OCTOBER 3, 2023
WHAT IS AUDAX?
An introduction to self-supported long distance cycling.
Words by Ed Bartlett
Like the world around us, cycling seems to move faster with each passing season. Faster bikes. Faster kit. Faster riders setting faster records. Throw in an endless aspirational feed of performance-obsessed marketeers and ‘influencers’ and there is little wonder that so many riders are left feeling like they aren’t good enough.
However, a diverse and growing community of individuals are choosing a different path. They value the journey over the destination, camaraderie over competition, and endurance over speed. This is the world of Audax – an ancient but increasingly popular discipline that invites riders (‘randonneurs’ in Audax parlance) to explore the rugged beauty of long-distance cycling.
Unlike most cycling disciplines, Audax eschews speed in favour of endurance, self-sufficiency and determination. Audax goes beyond the realm of simple physical fitness, tapping into the mental and emotional fortitude of participants.
And the best bit? Literally everybody is welcome.
The origins of Audax
The term "Audax" derives from the Latin word meaning ‘bold’ or ‘audacious’. Its roots can be traced back to Italy in the late 19th century, when a group of like-minded individuals organised a range of physical endurance events to be completed within a set time and distance. Cyclists were tasked with riding 200km in 14 hours – roughly the length of a summer’s day.
300km in one day seems unthinkable until you consider an average overall speed requirement of less than 15 km/h.
Audax's popularity grew in early-20th century Europe, with the formation of official clubs and the standardisation of rules and regulations. Behind much of this was Henri Desgrange, who co-founded Audax Français in 1903 and would go on to organise the first Tour de France. In 1906 he entrusted Audax Français to the newly-formed Audax Club Parisien (ACP), who still serve as the sport's international governing body.
During this formative period, Audax events began to stand apart from races in two distinct ways. Firstly, Audax required riders to validate their progress at physical checkpoints (‘controls’) along the route. Secondly, organisers set a maximum overall speed, removing any reward for racing. These simple but effective features continue to define the Audax experience to this day.
Audax controls can be manned or unmanned, but usually a good chance to refuel.
From BP to PBP
At the heart of Audax cycling is the Brevet—a long-distance ride with a set route, distance and time limit, whose riders collect passport-style stamps at control points along the way. ‘Brevets Populaires’ (BP) routes can be as short as 50km, but the main ‘Brevets de Randonneur’ (BR) distances start from 200 kilometres and rise as far as the organiser's ambition. The oldest cycling event in the calendar, Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) is 1,200km long. Britain's blue-ribbon Audax, London-Edinburgh-London (LEL) covers 1,500km. Longer events are available, if you really want them.
Whilst a typical Brevet will occupy a few dozen riders on any given Saturday, flagship events like PBP and LEL run every 4 years, last a full week and attract thousands of participants from across the globe.
The sport is also a magnet for those who enjoy solitude. Some events are defined as 'permanent', allowing a single rider to sign up and set off at their leisure, evidencing their journey by collecting receipts from conveniently spaced villages. Creative types can also ask their local organiser to validate a self-designed ‘DIY’ route.
Points and awards are given for different types and combinations of routes, with most committed riders targeting at least one ‘Super Randonneur’ - gained by completing qualifying rides of 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km in a single season – and ‘Randonneur Round The Year’ (RRTY) - by completing a qualifying ride of at least 200km per month for 12 consecutive months.
Slow is (mostly) ok
Audax rules require riders to complete each distance within a predetermined time frame, which can vary from 13.5 hours for a 200-kilometre ride to 75 hours for a 1,000-kilometre challenge - an average overall speed of less than 15km/h. Sounds achievable, right? Now factor in stopping for food and drink, toilet breaks, mechanicals, routing errors, bad weather, tiredness, and countless other things that can occur when riding a bicycle for hours upon end, and you’ll soon find that average-moving-speed target creeping upwards.
What sets Audax even further apart is that riders are expected to be self-sufficient. There are no support teams, no signposting, no finishing order, and no prize money. It's just you, your bike, and the road. Participants carry everything they need for the journey - food, water, tools, and spare parts - with strategic stops made along the way. This self-reliance, coupled with daring route planning often designed to take riders out of their comfort zone, fosters a deep sense of adventure and self-discovery.
Audax is a great way to explore the road less travelled, with route planners taking great pride in creating memorable journeys.
And whilst an Audax is certainly not a race, completing a route within the time limit requires careful pacing, strategic breaks, and unwavering determination, especially as the target distance increases. This blend of physical and mental challenge is what draws many cyclists to Audax. The awards, patches, badges and camaraderie are what keeps them coming back.
The Spirit of Audax
Perhaps one of the most endearing and enduring aspects of Audax is its community. Riders form lasting bonds by sharing their trials and triumphs over long journeys. Despite - or perhaps because of - the focus on self-reliance, helping fellow riders is in fact fundamental to the Audax ethos, be it roadside mechanical assistance, sharing some flapjack, or recounting tales of rides gone by to help spin a few miles away.
Frame bags and cargo pockets can be a big help on long distance rides, especially when overnight riding is required. Patches encouraged but not required. Pic: Fergus Coyle
Audax is arguably more than just a sport; it's a lifestyle. It's both a journey of self-fulfilment, and an exploration of the world around us. It challenges riders to go beyond their limits - both physical and mental - and to savour the beauty of the road less travelled. In an age that highlights speed and competition like never before, Audax reminds us that there are other ways to challenge and reward ourselves on two wheels.
Kostüme cycling apparel: Designed to go the distance
Participating successfully in Audax requires not only physical and mental stamina, but also an acute awareness and management of comfort, utility and functionality. Riders spend hours - sometimes days - in the saddle, traversing a diverse mix of terrain and braving ever-changing conditions. Just like the bike they ride, the apparel they choose to wear needs to strike a delicate balance.
With the industry historically laser-focused on road racing, much of the technical cycling apparel has been out of tune with the needs of the committed randonneur. Indeed, rarely will you see a broader mix of clothing types in use than on your average Brevet. And while things have improved dramatically in terms of choice, performance and design in recent years, it’s this frustration – along with a general lack of sustainability focus – that inspired the original creation of the Kostüme brand.
We've developed and tested Kostume cycling apparel across multiple Audax seasons, paying close attention to the unique demands and needs of a broad mix of riders before perfecting each detail. Besides scoring highly in specialist cycling press (including a perfect 10 in road.cc for its comfort break friendly cycling shorts) Kostüme has gained significant recognition among Audax enthusiasts for its unique blend of functionality, comfort and style, and is fast becoming the brand of choice for long-distance and multi-day endurance and adventure cyclists. Our products have proven themselves on gruelling events like Paris Brest Paris, Bristol Glasgow Bristol and GBDURO, and so it goes without saying that every kind of rider will feel the benefits.
Here are five features that make Kostüme cycling apparel the perfect choice for long distance, Audax and multi-day cycling:
Kostüme uses the very best recycled fabrics.
1. Luxury recycled fabrics
As your mileage increases, you’ll find out how good a fabric really is. At Kostüme we obsess about finding truly great 100% recycled fabrics that feel like they disappear when you wear them, and it’s a common thread (pun intended) that you’ll find mentioned across our product reviews. Not so long ago, recycled fabrics were scratchy, shiny and clingy when wet. But the category has seen such focus and investment in recent years that it's now leading the way for performance, longevity and hand-feel. For proof look no further than our 10/10 bib short review, which calls the 100% recycled Lycra ‘the nicest thing I’ve ever put next to my skin.’ Over the course of a long ride, discomfort from sub-standard fabrics really adds up.
2. Practical design features
In Audax, practicality, comfort and convenience are key. All Kostüme cycling apparel features thoughtful design elements aimed at making rides more efficient and comfortable, ranging from extra rear pockets on the cargo jersey to bathroom-break-friendly bib shorts that allow you to leave your upper layers in place when nature inevitably calls.
Kostüme's 6-pocket cargo jersey increases long distance load, whilst bold artwork helps visibility. Pic: Anthony Pease
3. Protection from the elements
Spending an entire day (or more) on a bike dramatically increases the chance of encountering unpredictable weather conditions. Kostume's debut range is designed to provide the right balance of protection across three seasons, with thermal arm warmers, leg warmers and neck warmer easily stowed in the 6-pocket cargo jersey.
4. Enhanced visibility
Randonneurs ride day and night, in all weather conditions. Aside from incorporating reflective details through the product range to enhance visibility, our vibrant limited-edition artist designs help ensure you're seen by motorists and fellow road users.
5. Sustainable choices
When you spend countless hours traversing the natural world, you're more likely to care about its future. Kostüme combines a no-waste pre-order business model with the best available eco-friendly materials, ethical manufacturers, and countless small but important details and decisions. Our ‘Planet First’ approach recently led to Cyclist magazine naming us one of the most sustainable cycling brands.