 miles, and now I’m 66 I can cycle 1000 miles.” 

BBBB Audax - Hill WI

That’s the thing to remember about an Audax; you should do it when you think you can’t. 

To be bold, as the name requires, you have to do your first at a point when you have never done that distance before. That amount of climbing. That amount of time in the saddle. 

“You develop a self-confidence, a belief that I can do this, and it transfers to other aspects of your life. I fully believe that,” said Hugh. 

“Mark Beaumont, the guy who cycled around the world in 80 days, well he say’s if things are going well you know it’s going to get worse and if it’s bad, you know it’s going to get better. 

“I like that when you set off in the morning you think this is going to be a good one, it’s going to go well. It rarely does. Audax rides start off well and end painfully.” 

And that, is an Audax, a masterclass in contradictions; do yourself harm, to do yourself good.

BBBB Audax - frosty mendips

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24 comments

Avatar
Rendel Harris | 1 year ago
1 like
Quote:

 Maurice Garin, the winner of the inaugural Tour, won the 2,428km race, over a six-day period, with an average speed of 25kph.

Those first guys were superhuman but not quite that superhuman: the race was run over an 18-day period with six stages (1st, 5th, 8th, 12th, 13th and 18th of July).

Oh, and:

Quote:

the bikes were made of steel, weighed over 25kg

Again, not quite, Garin's winning bike in 1903 was around 17.5 kg.

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nextSibling | 2 years ago
1 like

Sportives are for people who are pretending they're racing.
Audax is for people who are pretending they're not.

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Cragrat1 | 2 years ago
1 like

I didn't undertake recreational cycling until I turned 60. Up until then I mostly cycled as a commuter and local journeys with an occasional longer ride. When I was between jobs I started cycling more for fitness and gradually started cycling longer distances. Looking for ways to progress I came across an article about audax on https://h2g2.com/entry/A87807784  and decided this was worth trying. I signed up for Barry's Bristol Bash and was hooked. Given my late start I don't expect to do PBP or LEL but since starting I have cycled coast to coast and Lands End/ John o Groats. Audaxers come in all shapes and sizes as young as 8 and we'll into their 80s. Give it a try you never know to where it may lead.

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richliv | 2 years ago
0 likes

I did just the one in Jan 2020 coming off the back of a couple of weeks of a nasty cough (no one thought any more of it at that time). All I would say is, build up to it. I hadnt done more than 40 miles at a time since October and I enjoyed it but the aftermath was painful. My own fault. But a great experience, I'll do more next year.

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Xenophon2 | 2 years ago
2 likes

I got started 6 years ago.  I'm not a club rider but with a friend of mine I regularly rode tours of about 120 km, no sweat.  Then, over a beer we asked ourselves if we could do 200 km (I don't recall why 200, of all possible distances).  We gpx-ed a half-assed itinery, loaded up on a mix of water/gatorade and sandwiches and, unprepped as hell , set off on a warm evening in June, after work.  A memorable night, we briefly paused around 2 am to grab coffee and hot food at a 24/7 café, then continued riding.  When we got back home beginning of the afternoon the next day, we had clocked well over 300 km (reaching the 200 mark, we decided on a 70 km detour to grab a local breakfast speciality in Dixmude, west flanders) and still felt good.  I'm convinced that if you can comfortably ride 100 km, you can also ride 300, provided that it's not competitive and that you take care of nutrition and don't have bad luck with the weather.  Beyond 300 it gets harder, certainly when riding solo.  the furthest I've ever gone is 650, with a couple of short naps.  It's addictive, I particularly like riding at night.  But -at least in my case-  the main limiting factor is time and a partner who can live with prolonged weekend time spent alone.

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Steve K | 2 years ago
1 like

Audax is on my bucket list - I fairly regularly do 160k unsupported rides (and the most I've ever done in a day is about 180k).

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Liam542 replied to Steve K | 1 year ago
0 likes

If you haven't got around to it now is a great time to start as 2023 is a PBP year - it only happens once every 4 years. And when it does it brings out a great crowd.  Head over the the Audax UK website to track down some events (or check out www.londonwaleslondon.com - the organiser is a lovely bloke who I know personally!)

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quiff replied to Liam542 | 1 year ago
0 likes

If you haven't got round to it yet, do you think a 200 in the next couple of months will be enough to secure a place on PBP? Or is it likely to fill up with those who have already bagged big pre-qualifying rides this year (e.g. LEL)? Asking for an underprepared friend...   

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mark1a replied to quiff | 1 year ago
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quiff wrote:

If you haven't got round to it yet, do you think a 200 in the next couple of months will be enough to secure a place on PBP? Or is it likely to fill up with those who have already bagged big pre-qualifying rides this year (e.g. LEL)? Asking for an underprepared friend...   

You have to complete a Super Randonneur Series, recognised by (in the UK) Audax UK. This comprises of 200, 300, 400 and 600km rides, the the year of the PBP event. The only difference a ride makes in the previous year is when the registration opens, i.e. if you've done a 600 the year before, you can register earlier. All events must be brevets with the appropriate brevet cards and stamps.

My local series is the Wessex SR, which is:

200 - Dorset Coast (it's the Dorset Coast)

300 - Hardboiled (egg shaped and hard at the end)

400 - Porkers (a pig of a ride)

600 - Brimstone (named after the butterfly, often found far from home searching for food)

I have only done the 200 a few times and am slowly being talked into doing the 300 by a colleague. The 200 is not so bad if you consider it as 4x 50km rides with ice creams in between and a good lunch in the middle (on the perm rides, you have to stop to get timed receipts to ba validated on the brevet card, none of this new-fangled GPS data as proof in the world of audax).

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quiff replied to mark1a | 1 year ago
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Thanks, I'm aware of the SR qualification process, it was the registration I was getting at - i.e. are there likely to be any PBP places left for those who have done a 200 (or nothing at all...) this year, or is it likely to be fully subscribed with those who have done longer rides this year (including a glut of London-Edinburgh-London riders) and therefore been able to register earlier.

Like you, I've done a handful of 200s but nothing more. As I've done nothing longer than 60km in the last 12 months, I think it may be a bit ambitious to target a SR and PBP next year...         

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quiff | 3 years ago
2 likes

"That’s the thing to remember about an Audax; you should do it when you think you can’t. To be bold, as the name requires, you have to do your first at a point when you have never done that distance before. That amount of climbing. That amount of time in the saddle."

That's inspired me to step up from 200s and have a crack at my first 300, which feels a bit of a leap...

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vorsprung | 4 years ago
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"Andrew did not know why he rode audax".  Hugh did, but claimed that "Audax rides start off well and end painfully".  Not always.  In fact, not often

Audax is just like other forms of cycling. I say this as some people claim it's easy and you don't need fancy equipment and others claim it is super difficult and you need the latest up-to-the-minute gear to succeed

A couple of aspects that you don't mention.  First,  that AUK is anti-competitive.  We try not to publish times and there is no official first/second/third/last list for events.  Of course, if you have two riders using the same bit of road you have a race of sorts but it's never an official race

Second, most AUK events ridden per rider are less than 200km events.  There are lots of entries for 100km events and very few for 600km events.  So while there is an AUK system for riding a really long way,  most people don't.  The 600km+ riders who qualify for PBP are not in the majority. 

 

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BertYardbrush | 4 years ago
1 like

For normal people who just want a decent day's ride,  a 100km Audax is just the thing. It doesn't cost the Earth, and occasionally they provide a decent nosh up at the finish. Unlike Sportives, there are no arrows telling you where to go and no support en route.  Also, up to 100km you can participate on an electric bike, but you can't claim the Audax points. The odd rider might get a bit sniffy about ebikes, but we're all a little odd.

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horrovac | 4 years ago
2 likes

I did the PBP 2019 (though not officially, I was a couple of minutes over 80h time limit). One of the hardest and weirdest things I have ever done, well over my limit. The year before that my top distance was 250 km (after which I was nearly dead), and now I rode the 600km to Brest in one go and the 600km back too, after 5 hours of sleep (stupid thing to do in hindsight, but I made it somehow).

I have been aware of the PBP for a long time, but never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I'd be attempting, much less completing it. But I joined the local Audax Club, completed a couple of brevets (which went far better than I had expected, thanks to group riding), and got the taste for it. The 2019 was my last chance to do it before I turn 50, so I did it, assuming that it would be impossible in 4 years. But I think I'll give it a shot in 2023 as well (despite swearing never to do anything that stupid ever again). And I'm also thinking of entering the ballot for LEL 2020. (edit: 2021 not 2020)

Edit: I also realised that I know the Adam Watkins bloke from the article. I rode with him for a distance and can be seen in his PBP video. Small world. I was making fun of him for doing the PBP on a fixie. He had a horribly clicking bottom bracket and a bad knee (which I imagine was horrible on a fixie), but I'm glad to see he made it after all  1

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Rob McIvor replied to horrovac | 4 years ago
0 likes

If you've kept your AUK membership going since PBP, there's no need to worry about the ballot for LEL2021 - AUK members are guaranteed a place if they want to take part. 

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horrovac replied to Rob McIvor | 4 years ago
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Ah thanks, however I'm not with AUK, I'm with Randonneurs Autriche (Austria). I'd be guaranteed a place if I had a registered event in each year from 2017 onwards, and my earliest is in 2018. So, unfortunately, it's off to the ballot with me  1

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adamh | 4 years ago
0 likes

Really excellent and inspiring article. I plan to join in with Audaxing when I'm more settled. Can we have more writing about the Audax experience? Many thanks!

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alotronic replied to adamh | 4 years ago
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A lot of Audaxer's also write... Mine; https://audaxery.wordpress.com/ but there are plenty more a quick google away.  

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Rob McIvor replied to adamh | 4 years ago
0 likes

The best place to start is (not surprisingly) the Audax UK web site (www.audax.uk) which has lots of information about the different types of events, what's involved,hints and tips, etc. 

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judda6610 | 4 years ago
3 likes

I was enjoying this otherwise well-written article until i came to the 'banana's'.

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adamh replied to judda6610 | 4 years ago
0 likes

It should have been 'banana's "in" shops'. That's where you find all the trendy bananas gathering to discuss the evils of palm oil, chimpanzee banana-opening styles, and the latest skin-dappling acccessories.

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Tony Hull | 4 years ago
0 likes

Well done Will, good article, thanks!

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jaymack | 4 years ago
6 likes

Best of all audax is devoid of the pretentiousness that seems to pervade so much of today's cycling culture. Audax is as simple as "have bike - will ride" and is all the better for it.

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alotronic | 4 years ago
12 likes

And deeply addictive... First you think 200km is a bit nutty, but it's only twice a 100.... then you think 400 overnight with no sleep, that surely can't be done... then you do it and you wonder if 600 is really possible and find that, really, it is. All the time you are not riding that fast, you just keep going and going and you discover english roads are bloody brilliant at 4am in summer.... and then you think, well if all these other people are riding PBP and LEL then maybe I can.... and you can. And you still look like a chubby middle aged man and there are people doing the rides in half the time but it doesn't matter because a few years after you started you've just finished the oldest bike ride in the word and that is a lifetime achievement, a proper high. 

And then... you realise you've ridden 4 years of Super Randoneus series (200,300,400,600 in one season) and it's only another six years until you become a Ultra Randoneur... and so it goes on.... and all of it is a sh*t ton better than being a middle management professional in IT  1 

Believe me, ordinary middling riders can do those distances. And it's also a lovely odd world to be part of, old school with a bit of new school ultra trendiness but not too much... great fun.

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