On Tuesday, I wrote a tweet that set the cat among the pigeons and subsequently got a lot of replies around the reasons why Audax isn’t as popular as (I think) it should be.
Why isn’t audax mega popular with all cyclists? Like how sportives once were. It generally costs less than a tenner, you get loads of often homemade food, dogs at controls (sometimes), you meet super interesting people, some are short, some are long but they’re always GREAT!
— Grace Lambert-Smith (@thisisgrace) May 21, 2018
I’ve had a think and talked to a few of these people and I’m going to debunk some of the reasons people don’t Audax.
“I don’t know what Audax means”
First one to start me off! The dictionary definition explains that it’s “a long-distance cycling event in which participants must navigate a route in a specified period of time” but fails to mention the famous brevet card. As riders navigate the course, they must check-in at various controls in order to prove that they completed the correct route. Controls can be cafes, pubs or staffed community centres where stamps and stickers are applied to the appropriate box with the time of arrival noted. Controls can also be information controls whereby riders will need to keep their eyes peeled for details on the roadside or landmarks en route and record the answer to the question in the brevet card e.g. “pub on the corner of Road X and Road Y”.
“They’re too long”
Despite the textbook definition, Audax doesn’t actually have to be long-distance. There are plenty of 50km and 100km Audaxes for everyone to get involved with. I’ve done a couple of 100s which I’ve considered harder than some 200s I’ve done. Likewise, you may think the time limit creates a racing atmosphere, but this is where you’re entirely wrong! Consider the longer distance Audaxes a challenge to work up to.
“It’s too slow”
If you can complete any Audax at the top end of the specified time, you probably belong in a race. Some organisers won’t validate an Audax completed too quickly, though I’d be interested to know if this has ever happened across the longer distance events when fatigue inevitably sets in. Time limits are conservative, however I’ve regularly found myself close to the cut-off thanks to lack of fitness, tiredness or tough terrain – or a combination of all three!
Audax is supposed to be taken in your stride: stop when you need to, sleep when you need to, have a chat to someone, take a turn in the wind for your little peloton that has naturally formed (common during more popular events) and just take a minute or ten to enjoy where you are and what you’re doing. It’s not a race and neither is your sportive.
At the end of the day, if you can’t sacrifice the amount of time required for Audax then perhaps they’re not for you. Busy people with families may find it hard to give up their weekend and rely on their partners for childcare – that’s understandable.
“I like getting a medal and an official finishing time”
Thankfully, you get to take home your brevet card either at the end of the event or it’ll be posted to you by the organiser shortly after completion. A brevet card says a lot more about the journey than the destination, unlike a typical sportive medal. I look back on some of my brevet cards in their warped or coffee stained state and reminisce about what happened between controls and why I was so late to that one but managed to make up time between the last couple. The organiser records your “official finishing time” on your brevet card so that you never forget how quickly, or slowly, you completed the ride.
Contrary to sportives, there is no fanfare or obvious finish line. You’ll likely find that the end is a school hall with a squeaky door and a lady asking whether you’d like a slice of toast and a cup of tea. There’s very little external glory from an Audax but the internal feeling of accomplishment is like none other I’ve ever felt, particularly from the bigger events I’ve done. I quite like that there is no fuss, no podium and no fancy material prize to take home (other than bragging rights of course).
“I won’t know where to go”
You’re right that there is no signage during Audaxes but there are, in most cases, a supplied .gpx file and a concise route card. I’ll explain both:
A .gpx file can be uploaded to your GPS device which uses turn-by-turn navigation to guide you through the route. This does however require something like a Garmin or Wahoo computer enabled for navigation, which can be quite costly if you see no other benefit to having one and don’t record your rides on platforms like Strava or TrainingPeaks. In a similar fashion, if the .gpx isn’t supplied upon entry, there’s a strong likelihood that Ride with GPS will already have the route listed from previous years or by someone who has kindly mapped out the route from the route card.
The route card consists of line-by-line shorthand instructions of the course. In my experience, this takes quite some practice and in wet weather, it isn’t a very practical solution. I’ve seen riders with mini clip-boards (on trend in Audax world!) on their handlebars with laminated route cards where they flick through each side until they’ve completed the route. It requires a lot more brain power to remember which point you’re at along the route and to look out for the next signal, whereas a GPS device will alert a turn well in advance. Reading route cards is a skill I’d like to acquire as I feel it’s all part and parcel of the Audax experience, but it’s by no means compulsory nor does it look particularly ‘cool’ or ‘aero’ to have a clip-board in your cockpit.
“What if my bike breaks in the middle of nowhere?”
In short: you’ll have to fix it. On longer distance rides, you’re more likely to be on windy, unlit country lanes at all sorts of hours of the day and night so knowing how to fix the most popular mechanical issues is essential. Get to grips with puncture repairs, carry more than your usual stash of spares and perhaps make a note of close-by bike shops you’re likely to stumble across at various points of the route.
If you can’t fix it and it’s game over, notify the event organiser to tell them you’ve retired from the ride and get home or back to HQ via other means.
A fully charged mobile phone with decent coverage is essential, though some rides do venture into black spots, particularly parts of Wales and Scotland. I’m yet to have experience of my bike being in bits in the middle of the night during less-than-ideal weather so I can’t speak from experience or recommend what to do in that situation. If the event has many entrants, I’m sure some kind soul would offer help.
“Sportives are great value for money”
My last 300km Audax cost me £6 and I got a great spread of coffee, tea, biscuits and other miscellaneous snacks. At the end there was some barbecued sausages (not my kind of thing but I digress), homemade cous cous and quiche, whisky and yet more coffee. During bigger Audaxes like Bryan Chapman 600, the £32 fee buys you all the food at the staffed controls, a few hours’ kip in the Youth Hostel around the halfway mark and a cracking spread of cakes and coffee at the very end. Also, there are usually dogs at HQ and they won’t care that you smell a bit.
I think you’d struggle to get better value than that!
“I don’t have a proper Audax bike”
Define what an Audax bike is: a frame, two wheels, a couple of gears more than you’re probably used to, a few lights, maybe a saddle bag. Sounds like a normal bike to me! I have a 2016 Giant Propel with di2 but I’ve had new wheels built with a front dynamo hub (with dynamo lights) and I’ve got a 32T on the back so also had to get a long cage rear mech. It does exactly what I need and I have the ability to add TT bars for longer outings. Sure, there are plenty of old blokes with their trusty steel steeds with a Carradice strapped to the back but I personally use the Rapha x Apidura bike bags and they do exactly the same thing.
On another note, I love ogling at everyone’s bikes because they’re all so unique and adapted to personal preferences. You see every kind of bike and rider on Audaxes, which is one of the best reasons to ride them.
The purpose of my tweet wasn’t to criticise sportives – they have their place in the market – but my question remains, why aren’t Audaxes more popular?
** I read this great blog recently about why Audaxing is like Tinder without sex, check it out if that description has piqued your interest!