Riding audax events is a corner of cycling that is often overlooked by the masses, but it has served me well as I move into my 14th season and once more try my hand as an event organiser.
This page is an attempt to provide a little more guidance for newcomers to the discipline. It is very much my opinion and to a large extent there are no right answers to any of this, but if nothing else, it gets you thinking.
Entering a ride
How do I enter a ride?
You enter a ride by following the appropriate link from the Audax UK online calendar or by following a link directly to the relevant event page. My new events are online-entry only, which simplifies things, so you need to provide some contact details, agree to some basic conditions and then make a payment via paypal. This all flows together from the website. Don’t forget to click on ‘return to merchant’ after making payment so the AUK system knows it has gone through. The traditional send in a cheque and a couple of self-addressed envelope (SAE) models creates a lot of work for organisers and I resent using it as a rider, so I’ve exercised the option to turn it off for my new events.
Do I need to be a member?
If you’re planning on doing more than a couple of rides then it is worth joining AUK. It makes entering events simpler, you save a £3 per event temporary insurance fee, have your results recorded against your name and receive a quarterly magazine. If you have Cycling UK/CTC membership then this excuses you from the temporary insurance. British Cycling membership doesn’t count unfortunately. I tend to join in 5 year blocks to achieve a further discount. In the scheme of things, I think it’s good value for money. Further info can be found here.
I notice abbreviations in the calendar, what do they mean?
A breakdown is given here. Essentially it is a summary of available facilities.
Why is there so much variety in entry fees?
Events vary a lot in terms of what facilities are available and offered (e.g. some are fully catered and have several village halls laid on, others are more basic). I’m lucky in that for my new events I have free access to a commercial premises, so have been able to pass that saving on to riders. There are some admin costs too (this covers things like printing the Brevet cards). I’ve charged a little more for the 400 as there will be a lightly catered checkpoint control at the bottom of the Devil’s staircase climb.
What do I get for my entry?
Aside from the overarching AUK stuff, riders will receive a turn by turn route sheet describing the route in detail together with control options. GPS track files will also be provided in a variety of formats. Route sheets are generally finalised following a full route check ride by the organiser around 2 weeks before the event.
On the day of the event riders will collect their ‘Brevet card’. This is a physical card that will be carried with you to obtain proof of passage around the course. This can be in the form of an ink stamp or signature at each control together with writing in the time or by means of inserting a til receipt / ATM slip which shows the place and time. I have made some use of checkpoints on my rides which is a trusted hand on the side of the road at a given place who will stamp your card. Some rides include ‘info controls’ too where riders answer a question to prove they have passed through a particular point. I haven’t included any of these in my rides.
At the end of the ride, you sign your brevet card and hand it to the finish controller. It is then sent away for scrutiny by the AUK validation team and recorded both by AUK and, in the instance of Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) qualifiers by LRM. All of my 2019 events are PBP qualifiers and this process can take some time so it could be 2-3 months before cards are posted back to riders.
How do I know where to go?
Audax rides are not Sportives and will not be way-marked with arrows at the road side. Either use a GPS with route downloaded or learn how to use a route sheet (and how to attach it securely to you or the bike). Riding in a group with only one of you having the route information is a recipe for disaster if you get separated or if a route sheet gets lost.
Route sheets tend to have a key and conventions for abbreviation. I do mine in the style of the late Dave Lewis who was far better at this sort of thing than me. Here is a typical key:
KEY: go to/thro places in CAPITALS.
Road no. in bold = follow for several turns
L(eft), R(ight), S(traight) O(n), @ = at,
T (-junction), t/l = traffic lights, X = crossroads, ex(it),
(m-) rbt = (mini) roundabout, CR# = cycle-route,
Unc(lassified main road), $ = signpost,
imm(ediate), opp(osite), thro(ugh), cont(inue).
What bike should I use?
In a nutshell – one which you are comfortable riding. There are no real restrictions except around use of motors. People ride upright bikes, trikes, tandems (riders carry a card each), recumbents, elliptigos and bikes with little wheels to name but a few. Personally, I do most of my riding on carbon-framed road bikes now and I am tending towards Roubaix style geometry for comfort. I ride 28mm tubeless tyres, use disc brakes and do tend to use battery lights on all but the longest of rides. I’ve switch to adventure racing style luggage in the last few years and that has served me well.
Some events require mudguards and there’s an abbreviation for that. I haven’t done so but do ask riders to use their common sense and if you are covered in mud, remove a layer before sitting down in a cafe.
Do I need lights?
For my rides, you are almost certainly going to see some dark conditions at the beginning and end of the rides so basic lights should be carried for the 200 and 300km events. The 400 is going to involve a significant portion of night riding, so good quality lights ‘to see by’ are needed. AUK don’t mandate reflective clothing but personally I recommend it. I’ve been using Proviz kit in winter and it has the effect on getting cars to slow down while they work out what it is.
What about helmets?
Entirely at your own discretion. I don’t typically wear one having considered the arguments.
Do I need mudguards?
Some events require these. Mine don’t but I do ask that riders use common sense. If you are damp or covered in mud then remove a layer or sit on something clean if you’re going to sit down in a cafe etc.
What should I eat?
Long events are a bit different, so personally I go for real food at cafes and garages around the route and don’t bother with powders and gels. The main thing is do what you’re used to doing. A long ride is a bad time to try anything new for the first time.
What happens if I get a mechanical?
In the main Audax is all about self sufficiency, so if you get a problem on the road then you need to sort it out yourself. This means anticipating likely problems and planning on how you might deal with them. If you can’t deal with it, then you need a plan of getting home. There will be some control towns which lend themselves to bailing out by train. Failing that it tends to come down to who do I know nearby or sitting in for long wait while somebody comes to fetch you from further afield. Common problems (and possible solutions):
- Punctures (carry tubes, levers, patches or go tubeless)
- Outer tyre failure (carry a tyre boot or consider a spare outer tyre for long events e.g. > 400km)
- Snapped chain (carry an appropriate spare quick link)
- Snapped cables (carry spares and multi-tools)
- Various frame and fitting issues (zip ties and tape)
- Power issues with GPS (have redundant nav via printed route sheet or smart phone)
- Lights damaged during ride (carry spares or fix what you have with tape etc)
- Snapped spoke (have enough spokes in your wheels that it’s not a show stopper, carry spare spokes and keys, other innovative solutions like this)
- Exposure (carry a space blanket and spare layers)
All of the above have happened to me at various times and I still get surprised with novel failures from time-to-time. One other top tip: when you stop because of a mechanical eat something. It will be the last time you have clean hands for a while…
It’s quite likely that other riders will help you on the road. Either those you are riding with or others catching-up, however I wouldn’t expect them to from a planning standpoint.
What are the time limits?
All events have a minimum and a maximum speed and from these opening and closing times can be derived for each of the control points and for the finish line (known as the arrivée). The exact times will be printed in the brevet card and these should be kept in mind by riders, particularly those at the ‘value for money’ end of the field. For my new events, min speed is 15kph and max speed is 30kph. This gives 13.5 hours for a 200, 20 hours and 15 minutes for a 300 and 27 hours for a 400.
What is the situation with sleep on longer rides?
Sleep is allowed, but you need to ride fast enough to ‘bank time’ for your sleep stop as the event clock never stops. In practical terms this means that a couple of hours sleep on a 400 to tackle a bout of the dozies is feasible. Much more than this would be uncommon.
If I’ve missed anything please comment and I’ll add accordingly.
Guidance on riding your first event from AUK is here.
Audax UK has a useful hints page here.