What is audax? Part 5
Touristique, sportive, régulière, audacieuse, traditionnelle. These are all French words that describe audax. Some may seem contradictory, but that's exactly the challenge of audax. We have to accept that our effort as audax cyclists does not go into being first across the finish line; our effort goes into manipulating the coincidence of several people with full kits and several points on a route, at very specific times.
We are out to see and visit. We want to get places and enjoy the entire ride getting there. As cyclists, we want to spend time pedalling with friends. As tourists, we want to visit places and take routes we wouldn't find as significantly enjoyable at a faster pace or by ourselves. It's not quite cycle-touring since audax rides are more excursions than trips (the longest lasting around 100 hours.) A fundamental characteristic of an audax is that the entire outing is one ride, even if there are planned breaks for sleeping. But, with a tourist's attitude, audax rides are excellent for scouting new roads and exploring routes, as well as finding new stops and personal landmarks. These finds are valuable to entire local cycling community, racers and weekend warriors alike.
No one is saying you have to be out of your mind with exhaustion on an audax ride. Bicycles provide us with a variety of experiences. Have you ever challenged your legs to pedal 4 hours plus, without the benefit of top speed on descents or holding maximum momentum into hills? Have you ever taken every hill as it is, without the crutch of poor technique that sprints into the bottom of a climb and fades away by the top? Are you a strong enough cyclist to get yourself and others to the end of a long ride, recounting everything that's happened and smiling, instead of drooling and whining? If you're feeling strong, pay attention and sit in the wind to protect someone who isn't feeling great. The sport of audax is about precision over long durations. Riders who are more skilled or physically fit need to seek out ways to turn their strengths into assets for the group. Voilà la dynamique!
Just like the old man with the triple chainwheel. Not a doubt in his mind he'll make it to the top. He's mastered the art of efficiency. It's entirely independent from speed. Audax practitioners learn to hold the tempo right where the bikes are, feeling every gust of wind and change of pitch and matching all of them with just the right amount of response on the pedals. For us, perseverance is not a question. Headwind, tailwind, uphill, down dale. We have places to be and a regular pace is the most reliable way of getting there on time, no matter the terrain and conditions. Plus, it would be very unwise to challenge a tai chi master...
Underestimations of the audax pace aside, we rarely experience the accomplishment of arriving at a far off location with other humans who got there under their own power. To say it is simply audacious to get a whole group through a ride is an underestimation of a different kind. If you've ever been dropped on a group ride, you can appreciate the obstacle of staying together, a sore point that's aggravated by a long distance ride. Plus, we are on a tight schedule and it might be really, really, really hot or windy or something. Anyone thinking of coming will understand how audacious this really sounds when she explains the idea to others.
Audax was, at one time, a well-known undertaking for the nonprofessional sportsman, looking to explore the far reaches of his local region. It has become but a memory. Today, audax is not much more than the foundation for the etiquette of French group rides. Steady to certain points, two by two, steady rotation of the group, with everyone taking his or her turn. Americans are not traditional... But we are adventuring, and we love the outdoors. Let's develop a new way of practicing this vestige of traditional cycling, with characteristics distinctly our own, in accordance with our own historical era. It's time for this relic of cycling's past to be unearthed, and we are just the people to do it.