Audax report: May 2023

Audaxing and how I started – John Williams

Those who saw Phil Richards’ last weekly club update will have read about the club’s marvellous achievements in the world of audax riding. Holy randonneéring, I hear you holler (you have to be a certain age); what the bejesus is that? Well, calm yourself, get yourself a piece of flapjack and a coffee and read on…

A randonnée (pronounced rahn-doe-nay) is simply a long bike ride, usually over 100 miles and sometimes much longer. In common cycling usage, it typically refers to a non-competitive, long-distance ride that’s timed for safety, with several controls (or stops) along the route to keep the riders honest. Amongst randonneurs, this kind of event is also known as a brevet.

Dan Chabanov, Bicycling Magazine

So what is an audax? I could write here the history of how it all started way back when but the purpose of my time is to explain how I got into audaxing, in the hope it will encourage some more of our 200+ members to give it a go. Audaxing in a nutshell, is a non-competitive bike ride which has to be completed within a set time. It’s not a race and individual ride times are not published. What it isn’t, is a sportive. There are no pop-up food stops on the route, no mechanic and no broom wagon. You are expected to be self-sufficient, so, if you’re on a 400km ride and 20km from home, fall off and break your rear derailleur hanger, you’re going to have to sort something out yourself, or, wait, as in my case, for riders behind to catch you up and offer assistance. That’s the other thing about audaxing: while you think you are alone, in reality, you’re not!

There are various types of audax events, with distances ranging from 50km to 1,400km. The most popular are the ‘calendar’ events, but please go to the Audax UK website. Here, you will find all the information you need about audaxing.

I believe within our membership, there are riders who think about riding out of their comfort zone, read about it, but don’t commit out of fear of the unknown, or the fear of their capability. Now, I’m not saying everyone can just get on their bike and smash a 200km having never done one; for most of us, we need to build our fitness over time, but it doesn’t take long. If you can comfortably do a club run of, say, 60 to 100km, you’re halfway there. The aim then, is to demonstrate that anyone can Audax and my very own backstory is proof of this. So how did I get into audaxing?

10 years ago, I changed my role at work meaning a commute to Birmingham, initially by train but then I bought my first bike – the wrong type of bike, but that’s another story. Was I fit back then? Not at all and at 43, I was carrying a bit of weight; nothing too dramatic, but very quickly, I was ordering a new uniform for work as the weight dropped off. So cycling 20 miles a day was having positive effects on my mental and physical well-being.

There was no Strava, or at least I didn’t know about it, and I was not a member of Beacon until 2016. As my fitness built, I began to increase my distance, participating in small 50-60 mile charity sportives/rides, but my first 100 miler was courtesy of a charity ride to Aberdovy, which then became a four-dayer, cycling from Penrith to Aberdovy. Now, my grey matter is a bit sketchy as to when I actually did my first audax…

You actually don’t have to be a member to join calendar events but a small payment to cover insurance means you can join as a non-member. This is what I remember doing but not being a member meant I had no membership number under which the ride could be recorded. A search of my Strava revealed my earliest audax to be the Heart of England 120km on 21 May 2016. This seems about right. I joined Beacon in February of the same year but I hadn’t yet got to know too well the members who would change my riding life. I’ll come back to those buggers later.

The most common distance for sure on the calendar is the 200km distance and these make up most of my audax rides thus far, because you can do these in a day, generally starting at 6 or 7 am and getting back for 5 to 6 pm. This of course depends on how long you stop for or how much faffing you do, but, of course, you have to eat. Some like to eat on the go, some like a shop stop and some like a sit-down meal at one of the many cafés. And this is another thing about audaxing: you have to demonstrate to the organiser that you have been to the controls, which are villages/towns on the route. This is done via a ‘brevet’ card provided by the organiser. A lot of organisers conveniently have their controls at cafés that often have a stamp or will provide you with a receipt to prove passage, or you can simply go to a shop and purchase food or get a cash machine receipt. Anything that has the place, time and date. Some organisers will accept a GPX file, photographs of yourself at the location and there is now an app which is becoming more popular with organisers.

So, my first was a 120km ride around the Heart of England followed by the odd audax here and there, but I was still not a member of Audax UK until March 2018, which is when it all changed, as I began to ride with Beacon members who also enjoyed long-distance riding. The group was small in the beginning, two to three, but quickly others began to join. Strangely, a lot of these members had ginger hair, as I do, and because we rode many audaxes together, we became affectionately known as the Ginger Randonneurs. We spent a lot of time together and got to know each other very well.

200km was the regular distance but I was always keen to push myself and you might think the natural progression would be to 300km but no, it was 400km and then 300km and so it went on, searching for longer rides to satisfy my addiction. This all led to ultimate challenges like JOGLE, LEJOG last year in 5 days and 6 hours, and Paris-Brest-Paris in just over 78 hours. All these rides are around 1,400km, and have pushed me to the limits and I suppose that is what I am trying to convey.

When I started riding, commuting to work, I had no desire to ride anywhere other than to work and back. I didn’t have any desire to achieve much from a sporting point of view. Terrible at football, not much better at anything else and I didn’t even have a bike. The thought of cycling any further than my commute was not even on the radar so, where did it all come from? I didn’t believe I could do it, is the truth. Unfit, slightly big old me, cycle more than 20 miles a day! I blame charity.

You’ll remember I mentioned that audaxing is non-competitive and it is but there are a raft of awards you can obtain and badges you can buy from Audax UK to evidence your personal achievements. Your club also has an audax trophy up for grabs, awarded to the member with the highest amount of audax kilometres covered. I have won this trophy three times in the last four years, which I’m very proud of. The competition is tough as we have some fantastic audax riders, all pushing personal boundaries and it gets tougher every year, but this doesn’t have to be your goal. Just riding a few in a season is enough to deliver your riding fix.

So, what is my message? Are you me? Are you thinking negatively about your own ability, like I did? Always flicking the page over… There are so many benefits to audaxing. I have mentioned the biggies, but what about just riding in the countryside on a beautiful sunny day (it’s not always sunny) with like-minded riders, pushing your limits, improving your general well-being while doing so? Give it a go. You will surprise yourself!

I’m happy to answer any questions or offer any reassurance any budding audaxers may have; just let me know.