As a big ride approaches, there is always a bit of nerves about how to maximise your chances of a rewarding day out. If you’d like to give the currently-in-vogue long distance game a go, then audaxing should definitely be on your list. This time of year’s changeable weather and faster-approaching dark make it easier for type one and two fun to turn into type three. Because of this, I took a bit more care than usual about how to approach my first ride of the new audax season, the 209 km Upper Thames.
The organisers, Thames Valley Audax, operate a website that lets the rider know what they’re in for. While ‘only’ a 200 with around 2000 metres of climbing, the Upper Thames was billed as a challenging ride, owing to short daylight hours and the organiser ominously warning of wet and flinty roads, which make it that bit easier for a greasy nugget of broken glass to get through a tyre. Further, the organisers cheerfully remarked that riders may need mudguards to keep from being chased out of cafés by houseproud proprietors. In all, I aimed to average around 21-23 km/h for this ride, factoring in stops, mechanicals and whatnot, though when I saw the inclement weather forecast, this was downgraded a bit on safety grounds.
Observing the route, it seemed that supplies won’t be difficult to come by on this 200. However to make the best use of my meager income, I hit up my favourite nutritional outlet, Lidl, to hoover up some rations the night before. For long rides in the cold and wet, I find that hot cross buns hit a magic middle ground between carbs, sugars and fat, and are pleasantly squishy. Lidl also do an own-brand version of Haribo (‘moralibo’) which I tipped into my top-tube ‘fuel’ bag. I find these are particularly helpful after summiting a hill, to quickly restore one’s spirits. Not counting the fuel pouch, I opted to use two bags: a cheap ‘giant saddlebag’ and frame bag, both from Planet X. The frame bag is really handy for keeping my phone dry, and you can also snake out an external battery’s cable to charge a GPS unit on the move. In the saddlebag I put the buns, extra layers, and tools plus repair gear.
For this ride, owing to a mechanical with my own green pride and joy, I borrowed my dad’s cyclocross bike which performed sterlingly. You absolutely can do audaxes on a cross bike, so long as you’re happy with your fit and gearing. I kept the 33 mm off-road (tubelessly fitted) tyres on, mostly because of reluctance to fettle around with them; but they gripped and rolled well on the mucky roads, particularly the descents, and I’m glad to’ve had them on.
The weather was not ideal, which probably contributed to the 49 riders actually turning up out of a crowd of 120 who had registered – but then perhaps the rest were all just watching the rugby. However it really wasn’t so bad as one might think. Upper Thames is not pancake flat, but by audax standards it is pretty easy going, which is ideal for a wet and windy day. A cyclist’s central problem is always finding the goldilocks zone between having the energy sapped out of you by the cold, and not baking yourself like a potato by overdressing, and thankfully this was an easy balance to find on this ride. I hope the ride will run again in 2020, and it should absolutely go in your calendar. In all, I averaged a mean 19.7 km/h, which I am happy with. A big thanks to Phil, the volunteers, and all the friendly riders who I came across on the day!