Long-distance cycling: pedalling fantasies

If your idea of a good time is hurtling through the countryside on two wheels wearing day-glo Lycra, life is about to become more fun, says Julie Welch

The June schedule of Audax events is out and, if you are the kind who relishes pedalling a lot of miles a day on some of the best cycling roads in the nicest weather of the year, then this is for you. Audax UK is this country’s recognised body for non-competitive long-distance cycling events and, with an increasing number of these on offer, they are rapidly becoming the most popular way to spend time on a bike. But what does it take to ride one?

Events incorporate a series of timed checkpoints, and every successful ride is validated and recorded. The first question people usually ask is: how fast they will have to go to keep up?

The answer is: not particularly.

Though some will be enacting their own mini-Tours de France and aiming for the maximum average speed of 30kph (that includes all checkpoint stops), the minimum speed of 15kph is well within the scope of most riders. The trick is to find a pace that is comfortable for you rather than exhaust yourself trying to go all Team Sky.

The second question is: how will they last the distance?

As all older runners will tell you, speed may diminish with age but stamina increases, and long distance cycling is a place where you can see 60-year-olds merrily out-pedalling infants of 30. That said, the beauty of these events is that they are non-competitive and all participants are treated the same, whether they finish like Bradley Wiggins or earmark the lanterne rouge.

The most important piece of advice for the inexperienced rider is: don’t think about the finish but just concentrate on getting to the next checkpoint.

This will generally be at most 35-40 miles away and often in a café – and here is a note of warning: try not to linger too long over the bacon butties and delicious cakes on offer. It’s not so easy to drag yourself out of your chair and back on your bike when you’ve stiffened up and your body temperature has cooled.

What bike?

The ideal Audax bike is usually known as a fast tourer, with a similar frame and wheels to a racing bike’s, and with dropped handlebars. It will need fitting with mudguards and, for overnight events, luggage carriers and lighting.

What else? Skinny tyres, of course, for extra speed over tarmac, and a wider range of gears than you need on a racer, plus a triple-range chain set.

The ultimate treat is a custom-made bike (try Dave Yates) but don’t worry if you don’t have one: at Audax events you may see a few riders astride the latest titanium Pegasus-on-wheels but many others will be turning up on mud-flecked mountain bikes and even whiskery old roadsters bought when John Major was in power.

Which leads on to another point. You will need to sit on a saddle for an awfully long time, so make sure it’s a comfortable one. A carbon fibre saddle without padding may look impressive but, for those without concrete buttocks, the English-made best-selling Brooks leather saddles are pretty hard to beat.

Women should go for a saddle that is designed to take the structure of female sitting bones into consideration. Evans Cycles has a good range.

The right event won’t be too hard to find. Beginners have the option of 50-100k along roads as flat as a conveyor belt, while at the other end of the spectrum are tough endurance events of 600k or more that incorporate some of the most hideous gradients the UK can provide.

Talking of which: the ultimate bike ride for some is the Tour de France holiday, Sports Tours International is offering all kinds of packages – on some of which you can cover a section or stage before the professionals do. But if that sounds a bit too gruelling, the national cyclists’ organisation CTC has plenty of information about all aspects of touring, training and cycling holidays.