The challenge of Audax is not in racing, but in pushing your own boundaries and experiencing great personal achievements. Audax enables riders of any ability to set and achieve riding goals with a group of like-minded cyclists. This spirit of achievement is what attracts so many riders to Audax - taken from Audax Australia's website.
Audax rides occur on and off-road, over distances from 35km to a mind-boggling 1,200km (and even more in some instances). Whilst Audax events are not races, time limits are typically imposed and participants are expected to be self-reliant (i.e. carry their own nutritional requirements and spares). Audax routes are often planned to include towns and urban areas, thus easing the burden for riders and giving local businesses the opportunity to get involved.
Having recently acquired a Norco Threshold cyclocross bike (thanks to Bicycle Central on Mulgrave) for such adventures, I was a little excited at the prospect of acquainting myself with it over the course of a 200+km ride. Sure, I had spent a few weeks worth of morning outings to dial-in my position, but a ride of this magnitude would surely be an honest test for comfort and general bike "feel" (or a very foolish endeavour).
To the tech-nerds reading this, my Norco Threshold came with a SRAM 1x11sp groupset with hydraulic disc brakes. The original gearing spec was a 42T single front chainring mated to an 11speed 11-32T rear cassette; a proven range of gears for cyclocross racing. Given I had visions of tackling multi-day epics on smooth asphalt as well as dirt and gravel, I swapped my front chainring for a 38T and the rear cassette with an 11-36T. My new 38T gearing gave me a top-end speed of 44.7kph at 100rpm, or 93.3 gear inches (compared with the 42T at 49.4kph or 103.1 gear inches). Whilst the top-end speed may seem a little slow to some, the gearing was perfect for my intended use and riding style - the ability to spin at high cadence and conquer a full day of undulations on the bike whilst being loaded-up with gear.
As a further upgrade, I swapped the original Clement Crusade PDX 700 x 33C tyres for a set of Hutchinson Black Mamba CX 700 x 34 (127TPI). Compared to standard 700 x 23 tyres these didn't look overly big (to me). Erring on the side of caution, I decided to run these (tubed) at approximately 40psi - I could easily have lowered the pressure a further 5-10psi. A tubeless conversion is most certainly on the cards in the near future.
On Sunday 17 April (2016), 78 cyclists lined-up to participate in the inaugural Audax Queensland ride through the Atherton Tablelands. Two distances were on offer; 6 Tableland Towns in a Day (100km), and 8 Tableland Towns in a Day (200km). I elected to ride the 200km distance (just over 203km actually) with my good friend Paula. What else were we going to do on a Sunday?
Prior to our 0630h departure from the main street of Atherton, Ride Organiser Gayle Sticher congratulated all on breaking the Audax Queenland record of 60 riders on her first Far North Queensland event. I wonder how many riders will join us on the next event in Atherton on Sunday 15 May?
44 riders registered and completed the 100km course, with 33 riders opting for the longer 200km event and 31 finishing. It's odd how short a 100km ride feels when one convinces the brain that it's going to ride 200km. On any given day, 100km would be an accomplishment on the bike let alone tagging another 100km onto it. Thankfully Gayle had planned a scenic back-country route which passed cafes and service stations, and kept us off the busier roads exploring areas we never knew existed.
Throughout our 9hrs+ outing (inclusive of stops), Paula and I enjoyed the company of other riders. Our pack size fluctuated between 20 and 2 (just us), as people shot-off up the road or peeled-off to stop here and there along the way. We set ourselves an achievable goal of under 10hrs, which included a few cafe stops here and there along the way. After all, with a gorgeous Far North Queensland day on the bike to enjoy, we were not in a rush.
Rolling our way from Atherton through the townships of; Tolga, Mareeba, Walkamin, (back to) Tolga, Kairi, Yungaburra and Malanda (with a spin around Lake Eacham), it's easy to imagine how visually spectacular this route would be from the comfort of your air-conditioned vehicle. Gayle certainly planned a sensory masterpiece with this one (especially with the option of stopping-off at Coffee Works, Mt Uncle Distillery, Tolga Woodworks Cafe and the Gallo Dairy en-route).
Throughout the day I marveled at just how versatile and capable my Norco Threshold was. Though I may have been spinning in top gear on numerous occasions, I never felt under-geared on this mildly undulating course. If anything, I believe the lower gearing preserved my legs (lack of training) over the entire duration, bringing me home feeling as though I could have ridden another 100km there and then.
Worth noting (again) is the larger tyre set-up I ran at lower pressure; 700 x 34C at ~40psi. As a mountain biker, I have long been a believer of wider tyres and lower pressures. With the big push to adopt a similar stance on the road scene in recent times, I would strongly urge all to give it a go and make their own judgement. Obviously, frame allowances will dictate just how wide a tyre one can fit, but you will be amazed at the added comfort, increased grip and speed offered.
Curious about your gear ratios? You can check out Sheldon Brown's Gear Calculator here.
Why not join us on the next Tableland's Audax "Get High on the Tablelands" - 0630h on Sunday 15 May 2016. We're going to explore the 100km distance this time, as we fly out for Japan four days later to ride 140km along the Shimanami Kaido Cycleway.
Looking for an Audax bike? Or any bike for that matter? Drop-in and see the friendly team at Bicycle Central on Mulgrave. While you're in there, check-out the new Norco Search "all-road" bike - designed to transform your everyday rides into an adventure.