Posted by: audaxing | September 2, 2013

Beginners Questions

I got an email the other day from Thomas

I am interested in starting audax cycling and your site came up a number of times when searching online.
It is an enjoyable read and informative.
Many thanks for producing it.

My current experience is as a road cyclist, about 1000 km per month which includes a weekly 140-200 km weekly ride. While I’m sure I will get a wealth of information from a local audax club, I have found limited information online and requested your contact details to see if you could assist.

Some of the ‘beginner’ questions I have are:

Lights: Dyno v’s Battery. My understanding is Dyno come into their own on longer (400+ km brevets), is this correct? What are experienced randonneur’s thoughts of the low cost Cree XML LED lights?
Pedals: SPD v’s Clipless (Look, Time, etc). I was interested to see many randonneurs use SPD pedals. Can you advise why they choose them over clipless?
Saddlebags/Panniers: have assisted improving my knowledge a little. I understand there are different schools of thought, e.g. ‘riding light’ vs. ‘bring everything’, but still lots for me to learn. I expect I will take the ‘ride light’ approach, but no idea what to look for and who the good manufacturers are.
What to take on a brevet: I was interested to know the type of items randonneurs take on brevets. I did find a page on yacf that covers this:
Sleep: I will worry about this when I am ready to take on 400+ km brevets.

My answers are

Lights: Generator powered light are more convenient than battery powered on the really long 1000km events. On shorter events carrying enough batteries to power a modern Cree LED light isn’t too bad. For a 400km event where there is just one night of dark and possibly not even a full night, a light with a single high capacity rechargeable lithium battery would be ok. On longer events there will not be the time or the facilities for recharging so more batteries would have to be carried for further nights. Many riders who favour battery powered lights would use ones that run off AA batteries. If more batteries for these lights are needed then they are available very widely, even from late night outlets on audax rides.

Whatever type of main light you have, it’s always necessary to take a backup light that runs off a completely independent power source.

My current main system is a generator powered front and rear light. The front reserve light is an old Dinotte. These run off AA batteries so I have the light plus a set of disposable lithium batteries in a sealed bag. Disposable lithium batteries are expensive but have a very high power rating and a very long shelf life. The rear light is a cheap smart super flash, this is also daylight visible and I will turn it on as an additional light in fog.

Pedals: The reason audax riders favour SPD pedals is that one can walk on them. A few years ago I was doing the “Gospel Pass” early season 150km ride from Chepstow to Hay on Wye. It had been snowing that week but most of the route had nice clear roads. However the “Gospel Pass” itself is reached by climbing over Hay Buff. As we ascended up to Hay Buff we reached a “snow line”. Above it we could ride for a while but eventually the road was not visible and we were dragging our bikes through snow drifts for 4 or 5 miles. After this there was a big patch of snow melt and rough gravel and then finally there was enough road to ride on the descent. I was fine as I was wearing SPDs. The people I was with, who weren’t experienced audax riders, were dismayed to find that their plastic cleats on their road shoes had worn away completely during the long walk.

Saddlebags/Panniers: I am also in favour of the minimal approach. However, the longer the event the more variation in weather is possible. If you are riding to the shop and back you would risk it without a coat. If you are riding to a nearby town then you would take a coat if it looked like rain. If you are riding day long often it is impossible to predict the weather exactly so clothing has to be carried for all eventualities. For example, if it gets very warm you’d want to remove lots of layers- and they have to be stowed somewhere.
So it’s good to have a large capacity bag of some sort. What you must not do is fill this bag with items of dubious utility
My current favourite system is a Ortlieb bag bag plus a dry bag on a saddlebag support.

What to take on a brevet: Tools to fix the bike, spare inner tubes, a tyre boot, some assorted nuts and bolts, cable ties, clothes, “emergency” food, headtorch, spare routesheet, spare GPS batteries, packet of tissues, cash to buy milkshakes from 24h garages. Other stuff depends on the weather (spare socks and gloves) or if you are going to sleep (sleeping bag liner).

Sleep: has some ideas.


  1. Sage advice.

    LEL was my first audax – in general, I followed “conventional wisdom” including much of the above. I know now from riding alongside other riders how many different ways there are to tackle an audax, but the approach I took worked fine for me despite not being very original and I doubt I’ll change much in planning a PBP

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