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Touring report: December 2023

Tour of northern Spain, 3 to 17 September 2023 – Alan Weaver

From Sunday 3 September to Sunday 17 September, the Beacon’s Alan Weaver, Si Walker and Si Turner toured for 407 miles (655 km) through northern Spain as part of a lager group of 14 riders. Here’s Alan’s account of their adventures…

Ride from Medstead to the ferry terminal, Portsmouth

31.8 miles – 1,506 ft climbing

The day started with a drive down to Medstead with my two fellow riders, Si Walker and Si Turner. It was a good journey down with no problems with traffic and arriving on time at the agreed meeting place in the village. We had a short time to say hello and meet the others in the group and have a few sandwiches before getting changed into our cycle gear and then setting off to Portsmouth ferry terminal. The ride was pleasant as it was very warm and dry and on a steady, undulating route. We had an early supper at the Churchillian, a Wetherspoons pub just outside Portsmouth on a hillside overlooking the estuary and the Isle of Wight. Unfortunately, the pub was out of a lot of food but a burger and chips sufficed. From there it was roughly a 20-minute descent to the port via local cycle-ways and paths. We had to wait for a while to get on the ferry, but no problems at all getting the bike on board and securely tied up in preparation for the crossing. Two of us are in a four-berth cabin; it would have been very tight to have had four people in there for two nights! So just looking forward (not!) to spending the next 33 hours on the ferry before we arrive at the Port of Bilbao…

Brittany ferry crossing to Bilbao

We set sail on Sunday 3 September at 21:30, on board the ship Galicia. We finally docked at 08:00 on Tuesday 5 September at the very impressive Port of Bilbao. A lovely smooth crossing; a most relaxing start to what turned out to be a very testing few days!

Day 1: Port of Bilbao to Areatza

30.1 miles – 1,867 ft climbing

It took a while to disembark from the ship and away from the port area, but overall it was all relatively easy and stress free. After a four-mile cycle into the nearby town, we (a group of 14) stopped for breakfast at a small café in the town square. After enjoying a beautiful and freshly made cheese and potato tortilla, we continued on our way to the first hotel of the trip in Areatza. Following that, we then made a rather tortuous route through Bilbao, partly on the road and partly on cycle paths. There were many traffic lights holding us up several times and splitting the group, as well as folk walking close to the lanes; eyes very wide open was the order of the day! We passed the Guggenheim Museum on the right and followed the river path out of Bilbao. The roads were generally quiet with a steep climb before a leisurely lunch stop at a café/bar in Ugao-Miraballes. When we arrived at the café, what we first assumed was a local cycle club were already sat outside with every single rider wearing the exact same coloured kit and all riding the same blue and white Cube bikes. Then, while we were waiting for the food and drinks to arrive, more riders rode past the end of the road, once again all wearing the same coloured kit and all riding the same blue/white Cube bikes. It was quite a spectacular sight to see, probably around 30+ cyclists in total, all wearing the same kit and all riding the same coloured Cube bikes. We have since established that it was most probably a package tour organised by “Huerzeler – The Cycling Experience”.

After that, it was time to head out and by this time it was a rather warm 32 °C and we had a steady climb ahead of us before a refreshing descent into the town where we were staying. We are in the hills here with lovely surroundings; it’s also very warm!

Overall, we had an interesting and steady day of cycling. It’s a different approach when carrying bags as it is a lot slower and harder on the inclines; obvious, really! After a few beers (for hydration purposes of course), we had supper in the hotel.

Overnight venue: Hotel Balneario de Areatza

Day 2: Areatza to Beasain

45.8 miles – 4,177 ft climbing

A good breakfast was followed by leaving the hotel at 09:30. After a ride through the town to get on to the main road, we had to go up a short, slippery section of very rough track before joining the main road again and also just before the start of a truly brutal climb. A short descent followed yet another long and fairly steep climb, and then it levelled off, after which we stopped in a town for coffee. The local folk are all very pleasant and accommodating, the drivers also very good in being careful at passing when we are in a group together. The architecture is very similar to alpine buildings and it is very hilly as you see from the ride profile. The route used a lot of cycle-ways adjacent to the road or was away from the road following streams, so appeared to be disused railway cuttings; all very safe and cycle friendly. Another climb followed and again it was a challenge. We had a great descent before lunch (scrambled egg with mushroom and prawns) in a town café. In truth, I could have eaten much more than was provided but it was a reasonable price. The final climb of the day was another real brute. In the afternoon, the temperature was around 38ºC in the shade; it didn’t feel like it as there was a steady breeze, but when we stopped, you instantly became soaked in sweat. In direct sunshine, refer to the photo of my Garmin below! Needless to say, an ice cream and coke 7½ miles from the end was indeed very welcomed. I think it’s been the hardest day’s riding I’ve done in a long while; it would have been tough without bags, never mind with them, and the heat made it harder, but overall, a rewarding day.

Overnight venue: Hotel Restaurante Dolarea

Day 3: Beasain to Estella

42.8 miles – 4,193 ft climbing

We left the modern town of Beasain at 09:00 to try to beat the heat. After about four miles we had a 12½-mile climb, which varied between a pleasant 3-4% gradient to about 10% in small sections. The first planned coffee stop at the top of the first climb was closed, so another six miles further on to the next town. We stopped in the square and had coffee and cake which was good as it was getting quite warm. The next climb came shortly afterwards, extending seven miles to the highest point of the route, and the lunch stop was also closed! There were vultures flying around on the thermals, which was quite spectacular to watch. The scenery was wonderful, in parts very much like Provence with high-sided limestone cliffs forming a gorge. So we cycled on again but had a fantastic 10-mile descent to the next town for drinks outside a small bar. The temperature was near to 40 °C now – baking hot! At this point we had not had lunch, so decided to carry on to the hotel where I had a very welcome pasta carbonara and a beer at about 16:00. Overall, a super day of cycling: long, challenging climbs and sweeping descents in fantastic scenery. The folk and traffic were again all very considerate and accommodating.

Overnight venue: Hotel Restaurante Casa Luisa

Day 4: Estella to Pamplona

47.2 miles – 3,491 ft climbing

A slightly delayed start due to a rider having a puncture and the tyre quickly deflating once again, so we left at 09:30 and it was already getting warm. After passing through the town into the ‘sticks’, we partially followed one of the Camino de Santiago paths adjacent to the road with lots of walkers. There was a steady climb for a few kilometres, passing a dam and reservoir with spectacular scenery all around. We stopped for a late morning cold drink at a local café bar. At another point, a local Spanish couple were sat by the side of their house, both shelling walnuts into a large bucket. Another six-mile climb followed with more spectacular views across to Pamplona. The twisting and fast descent that followed was superb. The road met the plain and we then had a relatively flat ride in towards Pamplona. We stopped for some lunch, cold drinks and an ice cream, which were all very cheap at €7.50. On the outskirts, we used a cycle path which was mixed gravel and tarmac in places, very bumpy and uneven, crossing the river several times on rickety bridges. After about 12 miles along the path, we reached the hotel on the opposite side of the city. It’s been another baking hot day at around 39 °C and has been rather lumpy. The architecture has changed now that we are out of the hills, being more traditional Spanish buildings and I guess it will change again as we make progress. The Vuelta sets off from the town on Sunday afternoon and the Bora-Hansgrohe professional cycling team are also staying at our hotel. We have a rest day tomorrow, so will probably take a short ride or walk around the city.

Overnight venue: Hotel Villava Pamplona

Day 5: Rest day walk into Pamplona

8.6 miles

A rest day today, so the two Sis and I walked into the city centre to explore the sights. We had a look around the town walls and had a coffee before going into the bullring for a fantastic guided tour; it was very interesting to see how they managed the bulls before the famous Bull Run through the streets of Pamplona and also prior to the bull fights. It’s a very picturesque place with narrow streets in the old part. All very clean (no litter) and a very civilised and beautiful town.

Overnight venue: Hotel Villava Pamplona

Day 6: Pamplona to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port (France)

44.0 miles – 3,497 ft climbing

It’s the Vuelta time trial in Pamplona today at 14:00, but we left the town before the start and also to avoid being caught in any potential road closures. The Bora-Hansgrohe team bus and all the support vehicles with staff and riders were at the hotel last night although we only saw a few of them and none of the pro team riders. It was very interesting to see the overall setup and look inside the large support vehicle; so many sets of Roval wheels hanging up! Needless to say, there was a strong police presence for most of the night surrounding all the team’s vehicles. We set off at about 09:00 for the first few kilometres on a cycle path and a steady low gradient, but it later ramped up for a few kilometres and was getting hotter. There were a lot of walkers again as we followed part of the Camino de Santiago walking route, the scallop shell motif marking the way. Before lunch was another climb up to just over 3,200 feet; there were some spectacular views. After which was a fast twisting descent towards a café for lunch. Once again, lovely food and so tasty and just what we needed! The architecture has changed again back to an alpine style. After lunch, we came across a motorcycle accident where the rider looked as though he had ‘over-cooked’ it on a twisting section of downhill. With around six miles to go, we crossed into the Pyrenees Department of France and it was a steady ride mostly downhill into the town. The 10+ mile descent came complete with lots of switch backs and hairpins, which were indeed tremendous fun, although it would have much better without the panniers! Tomorrow is a rest day but there are three additional rides planned, so not sure yet which one I’ll opt for…

Overnight venue: Hotel Restaurant des Remparts

Day 7: ‘Rest day’ Pyrenean climb

26.0 miles – 4,343 ft climbing

A non-travelling ‘rest’ day today, but I woke up with a really bad sore throat, so what better way to nurse it than doing a 10-mile climb straight from the hotel door? Define the word ‘rest’, I asked myself. We ended up doing a circuit around some local Pyrenean hills. The climb was an absolute beast for the first three miles with gradients of about 20%. It then eased a bit to the top at 6½ miles to an overall elevation of over 4,000 feet. We stopped at about the mid-point on the climb for a quick coffee at the Refuge Orisson but also to admire the views of the landscape. After the coffee stop, the climb was a bit more manageable, thank heavens. It was one of the hardest climbs I’ve done over such a short distance to the top and I didn’t stop until the coffee stop and then afterwards until the summit. There were many Camino walkers going up the climb on their path, some giving encouragement as we rode past them up the hill. After a brief stop, at the top, we continued to the long, twisting and often quite steep descent. Lots of gravel and damp corners, under tree cover to negotiate, making it hard work. It eventually levelled off to leave around a six-mile ride on a shallow gradient down into the town. We had a superb ride – very challenging, but equally also very rewarding.

Overnight venue: Hotel Restaurant des Remparts

Day 8: Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port (France) to Auritz (Spain)

34.6 miles – 2,749 ft climbing

A night of hell, with my sore throat keeping me awake for most of the night. Thank goodness today was a short one with only one climb, with a gradual ascent. After this came a cracking descent but with quite a noticeable drop in the temperature. Unfortunately, this only served to trigger my chesty cough. I’m really hoping tomorrow will see some improvement in my health as it is really taking its toll on me, I’m afraid. Last night there was a big storm with thunder and lightning and heavy rain. It was forecast rain for today, but thankfully it didn’t materialise. However, it was much cooler this morning. After leaving the pretty town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, we took an undulating route out to start a climb to the Col d’Ispeguy at over 2,000 feet. A 6 to 7% incline for most of the way made it a comfortable, steady ride almost into the clouds with a superb view back into France and into Spain as this was the border. A coffee stop at the top preceded a not-so-fast twisting descent, which required a jacket and arm warmers as I was soaked from perspiration on the climb. We had lunch in a small town, hamburger with fried egg and chips being the order of the day; very tasty and filling. After lunch, we had a short ride of roughly 12 miles to the alpine-style hostel, which was situated in a very small hamlet. We just got in before the rain came down!

A good day as it stayed dry and no aches after yesterday’s huge climb The evening meal was simply outstanding, and the beds were so comfy, just like being back at home. Sadly the morning service wasn’t quite as good, the coffee machine broke, the demand for cereals was greater than the amount of cereals available, but we only had three bowls between fourteen of us anyway and who would have thought that sourcing fourteen spoons would prove so challenging? Trying to consume a yogurt with a fork is really time-consuming!

Overnight venue: Hostel Mendaurpe

Day 9: Auritz to Azkoita

43.0 miles – 4,439 ft climbing

I had an early night last night with plenty of paracetamol taken, and went to bed fully clothed as l was shaking with cold. This morning, my sore throat has moved more to more of a chesty cough, so the plan was to ride nice and steady. Today was another cool morning and there had been another night of heavy rain (and owls hooting). We set off in the dry but the clouds were low as we started the first big climb of the day to 2,000 feet. Coffee was in a small bar and by this time we were wet from the rain. We set off again, descending, taking care on the damp roads. In the valley, the temperature had risen by 10 °C and the valley was in bright sunshine, but it didn’t last as we started the second big climb to another 2,000 feet; this was a bit harder as the gradient was steeper on the lower half. Lunch (another burger and chips was taken) was almost at the top in a café, where upon it started to pour down. It was still raining when we set off again, but eased off on the next descent. As we approached Azkoita, we took part road and bike path to the other side of town to the hotel. Not many photos today due to the poor weather. It was a day for arm warmers and raincoat as it was quite chilly on the descents and being wet.

Overnight venue: Hotel Larramendi Torrea

Day 10: Azkoita to Lekeito

28.7 miles – 3,306 ft climbing

Feeling a lot better with just a tight chest, but not to worry, once again the perfect cure wasn’t far away. We all gathered at the front of the hotel and we were just about to depart when a very enthusiastic elderly gentleman arrived on a scooter, wearing a cycle trade top. In broken English he asked where we were headed. One in our party was better at Spanish than he was at English, so a brief conversation took place and he was shown the general direction in which we intended to cycle with the aid of a Garmin. Although it wasn’t needed, he decided that he would lead us out of the town. So off we went, 14 of us following a very smokey scooter – very smokey, in fact. But the more we slowed down to avoid the exhaust fumes, the more he slowed down too; a truly no-win situation, I’m afraid! It was a gentle and gradual climb out of the town and then a few miles later, we signalled that we intended to turn right. At this point, the very enthusiastic man on the scooter had seen our intentions in his mirrors and had done a quick U-turn. Returning to the group frantically waving his arms around, “No no no, sigueme en su lugar…” he repeatedly kept shouting (which we later established meant “follow me instead”) and was pointing in the direction of the main road and not at our intended route onto the very narrow lane. Hindsight is a wonderful thing; if only we had listened to him! Our chosen route started at around 6% and very slowly edged its way to about 12%. The road surface was very difficult and very challenging as there were leaves and debris on a damp, concrete road, causing the rear wheel to spin in places. With about just over a mile to go, it ramped up yet again to around 20%. It would have been hard enough on a lightweight carbon bike, but loaded up with panniers, it took the pain to a whole new level. Needless to say, I’m not ashamed to say that with just a few yards to go, l had to climb off and walk. There were four more climbs to do after this one but they were a lot shorter and involved a whole lot less climbing. This was a truly brutal and sadistic climb right from the hotel door, 5½ miles long and with 2,100 feet of climbing. On the plus side, today was better weather-wise; it was overcast and warm this morning but brightened up later in the day. We finally reached the coast and then enjoyed a stunning and beautiful ride into the town of Lekeito and the hotel was on the sea front. All of the sudden, all that pain seemed worthwhile: sand, sea and beautiful hot sunshine.

Overnight venue: Hotel Silken Palacio Uribarren

Day 11: Lekeito to Bilbao

44.7 miles – 3,461 ft climbing

Frustratingly, my chesty cough was a little worse this morning making, the first 20 miles and the first couple of climbs rather uncomfortable. We had a tasty evening meal at the hotel last night and similar breakfast this morning. It was a dry, warm start to today’s ride but as usual there was a climb straight out of the hotel. We passed through Guernica, which is well known in regard to being bombed during the Spanish Civil War and via a painting by Picasso. The second climb of the day started immediately out of the town after we had a coffee. Lunch was at a roadside café, opposite an industrial estate. Some country lanes brought a few more short, sharp hills and a visit to a mock castle. Eventually we reached the coast and a difficult cycle path that had steps in several places, making the passage difficult. Spain’s idea of a cycle path is way different to the UK. As we entered the outskirts of Bilbao, there were some good paths to ride, arriving at the transporter bridge where we had a fantastic and freshly made ‘cheesecake’ ice cream. Once across the bridge, there were some shorter but very steep little climbs in the centre of the town to negotiate before we finally arrived at the stunning-looking hotel. Overall, it was quite a challenging final day with the climbing and the less-than-cycle-friendly cycle coastal path. Tomorrow will just be a short ride to the ferry terminal and then we’re homeward-bound.

Overnight venue: Hotel URH Palacio de Oriol

Day 12: Hotel to the Port of Bilbao

4.2 miles – 203 ft climbing

A very short hop via the cycle paths to the port.

Brittany ferry crossing to Portsmouth

We set sail from the Port of Bilbao at 13:00 Saturday 16 September (on the Galicia again) and docked at Portsmouth at 17:30 Sunday 17 September. I was very privileged to have seen a mother whale and its calf, in the Bay of Biscay, albeit a good distance away from the ship. Overall, the experience on board the ship was very good; the food was extremely well presented and very tasty and I enjoyed a great night’s sleep both incoming and on the return journey to Portsmouth. The return journey was quite a few hours shorter than the first sailing, which was a blessing as there is only so much sea that you can look at after all!

Ride from Portsmouth to Medstead

27.3 miles – 1,864 ft climbing

Thankfully, we disembarked the ferry really quickly, before any of the vehicles, and then we cycled out of the town via the local cycle paths and out into the countryside. By the time we arrived back to the car at Medstead, it was proper;y pitch black, but having a group of us all cycling together made it relatively easy to see where we were going in the very dark and unlit roads and back lanes. With the bikes all loaded onto the car and a couple of cups of freshly brewed coffee plus a few of slices of pizza later, it was time to bid our farewells to the rest of the group and set off on the 2½-hour return journey home.

So that’s it folks; as quick as it all started, it’s all come to an end!

Overall statistics

Distance: 407.22 miles (655.36 km)

Ascended: 36,170 feet (11,024.6 m)

Actual riding time: 40 hours, 10 minutes and 4 seconds

Average speed: 10.1 mph (16.25 km/h)

Max speed: 41.3 mph (66.47 km/h)

Calories used: 14,948

Average heart rate: 108 bpm

Max heart rate: 178 bpm

Average temperature: 27 °C


Thanks to Si Walker and Si Turner for their company on what was a great first multi-day touring trip for me. Also a massive thank you to Si Walker who very kindly drove me and Si Turner and transported the bikes and all the kit to and from Medstead, and also for providing his valuable assistance in compiling this ride report.

If this touring report whetted your appetite for distance riding, check out our earlier audax reports by John Williams and Naomi Bell.

Club trophy winners 2023

The club’s 2023 Annual Dinner took place on 18 November. The highlight of the night was an inspirational talk on widening participation in cycling by guest speaker Dr Fiona Spotswood, who also helped us present trophies to the year’s prizewinners.

Some photos from the night can be found here.

Touring ChampionSi Woodward
Audax ChampionKarl Walton
Sportive rider of the yearJason Hogg
Club Run Points ChampionCédric Gioan
Mountain Bike ChampionStuart Jones
Cyclo-cross ChampionHelen Jamieson
Junior Cyclo-cross ChampionMatt Russell
Junior 10-mile TT ChampionNot awarded
Women’s 10-mile TT ChampionCelia Brown
Senior 10-mile TT ChampionEd Moss
Junior 25-mile TT ChampionNot awarded
Women’s 25-mile TT ChampionCelia Brown
Senior 25-mile TT ChampionEd Moss
Women’s 50-mile TT ChampionNot awarded
Senior 50-mile TT ChampionSimon Dighton
Senior 100-mile TT ChampionNot awarded
Senior 12-hour TT ChampionStuart White
Junior BARNot awarded
Women’s BARNot awarded
Senior BARNot awarded
Veterans’ BARSimon Dighton
20-mile Handicap TT ChampionRichard Kings
Handicap BAREd Moss
Hill Climb ChampionJon Kerin
Women’s Hill Climb ChampionCelia Brown
Junior Road Race ChampionMatt Russell
Senior Road Race ChampionNot awarded
Senior Circuit Race ChampionNot awarded
Track Sprint ChampionNot awarded
Track Distance Race WinnerNot awarded
Track Pursuit ChampionNot awarded
Track Omnium ChampionNot awarded
Women’s Track Omnium ChampionNot awarded
Junior Track League ChampionNot awarded
Senior Track League ChampionAdrian Ravenscroft
Club Person of the YearMariana Sorrill

Well done to everyone who won an award, and thanks to everyone who came to the dinner!

Annual General Meeting 2023

This year’s Beacon AGM will take place at 18:30 on Thursday 7 December 2023, via Zoom.

Please see the AGM notice sent out to all members by email for the Zoom link. Please check your spam folder if you haven’t received the AGM notice. If you can’t find it there, it’s likely we don’t have your email address on record, so please drop a line to so we can add it.

The agenda and committee members’ reports will be posted on the message board in due course.

Please give thought to how you can help the club continue to serve its members, and the sport of cycling in general.

2023 Beacon RCC/Stourbridge CC WMCCL round

On Sunday 26 November, we’re again going to be co-organising a round of the West Midlands Cyclo-Cross League at Walsall Arboretum. Volunteers are required to help make the event a success, both on the day and the day before to help build the course. If you’re able to volunteer, please put you name down here. A volunteer briefing is available here, a rota here and a map here.

For those keen to race, online entries are now closed, but entry on the day will be possible. The rider briefing can be downloaded here.

2023 Annual Dinner and Prize Presentation

In the closing weeks of each year, we get together to recognise the achievements of our members during the season just ended. This year’s Annual Dinner and Prize Presentation will be held on Saturday 18 November, starting at 18:00.

In line with feedback from the survey we did earlier in the year, this year’s event is going to be a little different. Here’s what we’ve got lined up:

A great venue

To make sure the event stays affordable and accessible, we’re using Kings Norton Golf Club again this year. There’s a spacious function room and a cosy bar, both with wheelchair access, in a leafy setting on the edge of town.


You’ll be served with Prosecco or a non-alcoholic alternative on arrival.

Buffet meal

We’ll still have tables where you can sit and eat sociably with your friends. But instead of a three-course meal brought to you, you’ll select from a delicious buffet that caters for a range of preferences and dietary needs.

Guest speaker

We’re delighted to have Bristol University’s Dr Fiona Spotswood as our guest speaker this year. Fiona is an avid mountain-biker whose specialist field is fostering inclusive action sports. She’ll be giving a lively and an inspiring half-hour talk on bringing more young people and women into the sport we all love. Don’t miss it!

Award presentation

Medals and trophies will be presented to club members who have excelled in a wide variety of competitive and non-competitive fields. Come along to hear what your club-mates have been doing, and show your appreciation.

Music and dancing, led by our very own cycling DJ Vince!

There’ll be quiet areas where you can chat and drink, if you prefer.

Ample opportunity for mingling

One of the main things to come out of the survey was that people wanted the formalities kept short, leaving more time for catching up with friends. We’ve therefore opted for a buffet format, without any cross-toasting, enabling us to move on to the guest speaker and awards earlier in the evening. The duration of those slots will also be limited, so that the whole of the second half of the evening is free for mingling and chatting.

All-in price of £35

Catering costs and venue hire prices have shot up in the last couple of years. Continuing with the traditional event format would have meant either an eye-watering ticket price, or a whopping subsidy from the club’s reserves. However, by making the changes described and securing a modest subsidy from central funds, we’ve been able to reduce the ticket price this year to £35.

We really hope you can make it on 18 November for a great evening celebrating the Beacon, and everything our members do. Current, former and prospective Beacon members and friends of the club are all welcome, as are their partners, family and guests.

Get your ticket(s) now using the link below.

Audax report: August 2023

My audax world – Naomi Bell

My interest in audaxes really first began in 2021, the first year when I started cycling. In nothing less than my usual style I threw myself in at the deep end, my first audax being a 200km. I’d never ridden 200km in my life, so to choose the Kidderminster Killer as my first audax was nothing short of a little bonkers!

I remember that day vividly. Mariana was volunteering that morning, serving out hot drinks. She took one confused look at me and asked: “You’re doing this?!” That morning eight of us started out and by the end, 11:30 pm, way past the cut-off line, a mere four of us rode into Belbroughton having barely survived! Following the traumatic experience of that ride I kind of gave up audaxes! 

Following the Kidderminster Killer, I completed Ride Across Britain and still did the occasional 100 miler and last year I even did my first 300km. That in itself was a story to tell, one where myself and Cédric were riding through Birmingham exhausted at 1 am, determined to get our cycling computers to 200 miles! 

At the age of six, my dad asked me what I wanted to do when I was older. I told him that I wanted to be an explorer! That passion for adventure never left and instead grew. In my twenties, I travelled extensively, backpacking for six months around Asia taking in the culture, history and breathtaking scenery in places like Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Vietnam and Laos. I once road-tripped in the USA with 10 people in a minivan for six weeks and during that time saw 40 states. I always felt at home on the road. 

I’m finding that audaxes are a great way to do a ton of miles, get fit, switch off from the stressors of life and most importantly to me, see new places. Over the last 12 months my lifestyle has changed considerably. At present I live half the month in the Lake District and the other half in Bromsgrove. This means that northern adventures to wild places in Scotland have suddenly become accessible! 

In February this year, I wanted a new challenge, and with a mixture of excitement and nervousness I signed up to complete the calendar event Efengyl (Gospel) 200. This ride commenced the Randonneur Round the Year (RRtY) for me.

I wish I could say completing 200km rides every month has been easy with a tailwind always on my back. Sadly, the reality is that that is just the Instagram story! The first 200km I did this year was the Efengyl through Bristol Audax Club in February. All weather conditions were thrown at us that day! I remember being at the top of Gospel Pass thinking that I was going to be blown off my bike! I was amazed by the grit and determination of some of the older cyclists. As I stood at the side of the road in the dark in pain, they soldiered on at a steady but consistent pace. 

 Brum 200 was challenging mentally. The route predicted the elevation was going to be 4,000ft; a nice flat 200km, so I thought! (So much so that I’d planned for my parents to come round for a BBQ at 6 pm!) One hour late for my folks and after 8,000ft of climbing, I’d completed the ride, very ready to throw my bike in a bush! I promptly wrote to Audax UK the following day telling them I felt lied to and that I wanted some AAA points! Instead, they sent me a Brum 200 badge! 

Facing adversity taught me the importance of adaptability, grit, and maintaining a positive mindset. One thing I hate doing is quitting. The hardest thing I’ve ever done is LEJOG in nine days. At that point I’d been cycling for nine months. I’d never really been into fitness or even going to the gym, so it was hard going. Anytime I’m having a hard day on the bike I remind myself of the tough things I have previously done and what I am capable of.

I go back to my ‘why’. For me, cycling gives me such a buzz, the sort where you’ve had the hardest, most challenging day and all of sudden you get on your bike and smile because you feel alive. There have been times when, being a children’s social worker, I’ve had such a stressful day worried about a child’s welfare. Previous habits would have turned me to a glass of wine to help me relax. These days, riding long miles are that replacement, providing mental clarity, being in the present and appreciating the simple joys of solitude, the beauty of nature, and the power of perseverance.

My dream is to explore more remote, wild and unexplored places by bike; the sort where you have to take a satellite phone as backup. For me, true beauty lies in exploring wilderness and cultures and in my view, that is best done on a bike. 

I’ll sign off with a quote, one I read for the first time a few months ago. Reading it sent shivers down my spine as to me it sums up everything about my ‘why’:

They say cycling sets you free, and it’s true. Take your hands off the bar, sit up and look around. You’re free as a bird. Or, as one popular Spanish saying puts it, you have birds in the mind. For as well as setting us free physically, cycling has the power to help us switch off. On the map and in our minds, where we end up is up to us. Tener pájaros en la cabeza.

This is the second in a new series of audax reports. You can read the first, by John Williams, here.

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.

Club time trials 2023

We’re running a slimmed-down schedule of club time trials for 2023, with the emphasis on having fun, friendly competition and introducing new people to time trialling. Newcomers are most welcome to take part in club TTs, as are guests from other clubs.

As well as our club events, we’re also organising one open event this year, which needs to be entered in advance (see links below).

The traditional club handicap trophy will be awarded on the basis of a rider’s best five results out of seven this year, with the two-up and hill climb events excluded.

The entry fee for a club time trial is £4.50, including the £3 Cycling Time Trials (CTT) levy. CTT regulations require that all riders have working rear (red) and front (white) lights and wear a helmet. Please aim to arrive at least 15 minutes before the event start time in order to sign on. We will send you further instructions after you’ve entered using Eventbrite.

If you’ve not given TTs a try before, we recommend reading this article on the website of the governing body, CTT (it’s from 2007, so some of the details are dated, but it gives a good idea of what to expect).

For the most up-to-date information on these events please visit the TT section of the club message board. Further details of relevant CTT regulations are available on the time trials page of this website.

1Sat 1 April 10:00K32/20Results
2Tues 11 April 19:00K36/10Club 10No starters due to bad weather
Sun 23 AprilLittle Mountain Time Trial
3Tues 9 May 19:00K36/10Club 10Cancelled due to standing water
4Tues 30 May 19:00K32/20Joint event with Droitwich CC; Handicap 20 ChampionshipResults
5Tues 13 June 19:00K36/10Club 10Results
6Tues 11 July 19:00K36/10Club 10Results
7Tues 8 August 19:00K36/10Club 10 2-up event (see explanation here), road bikes onlyResults
8Tues 12 September 19:00K36/10Club 10 Mile ChampionshipResults
9Sun 24 September 10:00KH12Club Hill Climb ChampionshipResults