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The UK Audax Conundrum

Audax UK
Audax UK
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An Audax is a self-supported ride to a set route. The route also has controls to show that you’ve completed the distance. These can be numbers from a road sign or a cafe receipt. Once finished, your route card is checked and then signed/stamped to show completion.

Each year I look at the list of sportives in the area (and a few further afield) and wince at the prices. Some are now hitting £30-40 which is an awful lot of money for some electronic timing (or not in one local case) and some village halls providing some cake.

Sure the routes are lovely and they’re a good excuse to go up either Dover’s Hill or Saintbury (every Stratford sportive goes up one of them) but do they really justify the cost to ride with a bunch of strangers of wildly different quality as we all try to get our best time. They’re not a race, we all know this, but the decent club riders will be going faster and probably working together far better.

Dover's Hill
Dover’s Hill

Doing an Audax

I’ve ridden an audax a few times now. In my first one, three of us took part. We turned up late due to me being a poor host and not offering breakfasts in bed. As a result we spent nearly the whole ride together without anyone else.

It was a 100km audax, so easily done. Without the sportive aspect of competition, we had a relaxing trundle around Worcestershire and at a fraction of the cost. Our audax involved a 30-minute stop for ice lollies in Evesham. Followed by another 30-minute nap in the village of Great Alne. Anyone deviating off-route into the Co-op on a sportive would be frowned upon. This audax had the aura of a casual ride with friends though.

There’s a fun one that starts and finishes in Meriden. I’ve done the 160km and 100km versions of that ride. It heads down to the Cotswolds onto roads that I know inside out. The ride that captured the same feeling as the first ride was one from Tewkesbury with George. Again, it was only 100km long so didn’t take all day. The day was sunny and hot and one of the stops was at a pub by the River Severn. Perfect!

The longest one that I’ve completed is a 200km audax across Wales and back in a day. It was December and I fell off on some ice about 1km into the ride. Luckily nothing was damaged, so I carried on and had fun.

Difference between Audaxes and Sportives

The difference between the Audax and the Sportive is generally the unsupported nature of the riding. There’s no signs on the roads, you’re navigating for yourself. There is usually a rest stop included. It is more of the pay your own way club ride coffee stop than a sportive feed station. There are a couple of information controls. Such as writing down numbers from fire hydrants in certain spots to prove that you’ve been around the route.

This is all done at on a much smaller budget. You’re effectively paying for a paper booklet to record the controls and for someone to create the route in the first place. Timing-wise, your result doesn’t matter. As long as you finish the audax route under the maximum time limit then you’ve done well. The maximum time limit is calculated from an average speed of about 8-10mph.

London - Edinburgh - London
London – Edinburgh – London

Because the Audax is about distance and not speed, it’s common to see 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km events. The are for training and qualification for the UK’s longest event of London-Edinburgh-London. Which in itself is training for Paris-Brest-Paris. The ultimate audax.

There’s something refreshing about just doing the miles. There’s no pressure to push yourself. You can enjoy the conditions and the scenery without having to keep up with a bunch of strangers.

Conclusions

I should make sure I ride more audaxes. Navigating is an absolute doddle with a Garmin, so I’m more than willing to do them on my own. At around £5-10 an event, an audax is a bargain. Especially compared to £40 for a sportive. You’ll no doubt have more fun and you’ll still get 100 miles up (at least!) if you want to.

Audax Bikes
Maps on the handlebars? That’s an Audax!

4 thoughts on “The UK Audax Conundrum”

  1. I met an audaxer once while out on my bike. we chatted whilst going up quite a big hill so he was in great shape and he was telling me about 600km rides and sleeping on the floors of village halls for a couple of hours over a weekend, before we parted ways and he carried on with his 150km sunday recovery ride. audaxers are as hard as nails!

    1. That’s made me think of my own random meeting cycling over Welsh hills – caught up with a 70 year old who told me about how he’d done London Edinburgh London 5 and a half times (half because his knee died on that one) and now at 70 was riding his first carbon bike and he was loving it.
      I hope I’ve accomplished anything close to that by the time I’m 70! They’re definitely hardcore!

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