Straight on at roundabout

All this for a fiver – 200K on A November Saturday
November 7, 2010, 1:48 pm
Filed under: 200, Audax information, Rides

Yesterday I rode a 200K audax – the Upper Thames – on a perfect November day, through some of the finest bits of the country, with some nice people.  And for the cost of a fiver.

I’ve been riding my bike on Audax events for some time – you ride between designated points within maximum and minimum time (it’s all about the challenge) and have normally enjoyed them.  But yesterday was rather special.

It all kicked off at Cholsey, which isn’t a million miles from Didcot.

A grey 7.30 start for a mixed collection of roadies gathered at a village hall.  Away in a big group of about 50 that quickly started to thin out to a long line along the main road.

To the left the line of the Chilterns rose above up above us through the weak November light.

Almost as soon as we started I found myself chatting to someone I’d met about two years ago and hadn’t spoken to since.  Then, we turned up a climb into the Chilterns towards Ipsden and Stoke Row.  And on the climb another rider introduced herself as someone whose blog I’d Twittered about.

Soon almost all the traffic had disappeared as we worked around in a loop toward Stoke Row.  We were riding through wooded lanes, which occasionally opened out to give stunning views down valleys and into open vales.

Red carpet at Bix

Despite the winds of the last few days many of the trees still held their leaves; creating vast banks of reds, golds, russets and greens.  And near Bix, to the north of Henley woodland floors were rich carpets of copper beech leaves.

For quite a while I chose to ride alone – climbing the long drag up to North End and Christmas Common where I stopped before the fast decent into Watlington.  At the top of the hill the view opens up South Oxfordshire and today allowed a glimpse of the Cotswolds.

After the first control near Wheatley I hooked up with two old friends and ploughed on towards Bicester swapping news about jobs, illnesses and bike components.  One lent me a spare inner tube as I’d already used all my spares.

Then, around Bicester, through the strange acres of the garrison, before turning up through the Oxfordshire villages towards Chipping Norton.  Here the Cotswold stone dominates everywhere bringing a brighter light.

South Oxfordshire from Christmas Common

A fast descent into Chipping Norton for a crowded and busy café stop.  And one of the pleasures of these rides for me is to sit at a table with people I rarely see and chat for 20 minutes about nothing in particular.

Over the years I think I have made dozens of friendships which exist only in the punctuation of these long rides.  In time I have met a wide range of people – a serious minded partner in a City law firm, a generous and warm builder (who welded together his own bikes) and countless other people who have made me laugh, think and resolve to carry on when I was feeling like giving up.

Other roadies joke about the cake eating obsession of Audax riders when in fact the cake is just the excuse – it’s all about the ten to twenty minutes of comradeship that happen when a bunch of people doing the same challenge stop at the same time.  I’ve not experienced another area of life where Brits are so easy to meet and connect with.

As I left the café, I hooked up with a friend from earlier and downwards into the Thames Valley at speed though Minster Lovell, Brize Norton and Stanford in the Vale as the light went.  Driven by my companion’s desire for a pint at the finish we hurtled along dark back lanes and watched firework burst in the sky from far away.  From high ridges we saw the orange glows of November bonfires picking out vales and valleys as we swung to the south and Didcot and returned to the start just before 7 pm.

And I marvel that we got all this for a fiver.  For such a tiny sum someone worked out a fantastic route for us, organised a starting point with a car park, laid on coffee and Danish pastries, bright together a large number of friendly people and provided fantastic soups and cakes at the finish – next door to a pub!

On top of that we had clear and mild weather all day, amazing views by day and spectacular entertainment in the sky after dark.

All this for a fiver.

Is Audax destined to be a minority sport?
October 30, 2010, 6:55 pm
Filed under: Audax information, PBP, Why

A depressing afternoon watch Saracens get beaten by Exeter sent me home wishing I’d been out on the bike. At least the day wasn’t wasted as I have planned my 2011 Paris Brest Paris campaign – I think I have worked out which qualifiers I would like to ride; which is probably a bit sad in October.

Perhaps that slight obsessiveness is one of the reasons why Audaxing doesn’t seem to appeal to as many people I would hope.

In fact there has been quite a lot of debate on the web recently asking why, despite the massive growth in the popularity of cycling, the numbers of people doing audax events hasn’t really risen much in the last few years.

This has led me to a few conversations with a number of people about how do we get more media coverage for audax events and a few weeks back I did a little research into the external image of Audaxing.

On-line no one really talks about Audaxing.  According to Google Insights people rarely search for Audax events (they do search for Audax-type cycles) and a conversation with a very good friend at the excellent Evans Cycles tells me that no one ever walks into a bike shop and asks about Audaxing.

However, a review of media coverage shows that time and again the word ‘challenge’ comes up in the connection of cycling events.  People seem to buy a nice bike, get the hang of local routes and realise that they can do something more.  They realise quickly that actually riding long distances like London to Paris or Lands End to John O’Groats is actually achievable with a bit of preparation.  Whilst most of us couldn’t imagine doing something like the Marathon Des Sables, we can sit on a bike for a few hours – and actually have fun in the process.

And Audaxing should fit the bill quite nicely for people looking for a bit of a challenge.

Every weekend there are events ranging from just 50Km to astonishing distances of 600km or more – which anyone can enter.  They cost almost nothing (most events cost about £5) and they are full of friendly people who will strike up a conversation at the drop of a hat – there are few aggressive young men racing for a time.  And best of all, when you get back to work on Monday and mention that you spent Saturday cycling from London to Wales and back your colleagues hail you as some form of modern Shakleton.

Audaxing is a challenge – but it’s democratic.  All you need is a bike, a fiver and a bucket of determination.  You don’t need to be a member of the Royal Marines, a five grand bike and a year of living as a monk.

But it get’s next to no media coverage.

This is going to be a challenge in the coming months that I’ve agreed to help rectify… so watch this space.


What am I on about?
August 4, 2009, 7:08 pm
Filed under: Audax information, Why

Riding my bike is my hobby.  Riding it long distances is my obsession.

For anyone not familiar with the world of Audax riding a visit to is a good place to start.  There you can see details of tens of rides that happen every weekend all over the UK.  There are rides varying in distance from 50km to 600km or even more.

It works, like this.  You sign up for a ride and pay a pathetic sum of about £3 and you get sent a route sheet.  Then you turn up at the appointed hour on the designated day at a remote rural village hall somewhere and meet a bunch of other riders.  You’ll be given a ‘brevet’ card and you ride your bike.

The route has to be ridden between a maximum (no racing!) and a minimum speed – the time limit is generous enough to allow tea stops and even the odd snooze on a bus shelter if needed.  And to ensure that you have ridden the right distance you have to get your card stamped at certain points (usually a tea shop somewhere).

And that’s it.  Well apart from the fact that you get to meet some interesting people and to see some of the most amazing parts of the country.

And the routesheet?  Ah, well that takes some getting used to.  It’s written in a funny sort of code that simply tells you, step by step, where to go.  R@T means turn right when you get to a T-junction, R@T (effectively SO) means “this road ends on the corner of another road, you’ll be turning right, but really you’re going straight on” and SO at RAB means… Straight on at the next roundabout…

Log on to the Audax site and find a ride to try out…we might meet up ‘up the road’