19 Aug 2013

Jack Eason Memorial Rides

Three rides on July 6th, 2014 celebrate the memory of Jack Eason, Willesden CC's Randonneur of the Millenium. There are be three distances offered:
  • The Jack Eason Struggle at 200K
  • The Jack Eason 10 Thames Bridges at 100K
  • The Jack Eason Giggle at 60K.
The 100K and 60K rides take the route of the well established 10 Thames Bridges and Kaf-to-Kaf rides, the 200K is a new event going through Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire and Berkshire, taking in several climbs.

All the events start and end in Maidenhead, with convenient parking and a short ride to the train station

16 Aug 2013

3 Down 2014

300Km Audax organised by Willesden CC, regulated by Audax UK.

Audax Newbie? If you have not done an Audax before, see my 'Audax newbie' post below.

The route

This ride starts from Chalfont St Peter, just North West of London. The outward scenery is varied and attractive – Chilterns, Kennet Valley, the Hampshire Downs, the Test Valley with its string of lovely villages and the New Forest. The turning point is Fordingbridge

The return is pretty benign with a fairly flat course and the prevailing wind behind you. The route crosses back over the New Forest, skirts Winchester to Alresford which has shops and caffs and then takes in the easy climb back over the Downs via the Candovers. It’s back roads to Winnersh and on to Maidenhead where a very easy route, mainly lit, takes the southern edge of the Chilterns to the end.

The GPS track on the right is for 2014. The GPX and routesheet will be emailed to all entrants on March 28th, or soon after entry for riders signing on after that date. Postal entrants who supply an SAE will get a posted routesheet, plus the same email as on-line entrants, if I have an email address for you. Postal entries must arrive by March 30th.

There is only one long steep hill, White Hill, near Kingsclere, which climbs around 100m peaking at 11%, and 4-5 short stretches that need a granny ring, so it is quite suitable for fixies.

Controls and Catering

There will be breakfast, included in the price, at the start and refreshments/light meals available for a very reasonable price at the end.
The intermediate controls will offer, at the times you will pass through:
  • Pangbourne - Caff
  • Kimbridge - Caff plus small shop which sells sarnies and drinks
  • Fordingbridge - Control is a service station with shop, but you can head 400m further into Fordingbridge where there is a range of places to get food and drink
  • Alresford - The facilities you'd expect of a small town
  • Winnersh - Large Sainsbury's with admission until 21:45; Burger stand and a BP service station 400m on the right for anyone close to the time limit or those preferring not to use a large supermarket.

Getting to and from the start

There is ample, paid for (bring £3.50 change!! - 2014 price) day parking within 200m of the start.

It will be possible to spend the night before at the Community Centre, this is confirmed - bring your own bedding - which can be looked after during the day.

5 Aug 2013

Running a rider survey on an event

What I wanted from a survey?

I want to run the best possible event for the money I charge, so an important part of my event organiser's role is to get feedback. Due to the nature of the event, the Rutland Weekend 300 on 6th July, which offered riders the option of handing me the completed brevet card in a pub for part of an evening, or posting it in with a the supplied SAE, I knew I would only meet some of the finishers at the end. So, rather than quiz people as they relaxed post-ride, I thought, inspired by the results of fellow Willesdener Paul Stewart's survey after his Ditchling Devil event, I would offer a survey.

Most of the questions could apply to any audax event, but I had a couple that were specific to the route and as the ride was billed as a pre-LEL run-out, whether riders were doing LEL or not. I decided not to use an online option like Survey Monkey as it would get far fewer answers. Before I designed the questionnaire, I set three constraints: it must fit on a piece of A5 paper so it can sent in along with the completed brevet card, it must need no more than 1-2 minutes to complete and it must offer an option for comments. The questions were divided into the journey to the event, the journey on the event, scoring the event and any comments. It was clearly made optional for riders to fill in their name.
I did my best to maintain anonymity, piling the responses togther until I was sure that I had all the brevet cards back and then collating the results.

The results

I received 34 responses, which is over two thirds of the starters. They were very positive, 33 would recommend the ride to others and nobody said they would not recommend it.
  • 70% were entering LEL
  • The AUK site and YACF were where all but 2 riders heard about the event
  • Ride location and distance were the two most important deciders on whether to do the event
  • Half the riders arrived by car and the rest split evenly between train (the event starts from Baldock Station forecourt) and arriving on the bike
  • I got my answers on the route options - most people followed the standard route.

I asked people to rank features from 1 to 5, and got the following averages, where 5 is 100%
Entry process 4.9
Ease of getting to the start 4.8
Roads used on route (surfacing, traffic levels etc) 4.6
Landscape 4.6
Food / drink options 3.9
Routesheet 4.6
GPS tracks 4.5
Ride notes 4.7
The first response is an emphatic vote for how easy the AUK online entry process is and I passed this on to the AUK board. The food/drink options (all commercial controls) were the weakest point and I have food for thought on how to do that better next time.

As for the comments, apart from thanks and the revelation of how nice the patch of England the Rutland Weekend uses is to cycle for people who have never done it before, there was no common theme: some information given out could be clarified and someone suggested a minor route tweak which I will look at for the next Weekend (probably a few weeks before PBP).
All the starters (whether or not they had responded) were emailed a copy of my full report.

Was it worth it?

Yes. It answered my route-specific questions, it confirmed what I already suspected about en-route food and drink and it showed my what I need to tweak next time. The fact that most entrants were doing LEL indicated that to get a decent sized field I should run it just in PBP and LEL years. The comments also gave some great quotes I can use to advertise the event next time.
I won't impose this on every event, but for a newish event it's worth it, and because I could not get face-to-face comments from everyone, it's a chance for them to have their say.
For my next survey I will have a question about AUK membership and I will try to improve the anonymity.

27 Feb 2013

Newbie Guide

I am assuming if you’re looking at cycling 200 or 300Km or more you don’t need me to patronise you with the basics of riding.

Audaxing is similar to riding a Sportive in many ways, but there are distinctive elements. The old joke that Sportives are ridden by people pretending to race and Audaxes by people pretending not to race has an element of truth. They are generally smaller scale than Sportives and a good deal cheaper - and therein lies the main difference - self-sufficienct.

The basics

In an Audax you have to complete a ride between an upper and lower time limit. Indeed you should pass each ‘control’ (waypoint) within time – see below. On my rides the upper limit is the maximum the rules allow, 30Kph (Audaxing's continental roots means Kms get used + they go quicker). This speed is set to stop out and out racing. The lower limit is 15Kph, so on my 300Km rides me and the helpers can go home to bed in the small hours. The limits include stops, not just your time in the saddle.

The visible reward is your name on the web, a signed card (and a medal if you want to order one) and points towards a national championship if you are a member of Audax UK. In my opinion the satisfaction of taking on a tough challenge, is the bigger reward, though.

So audaxing does not fall foul of laws about racing, only a list of finishers is published, order and times are not.

The rides must be unsupported. Essentially this means anyone having a vehicle following them will be disqualified – nobody minds if you pop into an en-route friend’s house for lunch - but you will need your repair kit and all necessary clothing with you all the way round.

If you are not a member of Audax UK or the CTC then you are obliged (no exceptions) to pay £2 “temporary membership” for the ride, which is added to your entry fee. If you are UK Resident this offers you third-party insurance for the ride. Note this does not cover you for personal loss or injury and so you are recommended to have suitable insurance. Non residents (even CTC and AUK members) have to arrange their own third party cover.

 The ride and its planning

The ride is defined by a series of ‘controls’ and these are the points you must pass. The controls are there to ensure you ride the distance and also have adequate opportunity to feed and drink. Rides have two sorts of controls:
  • Full controls (church halls, cafes, convenience stores etc.) where you pick up a proof of passage. Where a control is in a town or big village you may be allowed to pick your pit stop, collect a receipt.
  • Information controls where you have to answer a simple question (like “how many miles is it to Ambridge?”) from something you can spot at the given location, like miles on a sign post. The question is not available in advance of the ride.
How you ride between the controls is up to you, but you will be supplied with a detailed routesheet and (most rides now) a GPS file in advance of the ride. If you are going to use the routesheet print it out at home and make sure you can read it easily on the bike, won't turn to mush in rain and won't fall off (see tips, below, for a simple system). The routesheet and GPS file describe a route that is probably optimal, so there is usually no reason not to follow it. It will be reasonably direct between the controls, carefully planned by the organiser and will have been risk assessed, so you will not spend much time on busy main roads or be routed after dark down steep lanes covered in muck. My routesheets, like most, are designed to be foldable so you can easily refer to them on the bike. It is very exceptional to have directional signs en-route.

The GPS file, almost invariably supplied as a GPX, may or may not work with your unit straight off.  A longer Audax may have too many points to be one track in your device, sometimes the GPS gets confused with out and back routes nearly touching and crossing, so check things out on your device after downloading.

Have some backup in case your primary means of navigation goes wrong or you screw up badly (see tips, below)

On the day you will get a card (called the ‘brevet’) that you use to record times at controls and answer the information control questions it poses.  It also gives starting and closing times for controls (not information controls) that correspond to the minute to the speed limits. Between these times should be when you arrive at a control. If you arrive early you will need to wait. If late, you should assess whether you can catch up or not by the end of the ride, let the organiser know if you cannot. It is up to the organiser if you are outside limits. My stance is that I won’t accept early arrival at a control, but it’s OK to be a bit late at an intermediate control as mechanicals may slow you right down, but you do need to get to the end in time.

Depending on the ride you may get a stamp, pick up a sticker or get a receipt (which should have date and time). Each ride should give instructions. If for some reason you cannot get one, use your initiative to get a proof of passage. There is no proof required from the start point.

At the end you hand the card in with receipts and once it is validated, it is posted back to you, usually a few weeks later. The finish list goes up on the AUK website within a few days.

Going equipped

On my 300K rides, even Cat. 1 racers who have done it take around 12 hours (you will need some breaks as you are unsupported), most riders take 15-16 hours and almost everyone gets in with a hour or so to spare. Even if you reckon you can complete it in daylight, you’re best having lights for backup as a couple of punctures or getting lost can mean you will ride in the dark. City dwellers will be amazed how dark it is on country roads, so good LED lights essential!

Most Audaxes do not require mudguards, and mine don’t, but if conditions are wet you may prefer to fit something - even raceblades make a big difference and cafes may be less than keen to serve someone with thick mud from head to backside. Helmets (or not) are entirely up to you.

Bring repair basics. Assume you may have several punctures, so a couple of inner tubes plus patches, pump, levers and a "boot" to place inside tyre cuts. I take a multi-tool with chain splitter, spare bolts and a short bit of chain. Insulating tape and cable ties for bodges. 

Audax tips


  1. Beware of depending on other riders for navigation. They may be crap at it and you may get separated - even if you planned on riding all the way together.

  2. If you have a GPS use it (remember, Smartphones probably won’t work in the wet or when you wear gloves and the battery won’t last as long as with a GPS). Take a routesheet as backup. The chief weakness of GPS is that if you need to turn off the road you are on but are keeping straight (see picture), the GPS may not flash up to indicate the turn.
  3. If you depend on a routesheet take along a map in case you get lost – tear out the pages of an old road atlas that cover the ride or print out from the Streetmap site at Zoom Level 6 (1:200K) or use a Smartphone to help you get back on route. You don’t have to backtrack - just make sure you get to the next control.
  4. Many routesheets give the distance between turns, and intermediate distance (in Kms) and a bike computer is very handy to tell you when to expect one.
  5. You can make a routesheet holder from something that can act as an armband (Velcro is good) and a safety pin. You can then cut up and plasticate the routesheet (best) or failing that use a clear, sealable plastic bag with a folded routesheet inside, reinforced with duct tape where the pin goes, and assemble them. You then fit it on the lower arm. Make sure you orientate it so you can read it on the go.
  6. Routesheets (mine included) normally make two assumptions.
    • Directions are normally only given for junctions where you have to cross a give way or stop line. If a country lane meanders for miles but keeps priority you will get no directions. The converse can be lots of directions along what is essentially the straight line route as the roads crossing have priority. Many routesheets try and highlight turns where the risk of missing is high.
    • Villages are assumed to start when you pass the entrance sign. So “L in Little Snoring” may be some way before the first house in the village.
    Most routesheets use abbreviations – usually they are self-evident ‘L’, ‘R’ etc. but read the key the organiser should supply the first time or two you ride with one
After dark you will want a torch to read the sheet. If you don’t have a head torch or helmet light, get a cheap cylindrical torch with its on/off at the rear of the cylinder (example) and fix it to the side of your helmet with cable ties.

  • Plan for if your day goes tits up. You will not be rescued by an organiser, nor can you expect an organiser to help you navigate over the phone down lanes 100 miles from their home. On my rides, the instructions outline the railway stations that will get you back to near the start. If you head straight home without finishing, please let the organiser know – the brevet card has their phone number. If you feel like giving up my suggestion is ride to the next control or stop off somewhere suitable en-route, like a pub, take a break, eat and drink and the odds are you will want to continue.

  • Food

    Just carry food and drink needed between controls and a couple of gels or whatever in case you are about to bonk. You will burn around 9000 Calories over 300Km and sweat a lot of salt. Stock up at controls and convenience stores en-route. Either use salt tablets (Nuun etc.) in your drink or eat packets of crisps, or whatever is salty and takes your fancy. You cannot live by cake alone.

    Audax riding etiquette

    1. I’d be cautious about drafting and close formation riding with fellow riders you don’t know. Quite a lot of the field will not be comfortable with it and to be honest many entrants are not very good at it. Ask as a courtesy. It’s nicer to ride next to someone and have a chat with them.
    2. With longer audaxes it’s understood that riders have different paces and that you go through faster and slower spells. It’s OK to pull away or drop back, certainly during daylight. People tend to stick in groups more after dark, though
    3. If someone looks like they are having a mechanical or a puncture ask if they need help as you pass, even though there’s a risk they are just looking for a hedge to disappear behind. If you have a problem don’t be afraid to ask for help.
    4. Please have rear lights on constant, not flash.