It never ceases to amaze me just how many sub-cultures there are in cycling. Alongside all the razzmatazz of the pro riders at the performance end of the sport, the straining of the MAMIL (middle aged man in lycra) and the bling of the fixie kids there are those intrepid folk who just ride. And some of them ride for miles and miles (and miles). It is in this world where the Audax lives.
The massive resurgence of cycling in the UK has been partly off the back of elite success on the track, road, BMX track, mountain bike trail…the list goes on. It has also been stoked by rising fuel prices, the bike to work scheme and rising obesity rates in an increasingly health conscious over-20s cohort. But, before the days of the high priced, mass participation cycle sportif, there were (and still are) a bunch of (usually) guys knocking out the miles for nothing more than tea and cake in a church hall, loving the adventure and challenge of serious distance cycling .
What I knew about Audaxing could be learned by anyone with a computer and a search engine. Wikipedia defines the discipline as ‘a cycling sport in which participants attempt to cycle long distances within a pre-defined time limit’. These distances are measured in kilometres because the Audax Club of Paris run the discipline and start at around 100 km. There are set distances called brevets of 300 km, 400 km, 600 km and more. Audaxing’s non-competitive nature is also underlined: ‘success in an event is measured by its completion’. I knew that if I was serious about getting under the skin of this most niche of cycling’s subcultures I would need to get some proper advice.
Not only has Richard Parker ridden some Audaxes in his time, this year he rode from London to Edinburgh and back again in the UK’s biggest Audax. He knows about this stuff. When I first spoke to him it became apparent that we had a few things in common, including the fact that we’d both ridden as kids then played other sports before taking up cycling again as a comparatively injury free way to exercise. We also both have a love of the old fashioned steel bike frames of our youth (more about them in future articles covering my renovation projects). I was starting to feel that I might enjoy not only our chat but also a detour into Audaxing itself.
Parker’s journey took him from recreational cycling into a club and then into Audaxes. He’s ridden such events as the 600 km To Hull and Back, the 300 km Everyone rides to Skeggy and his first was the 100 km Lincoln Imp. All before he took on the mammoth 1400 km London, Edinburgh, London (LEL) ride.
So what does he enjoy about Audaxing? “Well it’s very sociable really.” He describes it with enthusiasm as a very unstressful form of riding. He recounts taking tea and cake in village halls as a regular occurrence.
Like everything to do with cycling there are some big contradictions, too. Parker described some of the mistakes he’d made including setting off too quickly and not taking rest seriously enough. He talks about the ‘Audax Hotel’ as a bus shelter where exhausted riders sleep, and waxes lyrical about the power of cat naps.
He also recommends some additions to the normal bike set up such as a Brookes saddle (famed for moulding to one’s rear end rather than the other way round) and a Carradice Barley Bag, in which he keeps food, a series of clothing layers and a selection of tools.
“What makes this appeal to you?” I asked. “It’s really good fun,” he replied. “Oh and I suppose I’m quite good at putting up with quite a lot of discomfort too.”
So how am I going to utilise this new found knowledge? Well first off I need to find an Audax to ride. That’s a plan for the winter. And I need to keep putting in the miles and gradually increase the distances. Let’s see how I manage to fit that into my life alongside work and family commitments.
It’s going to be quite a journey, or, more accurately, lots of them.
Parker’s Guide to Audaxing
- It’s cheaper than sportif riding – £5-10 compared to £30-50
- The bikes are built for comfort; commonly the steel frames are less expensive than carbon racing machines
- The bikes often have lower gears compared with those that are built for speed
- It’s a non-competitive, enjoyable day out seeing great parts of the country
- You won’t find Audax riders routinely logging their rides on Strava and racing to feature highly in KOMs (King of Mountain rankings that are heavily prized by competitive riders)
- Ultimately it’s about friendliness and co-operation
- Tea and cake not gels and electrolytes
Audaxing the North
- To Hull and Back
- Everyone Rides to Skeggy
- Moors and Wolds
- Lincoln Imp
- Tramway 100
By Andy Groves
You can follow Andy via twitter and instagram @riding_north.
You can follow Richard Parker via twitter @cyclinggeezer
For audax rides near you visit Audax UK’s website