If you’ve been cycling for a while, you’ll probably have heard about audax rides or maybe encountered groups of riders who are kitted out for long-distance audax riding, usually with saddle bags and lights on their bikes.
But what is an audax, how do you sign up and what’s involved? Here’s our guide to all things audax, from the history of the format to the best equipment and kit for these events.
What is an audax?
In Latin, ‘audax’ can mean bold, audacious or daring. So it will likely come as little surprise that an audax is a self-supported long-distance cycle ride. Unlike a sportive, it’s not signposted and riders are free to choose their own route from start to finish, although there is often a recommended route.
When we say long distance, we mean it. Audax rides start at around 50km, but most are much longer, from 200km and stretching up to 1,000km. Every four years, Audax UK, which governs audax rides in the United Kingdom, stages the London-Edinburgh-London audax ride of 1,500km and there are similarly long audax events in other countries.
Alongside video manager Felix Smith, BikeRadar’s technical writer Oscar Huckle took on the 300km Moonrakers and Sunseekers overnight audax in early November 2022. He explains what it’s like to ride an audax.
“It’s really enjoyable in good weather conditions and significantly more low-profile than a sportive. The route isn’t signposted and while there is often a suggested route to follow, you are free to craft your own route,” he says.
While there might not be a set route, there is a set time limit to complete audax rides. Taking into account any stops along the way, riders typically have to maintain a minimum speed of 15kph. There’s also a maximum speed limit of 30kph, making sure it doesn’t become a race.
Unlike a race or a sportive, rider times and finish positions are not published. Although some audax rides are set up as solo efforts, you can usually ride in a group. A tight camaraderie can develop among audax riders, which Oscar experienced, saying this aided the enjoyment of his ride.
“It was great to ride with like-minded and friendly audaxers and everyone tried to help each other where they could,” he says.
“At least in the first half, there was always a group to ride with and if you felt like you were trailing, there was no expectation to take a turn on the front. A ride will always feel like it passes quicker when you are riding with good company.”
You’re expected to be self-sufficient on audax rides, although some audax organisers do provide food stops along the way. Otherwise, you’ll need to carry your own food or stop and buy it, which is often why you see audax riders loaded up with handlebar or frame bags.
If you have a mechanical, you can get help to fix it or fix it yourself, but there’s no broom wagon or other support. If you can’t get your bike (or you) going again, you’ll have to find your own way home.
If you just want to ride one or a few events as a challenge, then that’s all there is to it.
However, if you get the audax bug, there’s a whole world of audax riding controlled in the UK by Audax UK. Join up and Audax UK will keep a tally of your kilometres ridden, has awards for total distances covered and gives you access to prestigious randonnée events in the UK and abroad.
The history of audax rides
Audax pre-dates almost all organised cycling events with the exception of racing. It dates back to 1897, when audax rides started to provide a non-competitive alternative to racing.
In Europe, audax is called randonneur riding and is governed worldwide by the Paris-based Brevet de Randonneurs Européens. Audax UK is an affiliate organisation and was founded in 1976.
The grandaddy of audax rides is Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP), a 1,200km ride that takes place every four years (the next run is in August 2023). More than 6,000 riders take part and, to limit numbers, each must have completed a ride certified by Audax UK (or equivalent body in another country) of a specified length.
Registration starts off open only to those who have ridden a 1,000km event in the previous season and gradually drops down the distance table until entries are full. There’s more on Audax UK’s PBP page.
What is Audax UK?
Audax UK is the organisation that controls audax rides in the UK. You don’t have to be a member to ride an audax, although there’s usually an additional fee for non-members to join a ride.
You can join Audax UK for £18 for a calendar year (join towards the end of a year and you’ll get a few extra months the following year). You can also sign up for multiple years, freezing the annual membership fee, although there’s no discount.
Members are sent Audax UK’s quarterly magazine Arrivée, which includes features on Audax events, profiles of riders and challengers they’re undertaking, plus an Audax calendar, to name just three things.
Alongside controlling individual rides, Audax UK keeps a tally of its members’ distance and event totals for the year and credits them with points towards its annual competitions.
Anyone who rides one or more audax events of 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km (at all of these distances) in a year qualifies as a Super Randonneur; if they ride one or more 200km audaxes each month in a year they’re a Randonneur Round The Year rider. You’ll need to have ridden some of these longer events to qualify for entry to some of the more prestigious randonnées in the UK and abroad.
RUSA has a similar function for US riders, with awards for covering specified distances in a calendar year and for riding an audax every month for a year. It also has a magazine for members, available online only. Membership costs from $30 a year.
What is a brevet card?
Probably the best-known aspect of audaxes is the brevet card. This is a small card you must have stamped at various checkpoints, called controls, along the route, to prove you’ve ridden the audax, completed each section within the time limit and not taken the train. Each control has an opening and closing time to reflect the maximum and minimum allowed speeds.
Controls are typically spaced at 50 to 80km intervals and can take a variety of forms, from a roadside table through to a cafe, pub or other business. Sometimes, a control will provide food and drink, sometimes you can buy it, sometimes there’s nothing. Some controls on longer rides even provide sleeping facilities.
Not all controls involve a stamp. Sometimes a ride will ask for a receipt from a cafe or a bank cash machine to prove the time at which you passed through that location.
In other cases, there will be an ‘information control’, which asks a question about something at a location (for example a road sign or landmark) and you write the answer on your brevet card to prove you were there.
You may be able to hand in your brevet card at the end of a ride or you may need to mail it to the organiser to verify. The organiser will send your brevet card on to Audax UK to validate, then send it back to you, a process that can take several weeks.
Times move on though, so Audax UK will allow organisers to accept GPS traces as proof of passage. There’s also an e-brevet phone app that can be used on some rides.
Audax routes and distances
Audax rides tend to be long, although they don’t have to be. Some routes are designed to test your endurance, others your hill climbing, with lots of hills in a shorter ride.
Audax organisers will know the terrain through which you’re riding and have usually tested the route, too. The recommended route is likely to stay off busier roads as much as possible and showcase the best that a region has to offer.
Longer routes are likely to involve riding in the dark, so often those sections will avoid complicated navigation, although not always.
Organisers may provide a GPS file for a route, but bear in mind that longer audax rides may tax the battery life of a cycling computer, so you may need a paper backup, external battery pack or even a dynamo.
Types of events
Not all events need to be completed on a specific day. Although there are rides called Calender Events that start on a specified day at a defined time, other events, called Permanents, can be ridden whenever you like.
You just fill in your entry for a Permanent and you’ll be sent a brevet card and route. You’re then free to head off when you want, on your own or in a group, completing your brevet card to prove you’ve followed the route and finished it within the time limit and sending the brevet card off for validation.
Audax UK will also accept DIY events, where you plan a route over one of its standard distances and collect your own controls as you ride on a blank brevet card you’ve bought from Audax UK. A GPS trace is also acceptable evidence.
Another option is to ride to and from the start of a Calendar Event. If your added distance gets you to a standard distance (a round number such as 200km or 300km) Audax UK will tack the extra distance onto your ride and add on the extra points gained.
How to find an audax near you
Audax UK makes it really easy to find events to ride, as does RUSA, which like Audax UK has a ride search function on its site.
For Calendar Events, scheduled to take place on a specific day, Audax UK keeps a catalogue of events. There’s a starting location and time, distance, climbing total, fee and organiser listed for each.
You can find events by scrolling down the list by date or search on a map view. There’s also a sophisticated search that enables you to narrow down events by name, distance from a postcode and other parameters.
You can click through for further details of the event, its precise start point and its route, often including a GPX file, sign up and pay. You can also save an event as a ‘maybe’ to decide later if you’re up for it. An event will have a closing date to register, so you’ll have to sign up before this date if you want to take part.
Entry fees are generally a lot cheaper than for a sportive, although non-members of Audax UK will have to register with Audax UK first and generally must pay a supplement. Under-18s need parental consent.
There’s a similar page on Audax UK’s site with search facilities for Permanent Events. Since there’s no organisation involved, fees here are even lower, designed to cover the admin.
What bike and kit do you need for an audax?
Audax UK says you can ride whatever bike you want for an audax, including tricycles and recumbents. Oscar explains how he saw a wide range of bikes when he rode the Moonrakers and Sunseekers audax:
It’s worth keeping in mind a few things when considering what bike to ride for an audax. Due to the length and self-supported nature of audax rides, it’s recommended you choose a bike that’s comfortable and reliable.
Audax UK recommends choosing low gears rather than high gears; what could be an easy hill to climb on a short ride may be considerably harder after 200km in the saddle.
The organisation also recommends wider rather than narrower tyres, stating 28mm tyres are a good compromise, and that SPD pedals and shoes are a wise choice because you can walk in them.
Many of the best winter road bikes will tick the right boxes for audax riding, with clearance for wider tyres, mudguard mounts and often a more relaxed geometry suited to clocking up big miles.
Having said all this, it’s probably best to choose a bike that you know, as Oscar did.
“I chose to ride my first audax on a conventional road bike. I’d recommend riding a setup you are familiar with over long distances to mitigate the risk of any discomfort the further into the ride you go,” he says.
In terms of what to wear, it’s best to dress for the season, as you would on any ride. Audax UK says it is better to wear road-specific cycling kit rather than mountain bike clothing.
Due to the length of time you’ll likely be riding, it’s wise to pack extra layers as well as gloves and a hat. Some riders will take spare clothing such as a baselayer or jersey to avoid becoming cold should they get wet.
“Dress for the weather conditions, bearing in mind if the ride is going to take you into the night where it’ll be colder,” Oscar says.
Having the right kit to ensure you are safe out on the road is essential to self-supported riding and making sure you have a great time on your audax ride.
Any ride over 300km, or before April or after mid-September here in the UK, will likely require bike lights. Many seasoned audax riders will take a back-up set of lights in case their primary lights fail.
Carrying tools and spares to fix any roadside repairs is wise, too. Audax UK recommends taking two spare inner tubes, a puncture repair kit, Allen keys and a bike pump, along with other tools some may consider less necessary, such as cable ties and a small pen knife.
“A good lighting system is crucial if you’ll be riding in the dark, with many riders opting for a dynamo setup. Virtually every rider other than myself used a bikepacking or pannier bag to carry equipment. I carried everything I needed in my jersey and cargo bib shorts and got on fine,” Oscar says.
What else should you be aware of?
When you’re undertaking an audax, taking the time to prepare for the long distance is a wise idea. Planning what you need and taking the time to train up to the distance you’ll be riding will stand you in the best stead.
This is something Oscar found from his first experience of an audax ride.
“I learnt that preparation is the key to success if you’re tackling a distance you haven’t ridden before,” he says.
“It’s worth trying to get a few training rides in before the event to build yourself up and that way, you can also test your bike setup and discover what works for you and what doesn’t.
“I made sure I had one to two weeks before the event of tapering down so you start the ride on fresh legs.”
There’s loads more advice on preparing for and riding events, lighting and nutrition on the Audax UK website.