Resources, information, and thoughts. Not too serious. Hopefully might save you some time / provide some food for thought / provide someone else’s experience about routes / preparation / behaviours / stuff. All comments are based on personal experience, except where noted.
“Crafty men condemn web-sites, simple men admire them, and wise men use them; for they teach not their own use; but that is a wisdom without them, and above them, won by observation.” Francis Bacon, adapted.
999 Miglia di Roma e del Sud (2017). The heat of it. The physicality of the sun at around 3 pm. Climbing, and descending; effort and concentration; views and rhythm. Pretty towns, amidst quite desolate landscape; and pretty villages, among greener and more rolling hills. Swifts or swallows at dusk. Too many traffic jams; slowing down to a walking place as the cars negotiate the small lanes in the villages of the Adriatic Coast — while power-boats play around the yachts in the blue bays below. Wrists, braking on the drops. Physical relief when the sun goes down; legs picking up. The pleasing variety of controls. The dogs kicking off in the night, howling their hearts out to their own content. The lake of frogs, suddenly puncturing the silence of a warm night after the forest of wolves. Watching the sun rise, and the sun set; whole days, as ever. An empty plastic bottle, cracking as the air pressure reduced. The graceful courtesies of strangers. Beautiful views, and industrial views; unsightly main roads, and many more pretty roads in the country, and the abandoned cantoniera. Café-bars, and bar-men with machismo, and the pastries. Gelateria; zuppa-inglese — home made better. The many frustrations of tubeless. The hell of headwinds on a flat plain. The music matching the moment. At 20km of climbing, and given some of the traffic on the roads, tougher than the Miglia Italia; but not quite as pretty, or as various.
Abuse. People in cars like shouting things. Dogs like barking at strangers. Sticks and stones … This doesn’t happen in France or Italy; or rather, they shout encouraging things, non-ironically. (The accident statistics are about the same, though.)
Audax. A way of remembering how beautiful the British Isles can be. And how wet; how windy; and how icy. Enjoying local cafés. Getting comfortable on your bike. Not spending too much. Learning to pace yourself. Remembering that in two hours’ time you’ll be enjoying yourself again. Unwinding from the week. Marvelling at how quick some people can ride, and for how long. Appreciating the genius of cable-ties. Seeing the sun come up; and seeing it go down, on the same day. Riding through a warm summer’s night. Podcasts about audaxing (from Nocturne, and so with an American flavor) can be found here and here.
Bike Lights. For audax, dynamos have been pretty much the standard in the past. Now, though, for anything up to and including 600k, there are plenty of battery lights that are as good as dynamo lights, and which don’t come with a 5w and 300g penalty, and which keep bicycles free of wires (see Exposure). Also, battery lights are now more powerful than dynamo lights — even when STVZO compliant (see B+M and Lupine and, from November 2018, Exposure). It would be reasonable to say that from now on the most efficient bikes would not use dynamos. Dynamo lights, though, are reasonably priced, and far less fuss. B+M and Edelux II are both good: for B+M lookout for Luxos U (not B, which only goes to 70 lux), and IQ-X. The Luxos U has a wider and better beam shape, but at the cost of a weaker beam.
Bryan Chapman Memorial. One of the 600k rides. If you’ve good weather, one of the most rewarding cycling experiences. The scenery, especially on the northern part of the route, will make you forget the pain. And there’s quite a lot of pain, on the northern part. A route that it’s worth invoking the cliché for: everyone should ride it once. A superbly supported ride. (2015, 2016, 2017.)
Bath (city). Some decent hills and the remarkable two tunnels.
Batteries, portable. An increasingly good solution for powering GPS, phones, etc. (Garmin Edges / gps computers often won’t manage to last through a 200k.) The other option is a hub dynamo with a usb socket. But there’s a 4 to 5W cost to charging this way; carrying a battery and not using the hub is probably (some minutes) quicker, if that matters to you. (See Garmin below.) Things to look out for: how quickly they charge other devices; how quickly they charge themselves. In 2018, the main difference was those that could do both at 2A or at 1A. The 2A batteries charge twice as fast.
Bodging, Routesheet holder. This looks like a very neat solution.
Bodging, SKS. So you want to ride the widest tyres / tyres with the largest volume of air you can. Sensible. But you want to run mudguards too? And you haven’t got a sensibly designed, steel / titanium / stainless steel frame? Or one of those very new carbon frames with big clearances? Ah. You need to bodge your mudguards, so they take away nothing from the clearance you do have. The front is easy. Cut off all the mudguard in front of the attachment to the brake bolt. Probably a good idea to ‘deepen’ the hole in the attachment so that you can push the mudguard a little further away from the wheel. (You want a decent amount of clearance; think muddy lanes; think sticky bits of gravel on summer tarmac. It may help to leave a gap between mudguard and front fork, to give material a small extra chance of exiting, not jamming.) Negative consequences: the front mudguard will now throw a stream of water in front of you, some of which will come back; and welcome to the world of toe overlap, or more toe overlap. Bodging the rear mudguard is trickier and more bike dependent. Basically: the SKS bridge now sits in front of the bridge / seat side of the bridge on the seat stays, holding as much of the rear mudguard as will fit between the chain stay attachment and seat stay bridge; then you’ll need the Portland Design Works Full Metal Fender Hardware Kit (or the ability to shape a piece of fairly strong steel strip) to give you a bracket that attaches to the brake bolt, rises above the brakes, and descends so that it can hold the rear part of the mudguard. Tip: watch out to make sure the overall length of the mudguard (two pieces plus gaps) is the same as a complete standard mudguard; otherwise the rear reflector or dynamo light may not be in the right place. Icing on the cake: you might put a little bit of 3M helicopter tape under the rear bridge; you might use some old (motorcycle) inner tube to provide flexible rubber extensions to cover the gaps between the cut mudguards and the seat bridge and brakes. But since 2016 see SKS Race Blade Pros. These are excellent both for ease and durability; if not quite as good as the bodge above in terms of coverage.
Bonking, the cycling version. Surprisingly unpleasant, but worth experiencing once, so that you know what everyone is talking about. To achieve the full effect set off on a 200k audax and simply bounce (get a stamp; do not get food — but it’s polite to leave something in the courtesy box etc) all the controls. Do not cycle particularly fast; for the full effect you want to keep your efforts anaerobic. If you reach the end of the audax without feeling too bad, congratulations; you have reached endurance cycling nirvana, and can probably keep on cycling all day and all night. More likely, somewhere around 130k, you will have noticed that you are feeling light-headed; and then have felt as sick as the proverbial parrot; and then have felt generally disorientated. You’ve also now probably got Bambi-legs and arms — as you’ll notice when you come to the next hill. Most likely you’ll tough it out to the next control, particularly since you no longer feel hungry; there you’ll order a full cooked breakfast or cream tea and then spend 20 minutes willing yourself to eat it, and then willing yourself to keep it down. Back on the bike, you’ll be surprised that you are still feeling dreadful an hour later. And then you’ll feel the bonk drifting off, like the detached train-carriage in a (near-)disaster movie, or a hang-over late on Monday morning. Hopefully for you, this will all have been happening on a warm summer’s day when it didn’t really matter.
Bristol. A relatively cycling-friendly city, if you can ignore the steep hills — hills which made its gaining of Britain’s first ever ‘cycling city’ label all the more impressive (or ironic) in 2008. Home of Sustrans (who, as Cyclebag, got the Bath and Bristol Cycleway going). As of 2017 have their own bicycle hire scheme (‘get around for a pound’).
Buckingham Blinder. (Cardiff — Buckingham — Cardiff. 2017 — 10 pm start.) Out via Yate, Swindon and Oxford, returning via Witney and Malmesbury. A pleasant enough night ride, through sensibly chosen roads. Dawn breaking on the approach to Oxford — could not quite see the Spires against the rising sun, but almost. Temperatures down to 5C, from 12C at start. The route from Buckingham takes you back through a lot of the lovely roads in and around the Cotswolds, with some bluebell woods, plenty of dandelion fields, and probably too many fields of rape — the smell was the distinctive feature of the trip, loosing out to the occasional scent of wisteria warmed by the cotswold stone of some fabulously expensive cotswold cottage. Then there’s the Cerney Wick Lock and Somerset Monument, though it’s really the villages that steal the show. There are some that I imagine wouldn’t enter ‘prettiest village’ contests because they’d rather not be spoiled by the attention that would come with winning … Over the Aust bridge, and everything gets less interesting, which is largely a result of the road, not the countryside. And then there are (once is enough for a lifetime) the traffic lights of Newport for a second time, and those sharp little hills on the way up north in Cardiff. It’s not over, this route, until it’s over. The arrivée, in a hotel lobby, is a bit desolate.
Carradice. The Junior saddlebag deserves more love. It’s 9l, and weighs around 460g, and does not stick out (it isn’t wider than you are). This compares quite favourably with bike-packing stuff (and is about half the price or less); and it (like all Carradice bags) is vastly more practical for day-to-day use (i.e. if you want to be taking things in and out of your saddlebag / bike-pack). It is made even more practical with a Bagman support, because this makes access to the contents more or less perfect. The support does add 350-odd grams, though. See also saddlebags for more general info.
Clothes, for 600k+ in warmer British weather. Modularity would seem to be the way to go — that is arm warmers and windproof gillet in place of a jacket. This makes storage so much easier when it’s hot during the day. The alternative would be to have a really big saddle-bag (say 15l), or panniers.
Clothes, for 1200k+. Surprisingly little different from clothes for 600k+. You’re not going to be smelling of violets; and you’re either going to be in the company of other cyclists, who’ll smell the same; or your odour will guarantee the claims of excessive mileage you’re likely to be making to the non-cyclist. You might want to take an extra pair of shorts.
Company. Very good to have, particularly when riding through the night. The etiquette on joining a group, or riding with another person, or taking one’s turn at the front — this seems the closest thing to good manners in audax; it’s complex. People are generally friendly, but some people like riding alone; some people are happy to drag others along, while others are not; and the general understanding seems to be that everyone rides at their own speed when he or she feels like it, and that you shouldn’t take that personally if it means someone riding away or dropping behind.
Computers. The great advantage of a bike computer over a gps (enabled computer) is that the battery lasts for months, if not years, rather than for hours. They are also smaller and lighter. The Bontrager Node 2.1 is well thought out, and tells you what you want to know while cycling. Its weakness is its light at night. (Its cost is a little deceptive, as it includes a decent hrm strap. The strap is better quality than the Garmin version, because it seems less prone to spiking or dropping out.)
Controls. The places where you get your Brevet card stamped — or pick up a receipt in place of a stamp. Where these are cafés, it’s probably a good idea to ‘pay’ for a stamp (put a £1 in the tip glass?) if you’re not eating or drinking. Especially when you consider that if the control is a petrol station, you have to buy something to get a receipt; and it would be a bit odd to give Esso or BP a pound, but not Mr and Mrs Jenkins running their cafe. Probably, though, it’s a good idea to take a bit of time to eat something tasty — and savoury, if you’re on one of the longer rides.
Danger. Audaxes tend to take in small lanes, and often feature small bits of riverside paths, gravel footpaths, and so on. They go on into the night. In the winter they feature ice. Roads, at the best of times, have potholes and manhole covers aplenty. Going down a long sweeping descent you don’t know in the rain and the dark isn’t conducive to safety. Quite a lot isn’t, in audaxes. But they do tend to avoid busy A-roads. Whether that choice make statistical sense, I don’t know.
Drinking. In theory avoid sugar, but take in minerals. See ‘eating’. Do lots of it.
Dynamos. Dynamos are generally a good thing. Scientists may be able to measure the drag, but you cannot feel it. Dynamos are a lot less faff than battery lights. (If your audax bike is your day-to-day bike, this makes a huge difference.) They don’t run down; and they are much less likely to be nicked. Dynamos have very good road lights available — typically German; B+M are very good in terms of price, quality, and performance. (‘Very good’ does not equal brightest. It suggests lights which illuminate a tarmac road well enough to ride at 20 mph +, and which do not dazzle other road users.) For dynamos, Son have an enviable reputation. Some say Son28 build stronger wheels than SonDeluxe. Son28 produce more current than the SonDeluxe, and are now only about 120g or so heavier (the difference used to be considerably more). These days increasing numbers of people are using their dynamos to give them an USB outlet. The B+M Luxos Q gives a relatively reasonably priced, and rather neat, USB outlet. It has a battery inside the light housing, that does a decent job of smoothing the output. ‘Unsmooth’ outputs (fluctuating current?) can cause Garmins to power down. The floodlight function on the Luxos Q makes a genuine difference.
Eating. The longer the audax, the more important eating is. Avoiding bonking, obviously, but aim also to avoid peaks and troughs. Eating fairly constantly seems the most useful advice. (See Tri-bag.) Beyond that? Useful foods: oatcakes, mixed nuts, or a third of a protein bar, with an occasional slice of ham, every 20 minutes or so. Theoretically, you would want to avoid sugar and carbohydrates, and stick to fats and protein. Basically you want to avoid anaerobic exercise, because that relies on burning sugar (glycogen) and you don’t have much of that. Instead you want to keep to aerobic levels of exercise, which allow your body to metabolize your fat deposits, of which there is a great deal more. Eating sugary foods is rather like anaerobic exercise; it shuts down the metabolizing of fats. And the problem is you can’t take on enough sugars — your stomach can’t process it — to replace the energy you’ll be expending cycling. More importantly, cakes are nice, as is soft ice-cream, etc. And audax is largely about enjoyment, especially if you enjoy a challenge.
Expense. Expense can be good or bad. Buying something that works well and is going to last is a pleasure, if you can afford it. But audax has quite a parsimonious ethos. It’s part of the self-reliance. There’s a kudos to a steel bike from the 1980s which bears its scars. Or to a shopping bike pressed into long distance service. The problem is, those sorts of bikes take a lot more effort to push around the route. That’s more kudos of course; but how much do you need? Audaxes, in truth, are often exercises in bike porn, if bikes take your fancy. There are lots of beautifully sorted bikes, of all kinds of expensive flavours, including tandems and recumbents. There’s also a lot of appreciation, and little to no snobbery.
Flies. A feature of summer riding. There must be a lot of them about. How else could so many find their way into your mouth?
Food. Audaxers eat beans on toast for mains, and cold rice pudding with tinned peaches for desert. Some are willing to have the peaches on top of the pudding, others feel that the less contact between peaches and pudding the better. Cake is the all-purpose, anytime, anyway snack. Audax can be quite vegetarian friendly. Tea is often still made in large aluminium teapots, which is a good thing. Some of the cakes are awesome.
Four-leafed Clover. An audax which puts the ‘c’ in charm. Gently rolling countryside, full of charming villages, and one very tall maypole. Generally good roads. An excellent ride if you are new to audaxing — the route centres on a village hall, going out in circles into the surrounding countryside. (Oddly, given the name, there are only three loops.) So if you decide you’ve had enough, or something goes wrong with the bike, you’re never too far from the start. The village hall is also full of cakes, sandwiches, soup and more (2015 and 2017) — incentivizing. A quick 200 — and there is also a 100 and a 50.
Front lights. If you’re cycling on a road, a shaped beam is a good idea. Dazzling cars is counter-productive. Shaped beams often equal German lights (B+M), as they’ve got sensible laws about these things. See also Dynamos and Luxos.
Garmin. The Prince of Frustration, but ruler of the roost. The Edge series, for all their quirks — poor screens, the habit of telling you the route has been lost when it hasn’t, the habit of flashing up a warning message obscuring the upcoming turn on the map, the inability to distinguish between coasting and too low cadence, the tendency to lock up and need a reset on routes over 300k (apparently a feature of the Edge 800, others are reportedly better, but I’ve found the same on the 810 — and many say the 810 is a lot more usable than the 820, on account of the 820’s problematic touch screen), the relatively short battery life, the hrm straps that work one hour and not the next (Polar and 4iiii are better) — still manage to be, as a package, a little bit better than all the other options. Compared with phones, they cope with rain, and can be operated in it. They are robust. They give you a lot of useful info in an efficient manner. And, as of 2017, versus Wahoo — they can give you warnings about time, cadence, heart-rate. You can cycle through the screens to the left and right. The mapping is clearer. Wahoo have software / hardware issues too — I experienced problems with loading routes, and various signals dropping out on short rides. Some people still use Garmin eTrex as they last longer, and run off replaceable batteries. Edges can, though, be run off battery packs or dynamos pretty easily. If you use a dynamo it’s not a bad idea to run it into a battery pack first (get one with pass through charging). This is less efficient, but smooths the current, and means you won’t need a charge only cable (or to modify a normal cable). Quite a few people now use apps on smartphones, at least for 200ks. Remember that charging via a dynamo is going to cost about 4W. DC Rainmaker is a good, if non-audax, source of reviews.
Gears. A low gear is great good thing. Contador rides a 34 x 32. (Bless him.) Some people ride single-speeds, often, they say, to add interest. My knees have no idea of what they are on about.
Glasses. An item that seems an extravagance, then a necessary luxury, and then a necessity. Things that hit your eyes at 30 mph (gravel from a car’s tyres, insects, etc) hurt. Wind hurts after a certain point. Normal glasses help (but not glass glasses). Cycling glasses are very much better.
GPS. Good in the day, and excellent at night. Using route sheets and an odometer can be more enjoyable — less rubbernecking as you constantly glance up and down to see if there is a turn coming up. Some audaxers use both methods. See Garmin. If using a gps it’s a good idea to split a route into several sections, each one ending at a control. It’s also a good idea not to rely exclusively on the Garmin. Nearly everyone has a cautionary tale.
Heart Rate Monitor. Really helpful for learning how to pace yourself. And audax is all about pacing yourself. To use it well you’ll need to know your lactic-acid thresholds. If you get a Garmin, be prepared for the Garmin HRM strap to decide when, where, and for how long it wants to work. Rinsing the HRM band after every ride, and washing after 7 rides, may help. (It didn’t for me; but Polar straps just worked). So may keeping the layer above the hrm out of the wind (hard to do, mind, in summer).
Helmets. Joins the list of politics and religion as a subject difficult to discuss. The BMJ (British Medical Journal) has a page which might make many discussions more useful, ‘Bicycle Helmets and the Law‘. A flow chart you may or may not find helpful.
Hubs. Hopes are very popular; and they make a lot of noise. If you want a quiet hub, DuraAce are nice, and expensive, and in my experience don’t need touching in the first 20,000 miles. They don’t, sadly, make them in silver anymore. At present, if you have discs, Ultegra-standard hubs are your best choice (the snappily named FH-RS770). If you like the sound of bumble bees, Chris King look nice, are very expensive, and need special tools to service. They come in silver.
Lactic acid. Your enemy. The leg-killer. If you produce more than your muscles can flush away, things will quickly get a lot less enjoyable. So find out when you start producing lactic acid in greater quantities, and when you start producing lactic acid in serious quantities. (These are different thresholds.) Then try to avoid producing a lot of lactic acid. You can find out these ‘whens’ by having a VO2 test; or by working it out yourself. (2017 — I’ve read articles disputing the role of lactic acid in tiredness. Those arguments may be true, but the ‘whens’ that lactic acid production produce seem very helpfully indicative.)
Lights. Important to your safety (the most important accessory? — and hence a legal requirement); and important to your ability to go at a decent speed in the dark (flashing LEDs don’t cut it out of town). There are incredibly powerful lights available. These have their place (generally off-road); but it’s important not to blind other road-users coming the other way. For relatively powerful lights which have a shaped beam, look to German manufacturers (increasingly B+M?). A good beam picks up the verges, as well as illuminating the road ahead. A lot of audaxers use dynamo lights.
Locks. Good locks are heavy. Very few people use good locks on an audax. Cheap locks are light. Most people use very cheap locks. Abus’ combination chain-lock is popular. Get the version with the 120cm wire, not the 90cm version.
LPO. A key concept in audaxing. The Lightest Practical Option.
Luxos Q (B+M). Increasingly frequently used dynamo light in UK and on continent. Very practical beam pattern — illuminates the whole road in front of you, including both verges. This is very useful. Also, uses a shaped beam — and so doesn’t glare at oncoming road users. Be careful though — angle of light is critical. Get it right and you have good vision for 20m. Be a degree or two out, and the light seems puny. Durability as known to me: 1 broke after 2.5 years; another broke after 1.5 years. Both replaced under 5year guarantee from Rose.
Malmesbury Mash. A nicely proportioned 200k, featuring a run out to Malmesbury from Cardiff Gate, then a short cut across to Slimbridge (about 30k), then a trip back to Cardiff Gate. The Welsh side from Cardiff to the Severn Bridge is a bit dull, with most of the interest — countryside and buildings — coming in the Cotswold. Malmesbury is packed full of nice cafes, and the pub at Slimbridge looked nice. Lanes can be quite muddy; take care on the descent into Dursley. This is quite steep, and often has a thin layer of mud.
Mendip Transmitter, The. A nice 100k featuring 3 decent hills, the stiffest coming first: Blagdon hill via Two Trees. This is one of those climbs that keeps on giving. After that, the Cheddar Gorge is a honey, and the climb out of Wells is sharp in places, but when it is sharp, brief. Some fine views, some nice downhills. Toast at the start, and a nice audax lunch at the finish. Some fabulous cakes.
Miglia Italia. ‘The longest and most extreme randonnée in Europe. Discover the landscapes, the scents and flavors in the most beautiful country in the world.’ Not an unfair description; at its fairest, perhaps, in making clear that this is a significantly stiffer challenge than PBP — and not just because, at 1600 km, it is 400 km longer. This is a ride with a lot of different kinds of challenges. There are long climbs, as on the way to Dicomano, south of Bologna. There is Devon down dale and up hill though on a bigger scale — 400m climbs — on the coast leading towards Genoa, deep into the ride, when legs are already tested and tired. There are short sections of grit riding on unpaved sections of the Eroica. There are wooden pontoon bridges with steel lead-ons to come upon by night. And there is always the risk that the road surface will suddenly turn shocking or, in some cases, just disappear. Or, to look at it more positively, as the handbook says: ‘Challenging the road is a continuous series of curves, the bumps, the small tears and sudden descents that require considerable physical effort and continuous attention psychic and lucid.’ Plus if you have any issues with the rider-bike interface, this ride will find them out. And then there is the sun, raising temperatures to 36C, and a constant, very physical presence through the late morning into the early evening. But this is also a ride which lives up to its billing as being particularly beautiful. One part of that was the way that it serves as an introduction to the different landscapes of Northern Italy, from the plains around Milan, to the Central and Northern Apennines, to the rolling turbocharged ‘wolds’ in between, all filled with more beautiful old buildings, often churches, than you can shake a stick at. And, of course, there’s something lovely about being in touch with a landscape from the moment the sun rises to the time it sets. Who would have thought there would be so many different kinds of wind in Italy? Such magnificent dawn choruses? And quite so many frogs jumping across the roads? Perhaps more than anything, though, this seems a rather old-fashioned ride in its audax spirit. Compared to PBP you are much more on your own: because the towns and villages are less aware that you are coming through — there were a few shout-out and waves, but not many; because there are, at most, about a 10th of the number of riders, and so it’s much easier to find yourself cycling on your own for long stretches of time; and because there is, understandably, much less provision by the organisers for the riders. This is likely to mean you will end up living off the country, i.e. the cafes and pizzerias and gelaterias, far more than in PBP. The good thing about this is that the Miglia gives you more of a the sense that you are seeing a country, and learning a few of habits and manners. Waking up in a field at 4.30 am, and looking forward to finding the first cafes opening around 5.30, is a quick kind of acculturation. Blow by blow write-up (pdf).
Mr Pickwick’s January Sale. Truly good value, at £1 a ride. Another of Black Sheep CC’s fine rides out of Tewksbury. Has AA points, but nothing too bad in the way of climbing. It rained for most of the day I cycled it, and so I don’t have much to say about the countryside. One control at the marvellous Old Hill Café in Chipping Norton.
Mudguards. Another of the good things. It’s much pleasanter for you having them in the rain. You don’t get so wet and you dry out quicker. This matters. (Mudguards are about the one piece of equipment likely to improve your chances of finishing Paris-Brest-Paris?) Also it’s much pleasanter for the person riding behind you in the rain, especially if you’ve a mudguard-flap. And it’s much pleasanter for the café owner’s chairs when you go in and sit down. There are two main choices: SKS and Crud. SKS remain the gold standard of practicality. They’re heavier than Crud; but because the stays are strong, and the guards are rigid, and they (can) come with spray flaps — a. they last; b. they protect you very well; c. they can be bodged. (Ie if you need to run a 25/28mm tyre on a ‘racy’ frame they can be cut to sit ‘outside’ the rear stay bridge and front fork bridge. See ‘Bodging, SKS’.) Crud are for the weight conscious, and those with small frame clearances and no inclination to bodge in original ways. Since 2016 there have been SKS Race Blades. These are excellent in terms of ease of putting on, taking off, and staying put; something about their shape, though, prevents them keeping the water off as well as the standard SKS. Amongst the Audax crowd, an increasing number seem to be using Portland Design Works.
Paris-Brest(-Paris). An experience not to be missed, that comes once every four years. 2015 took place in very good weather, until the last five hours or so. Some thoughts. It’s the chance to star in your own movie. Which also strangely includes famous WW2 scenes such as: bomb shelter during the blitz; break out from the beaches. It’s the only time in your life you’ll likely spend more time eating than sleeping. There’s so much encouragement and support from everyone along the route that at some point you’ll hear the birds chirping “allez”. Imagining you’ve the legs of a cycling god; then despairing; then eating a Paris-Brest cake in some local patisserie; then imagining you’ve the legs of a cycling god. Stepping aboard the insane tandem train. Exhaustion hitting just as the control becomes reachable. Boeuf bourguignon, rice-pudding and fruit salad for breakfast. Watching the dawn struggle to break through the cold Bretagne mists. Crashing out metaphorically; sleep so overwhelmingly deep it’s a little frightening. Realizing you’re going along with your body for the ride, and hoping that it’s got things under control. Gradually coming to rely on the road-side stalls. Using the full width of the road for days at a time. Not offering to help with small mechanicals. Marvelling at the variety of ways you can make toilets a little less pleasant. Riding behind cars uncomplainingly driving behind bicycles for kilometers. Being waved at by cars; being encouraged by cars — more “allez”, “bon courage”, and “beep beep veep”. Realizing you’ve entered an irony-free zone. Almost meeting your maker when a cyclist going the other way falls asleep and drifts across to your side of the road. (Getting good at shouting loudly, quickly.) Starting to develop national stereotypes of styles of riding. Wondering just when the perception of risk went out of fashion. (After Fougères?) Having the revelation that a road without any flat is effectively all climb. Pretty church after pretty church after pretty church after charming ruin. Crossing Brest bridge in the early morning light; finding serendipity in small accidents of timing. Getting taken out of that mental box you did not know you were in by a chance comment, or a meeting with a friend. Finishing, and coming back to a car park so deserted you can hear the advertisements rotating in the hoardings, and, on the PBP level, muffled snoring. The after-event calm spreading like treacle over everything.
Paris-Brest(-Paris), Web Resources. Lots of good information about kit, experience and planning at marcusjb.wordpress.com. Another list of stuff I took — because such lists can be useful. RUSA (Randonneurs USA) have a useful page at www.rusa.org/newsletter/02-02-06.html. Another personal retrospective account of riding PBP — www.carnall.demon.co.uk/SR/super_r.htm.
Paris-Brest(-Paris), Web Resources, 2015. Read the blog (Google translated) of the rider who came first, Bjorn Lenhard. Awesome! A good looking set of Strava pictures. Search out the YACF “How did it pan out for you” thread. Tales of quick finishes, tales of finishes, tales of DNF finishes. “Where did / does it hurt for you?” makes a nice companion thread. (Because 1200 km isn’t forever — see the Transcontinental, or Race Across America.) Another blog, of the race done on the back of cycling to and from work, and running. Jenny Oh Hatfield’s blog, with plenty of good pictures. Axel Koenig’s database: more detail than you can imagine on the riders and results, but not official, and lots of unrecorded nationalities. Shai Shprung’s database: yet more detail, down to the gearing of the bikes (when riders have added that …). Jo Wood’s Bulge Chart — see how the riders progressed through the controls (big data comes to Paris-Brest).
Pressure, Tyre. The narrower the tyre, the higher the needed pressure to avoid pinch flats or to protect the rim. Wider tyres can run lower pressures. Lower pressure equals better suspension (and perhaps more grip). Better suspension equals significantly less fatigue. The rolling resistance for a given pressure is more or less the same for a narrow or wide tyre. Lower pressures (not simply low pressures) may have a lower rolling resistance over poor road-surfaces than higher pressures — but this probably isn’t true below 80psi. On the other hand, if you add in fatigue, it might still be more efficient to drop pressures lower. (On a smooth track, higher pressures just have lower rolling resistance.) Generally speaking on real world roads, run 25mm or 28mm. The only real negative to wider tyres is weight (and possibly frame clearance, which, when mud and grit is added into the equation, can quickly become a significant issue). What are the optimum pressures for front and rear tyres? Experiment to find out; and to find out the difference for different surfaces and conditions. This chart is useful for a starting point. Keep an eye on how quickly your tyres lose air. On some long rides, you might want to add some air half-way. (See Pressure Gauge.) Tyre pressure, along with the tyres themselves, is one of the most important variables when it comes to efficiency and comfort.
Pressure Gauge. The Schwalbe / BBB pressure gauge is a good combination of light, compact, accurate, and reasonably priced. Carrying a pressure gauge gives you the ability to adjust tyre pressures more accurately. If you don’t want to carry a gauge (it is, after all, stuff), work out how many strokes of your pump are needed to go from flat to your favourite pressure. Then you’ll be better able to deal with a flat tyre. Obviously, use the small pump you’d use on the road; which might also reveal to you how inefficient and uncomfortable your small pump is … Alternatively, you might use CO2 canisters (but not if you’re using tubeless with sealant).
Pumps. Beware some of the very small pumps. Perhaps they can pump to 150 psi, but can they do that today? Longer pumps, all else being equal, are far more practical. Pumps with flexible valves are easier to use. Topeak Speed Masterblaster will get you up to 90 psi pretty easily, and is compact. See pressure.
Raglan Castle. 200k from Bath. Very pretty route (2015) with some superb views (particularly on the way from Raglan to Usk). Quite up and down, though perhaps only one long steep hill. All tarmac, and the roads in quite decent order.
Rear derailleur cable, broken. You’re an hour into the ride and your rear derailleur cable brakes. If you’re riding a bike with external cabling — congratulate yourself on your wisdom, and not falling for any newfangled nonsense. Swap out the broken cable with the spare cable you’re carrying (again, in your wisdom). If you’re riding a bike with internal cabling, it’s unlikely you’re going to be able to swap in the spare cable you’re carrying. What you can do, though, is use a cable tie to make the derailleur usable in the gear of your choice. (Use the cable tie to pull the arms of the derailleur together.) Now’s your chance to see what it’s like cycling single speed — or rather dual speed, as your front derailleur will still be working.
Rear lights. Important to your safety. (See lights.) Having two sets is a sensible defensive measure. Smart lunar are popular, cheap, and can work well, or can leak. They are much less bright than lights such as the Exposure Flare (75 lumens); but given how visible they are, maybe any more is overkill.
Rear lights, flashing. This are frowned upon under Audax regulations. They do make life difficult for the person riding behind at night. An awful lot of people use them, though. It’s good manners to switch to non-flashing (group-riding) mode if you have one, when in company.
Reflective tape. Handy for putting on frames. And did you know you can get Scotch 3M reflective tape in (a kind of) black?
Rims. They all wear down at about the same rate — said a man who should know. The difference lies in how thick they are. The lips often bulge before they crack.
Saddles. Perhaps the single most important thing to get right? Not having the right saddle can be painful and dangerous to your health; if you are in the kind of discomfort that includes numbness, stop; make sorting out any discomfort a priority. The problem, of course, is finding out which saddle is a comfortable saddle for you. Plenty of saddles are comfortable for 200km, far less over 400km+. But it’s hard to make comparisons at those kind of distances. And then there are the nagging questions: is it the saddle that’s the problem? Or the set up of the saddle? Should it be one cm more foreword? or backward? A degree or two down at the front? Brooks leather saddles remain the favourite on audaxes. (Leather saddles were used by half the RUSA riders in Paris-Brest-Paris 2007.) They are often said to be set with a very slightly raised nose. But, really, trust no one. There’s vast amounts of ‘theory’ spoken; keep on trying things till you get comfy, or comfy enough. Brooks Cambium are perhaps the generally best spoken of; and have loops for a saddlebag. Top tip: if your saddle is comfortable up to 200km, but not after, try lowering your tyre pressure.
Saddlebags. A good thing. Carradice are hard to beat. If you don’t need a support for the saddlebag, Carradice are quite a light option — the Junior is 440g. (Supports add another 330g +.) This won’t be true, though, in the rain; they absorb water when wet. But, in the process, they become effectively waterproof. They don’t look like they should be, but they just are. Everything stays mysteriously dry. And because when they’re dry they are fairly breathable, Carradice bags — unlike waterproof nylon bags — don’t make any damp clothes etc you’ve put in them smell old and rotten. Plus their width helps protect your bicycle’s seat stays when you rest it against a wall, should you care about such things. They open across their entirety, which makes them hugely more practical than saddlepacks, or dry bags and variations on dry bags, for real world use, i.e. cycling on roads and through villages, and occasionally wanting to fish something out. That’s especially so with versions with pockets. (The Barley and the Super C Audax are very popular. The Super C has plastic snap-fit buckles which some people prefer to leather straps, finding them easier to use. But clips have to be done up, or they dangle around and get caught up with things.) The various rings and leather strap holes sown on are great for attaching waterproofs, locks, etc. The Junior no longer has the strap holes. Alpkit’s Roo Pounch makes a very useful addition to the Junior.
Saddlepacks. Increasingly popular, in part because they do not need the saddle to have saddle-bag loops. They do not pack / unpack as conveniently as saddlebags. To work well they need to be stuffed tight and then attached to the bike. This means that each time you take something out, you need to loosen off the holding straps, stuff the bag tight and close, and then tighten the holding straps again. And they are narrow and deep, making it hard to keep the things you want at the top. Many are not waterproof. Apidura do good ones which are; and which has a very handy elasticated cord on top. Saddlepacks are also liked as they are good at staying out of the way of your legs. They work best when paired with a frame bag. The frame bag gives you easy access to things you want while riding along; the saddlebag is there to carry the stuff you hope not to be using, until the end of the day. By the time you add the weight of the two bags, though, a Carradice may end up looking lighter; and more convenient; and better at keeping the water out. But do you have a saddle with saddleloops? (There are ways to add saddle loops — see the Carradice site — but they are not ideal.)
Sealant. Sealant in tubeless tyres gradually dries out. Schwalbe gives the time for this as between 2 and 6 months. Some sealant will disappear in the act of sealing your puncture. If it does this efficiently, you probably won’t know you’ve had a puncture. (If the tyres are a little softer than you expect at the end of a day, you may well have had a puncture.) Question: how do you know how much sealant you have left in the tyres without the fuss of taking the tyre off the rim? Milkit is one answer — though in my experience the valves are problematic (four out of four gradually became unusable in two years). Schwalbe states CO2 damages their sealant. Orange Seal has done better in tests than Stan’s, as has Bontrager’s; Stan’s Race Sealant looks interesting.
Slaughtered in the Cotswolds. A new event in 2017. The name gives a good indication of the intent, as does the inclusion of a 20% climb around the 175 km mark (Simon Warren: 6/10, ‘this vicious little road’) — but that’s not the whole story. The name also refers to Upper and Lower Slaugther, two small villages in the Cotswolds, and this is a route of many chocolate-box villages and towns. In fact, on a sunny day, this would probably be one of the prettiest routes I have ridden. The climbs have views, looking out over counties. The descents have their villages, with their anchoring churches. The roads are generally decently surfaced, though there are some small, muddy and leafy lanes, with cambers and corners. The cafe at the steam railway station in Toddington was, on a Saturday, full to bursting with cyclists. Very well organized in 2017.
Spares. An official list (largely nicked from the info for the BCM) would run: multi-tool with chain tool and allen key big enough to fit your crank bolts, 3 tyre levers, 2 inner tubes, puncture repair kit, tyre boot, working pump, spare chain joining link, zip (cable) ties. The 2 inner tubes may seem like overkill, but plenty of people repeat the mantra. And most rides do have at least one written-off tyre. (Some people carry a spare tyre. On the PBP a spare tyre seemed to be the only thing that some riders carried.) An alternative to a multi-tool is the Topeak Ratchet Rocket plus the Park chain tool (other chain tools tend to be too heavy or to bend). Other suggestions for a spares kit: spare rear brake and rear derailleur cables (they’re fairly light and take up little space); insulating tape; 1 spare spoke of each required length; spoke key. And consider a FiberFix – a Kevlar string that stands in for a spoke, and means you can fix a cassette side spoke with needing a nbt tool (next-best-thing tool), if your frame can stand a nbt.) A few links and joining pins can substitute for the joining link, and a strong paper clip can be bent to become a chain-holder / 3rd hand. A knife is handy, too; a Swiss Card is quite a good way of carrying one (and gives you a scissors and pen as well).
Space. Don’t forget to pack space. (You didn’t forget to pack space, did you?) When you get too hot, you need somewhere to put stuff you take off. At the start of a long ride like the BCM or PBP, having a few sandwiches is no bad idea, and they take up space. Or maybe you are going to see that holiday souvenir you just can’t leave behind. Packing space also mean you are giving yourself better access to the stuff you do have; what are the chances that you are going to want to unpack and repack your saddlebag to get to something you need, but could do without, when you are feeling tired, if unpacking and repacking is akin to solving a rubik’s cube? One way of making a little extra space is to strap things like waterproofs and inner tubes to the bike frame. Elasticated velcro straps are good for waterproofs (and anything which is a bit compressible).
STVZO. A short-hand way of referring to lights which are compliant with German traffic regulations. This means that the lights have a very particularly shaped beam which, when properly adjusted, cannot dazzle other road users. Pro: all the light goes onto the road, which often makes such lights much brighter than would be expected. Con: the lack of light spread can be a problem when turning into corners.
Tasty Cheddar. A nice 100k audax. First half to Cheddar Gorge is enlivened by a trip to Clevedon Pier. At the bottom of the Gorge is a nice tea-shop and control. After the Gorge, there are some lovely views and lanes, and then a control in a pub in Hinton Blewitt. After that, there are a few pot-holes thrown in to keep you honest (and maybe sober). Then, almost at the end, there’s the hills leading up to Dundry — tougher in their way than the Gorge. 1 AA point (before 2016).
Telephone boxes. Generally speaking, the more telephone boxes the more enjoyable the route. Plus telephone boxes are a marvellous facility by which to change a tyre, examine a bottom bracket etc, in the dark. Audaxers are to be seen clustering around these at night, like moths. Defibrillator stations are the modern telephone boxes in terms of assessing the route. An increasing number of telephone boxes are now converted into village libraries. Sadly, this means that the light no longer works.
Tri-bag. Very useful, especially if you don’t have a handlebar bag. Essentially a nose-bag for humans. They work much better on bikes with square-ish top tubes, and tend to flop around a bit on round tubes (i.e. steel bikes).
Tyres are probably the best performance upgrade when you’re starting out; and maybe are the best performance upgrade. They can make a huge difference to your bike. Continental GP4000 IIs are hard to beat when it comes low rolling resistance, puncture resistance, and comfort. See here and here. They also feel lovely. 25 mm tyres are a lot more comfy than 23 mm, and no slower; there isn’t much point to 23mm (unless your bike frame doesn’t have the clearance for anything bigger, or you really don’t like toe-overlap, or you want to put on a decent pair of mudguards without any bodging). 28 mm tyres are more comfy than 25 mm. They are probably no slower. (They do take thicker inner tubes, and so are proportionately a bit heavier.) A lot of bikes don’t have the frame-clearance to run 28 mm, especially if you want mudguards. (It’s worth noting that tyre measurements are indicative; wide wheel rims change the dimensions of the tyres mounted to them. Generally speaking, a 28 mm will have a larger volume, and greater height, on a wider rim.) GP4000 IIs are especially large — so the 28mm measures 31mm (bicyclerollingresistance.com). Those really keen to run larger tyres will explore the option of going down a size in wheels; or buying one of the increasing number of frame designed to run up larger tyres. If you do go down a wheel size and use rim brakes you’ll need long-reach brakes; and you will slightly alter the steering geometry, and may lower your bottom bracket. This may or may not matter.
Tubeless tyres are getting better. They ought to be the way forward. What’s not to like about a puncture-free life? What’s not to like about less rolling resistance, i.e. going further or quicker for the same effort? With Schwalbe Ones this was only sort of true. The rolling resistance wasn’t better than a good tyre and tube set. And you add a bit of complexity and weight with tubeless. If you get a certain kind of small hole — long and thin — in the tyre they won’t seal until the pressure goes down to 30 psi or so. These kind of holes, and bigger round ones, need to be plugged. (See Genuine Innovations Tubeless Tyre Repair Kit.) If you get a large cut, they won’t seal and plugs won’t work. So you need to carry an inner tube, tyre levers (take three, and make them sturdy, as tubeless tyres can be pigs to get on a rim). You’ll probably also need a tyre repair kit for any subsequent punctures. (So there will not be a weight saving; more likely the reverse.) And, if you find yourself needing to put in a tube, you may well find the tubeless valves can be hard to get out. (Tip: take out the valve core, and then you can use the corner of a wall, etc, to push out the valve. If you don’t take out the core and do this, you’ll bend the valve core and need a new valve. Schwalbe make some nice valves.) Also, before you put in a tube, you’ll need to check the entire tyre for punctures — maybe the tubeless sealant has worked in five other cases — but those sealed up thorns (say) can still puncture your tube. Plus, when you speak to bike shops, they tend to have stories of tubeless tyres blowing off, or, of tubeless tyres which have to be cut off rims. Also tubeless typically require more frequent pumping up than tyres and tubes. They might well lose 15 psi over a 600 km. Why would you use tubeless, then? Because you want as few punctures to deal with as possible. Imagine not changing that tyre at 10 pm, in the rain, at about 5C, with a bit of a wind. Plus, as said at the beginning, tubeless are getting better. The new generation of Schwalbe Pro Ones is, in many ways, an improvement over the first generation. They have better rolling resistance than clinchers. They are more air-tight, and need considerably less pumping, than Schwalbe Ones. Perhaps they even seat on the rim more easily. They seem to seal less well, however; and to be a little bit less robust. Getting them on can still be difficult. You don’t usually need a special pump, though it helps. You do need a track pump. When I’ve found it very hard to seat a tyre on the rim, I’ve found it helps: to take out the valve core; to rotate the wheel in between efforts; and to inflate it while the wheel is horizontal. On several occasions adding the sealant before the tyre is on the rim has allowed the tyre to seat — I think because the sealant is ‘thick’ or ‘rough’ and so seals gaps around the rim better than lubricant. If it still won’t inflate, add an extra layer of rim tape. This will narrow the gap between the rim and the tyre (and may make it harder to get the rim on). Schwalbe state you shouldn’t inflate with CO2 as it damages the sealant. See also sealant. In my limited experience, there is considerable variation between individual Schwalbe tyres. (Of 5 Schwalbe Ones, 2 were porous. Of three Schwalbe Pro Ones, one delaminated after about 5,000 km, and one was much looser than the other two. They are very comfortable, though.) Large caveat re tubeless: you can get into trouble with tubeless on multi-day rides. The tyre can flat and pop off the rim before it seals. How do you get it back on the rim? Use the tyre with a tube — but sometimes the tyre will still not seat properly. Some riders of events like the Transcontinental have gone back to tubes and, often, Conti GP4000S II 28mm. In summary, 2018: for rides under 1000 km, tubeless seem the way forward. For rides over that — stick to clinchers plus tubes.
Up the Downs. A charming 200k in fine weather. Ups and downs, lovely views, charming villages, tea laid on at a village hall control, food when you get back.
VO2 test. It costs, and it can be hard to spend money on something that isn’t a product. £100-120 from a local university sports science department (University of Bath were very good), or from your local bike shop, if you’ve got that kind of local bike shop (BW in Bristol would be my choice). It’s money really well spent. The VO2 measurements seem less important than the lactic threshold measurements which are produced at the same time (and done by blood samples — painless — every 5 mins or so). Knowing these various thresholds helps a lot when you are beginning to cycle long distances for the first time.
Web-resources, General. yacf.co.uk — a huge amount of information in the (Radio 4 of) forums, and very helpful contributors. www.aukweb.net a great site that does everything it should efficiently. As well as information and advice, there’s a Calendar that lets you book rides online, and if you join Audax UK (very reasonable price, and worth supporting), there’s a section which automatically logs your rides, etc. Facebook now has some Audax pages (‘Audax: Tech, Tyres, Tracks, and Titbits’, ‘Audax UK: Events and Long Distance Rides’). Dave Yates (bike builder) has a nice section on audaxing — www.daveyatescycles.co.uk/custom_bike_frames-Audax_Articles-1011.php. A generally useful site: audaxing.wordpress.com/about/. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe, Earth edition, on audax — h2g2.com/entry/A87807784. The Middle-Aged Cyclists guide to audaxing, and an attempt at the LEL (London-Edinburgh-London) — middleagecyclist.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/audax-advice.html.
Weight. Light-weight doesn’t really matter on the flat. On the hills, light-weight matters. Light-weight kit is good, especially when you weigh 68 kg. When you weigh 90 kg, light-weight kit matters less. Rule of thumb: if your bike weight is around 10% of your total weight, you don’t need to worry about your bike’s weight. Losing weight from yourself is much cheaper than losing weight from the bike; it saves money — and may improve health. But then you’ll likely get weaker, if stronger pound per pound. And you’d be hungry for a few months. Choices. And often a lighter weight bike is less comfortable; people carry on riding steel frames for a reason. And sometimes lighter weight is more dangerous — as when you get caught in a sudden and strong cross wind. Choices. Just make sure you enjoy making them.
Yr Elenydd. 300k 5AAA 2018 In the sunshine this must be a very lovely ride. In the rain and drizzle, it was made memorable by: Shobdon Airfield control — a WW2 delight, made better by tremendous cafe, stove to huddle around in the stamping room, unheated toilets with those 2/3rd height toilets (porcelain rationing, perhaps); the valleys after Builth Wells; the Elenydd itself, which even without the views has a lovely sense of immemorialness; the ups — the Devil’s Staircase (needs c.300W plus for 7 mins); the downs — also plus 20%; the easy welcome of Clwb Bowlio Tregaron; The Old Wheelwright’s control (neatly marked by a flashing rear blinky); and the Arrivee, both for the organizers and their organization, and that feeling of having finished. Plus, if you’re lucky, you can help play push the car out of the field as the icing on the cake.