Type II fun

Meet Tom Deakins

We first met Tom in a Costa Coffee close to the Duckhouse in the Spring. Over coffee we discussed cycling and an upcoming kit order, designs and such like. We didn’t really understand what we were up against! While talking of past rides we mentioned that we had recently completed a ride from Edinburgh to London which took us a week. Tom almost glossed over this and dropped in that he had completed London-Edingburgh-London in a day shorter than it had taken us to do it one way. After a brief internal double take and a few more sips of coffee we realised that not only was Tom totally serious but was also a one man encyclopaedia of 24 hour garages and food outlets in the south of England. Welcome to Audax riding. Tom founded the Audax Club of Mid Essex or ACME around a year ago. For the uninitiated Audax is a discipline where distance covered is the ultimate prize. Not who comes first. Riders complete courses from 100km to, well, I’m not sure there is a limit, often with very little sleep and an inhuman intake of jelly babies. Meet Tom Deakins.

 Tom, please explain to the uninitiated what AUDAX is and what type of cyclist it appeals to

It’s a ‘French Cycling Thing’: endurance over speed, mentally tough, over and above the physical demands. Riders need a strong digestion and know how to take care of comfort issues, navigation, time-management, mechanical problems and so on. All things that come with experience, building up gradually through shorter rides.

Audax, [from the Latin, meaning daring – root of audacious] started in Italy, then spread to France in the late C19th. The opposite of short sprint and track events, pre-dating the Tour de France and perhaps paralleling the long-established sport of endurance walking, the rules were formulated by Audax Club Parisien [ACP]. After a short period for professionals, it developed as an amateur, non-competitive sport, with the headline event being the four-yearly 1200km Paris-Brest-Paris [PBP]. Currently around 5,000 riders qualify, with a typical 20% failure rate on the event.

Once a predominantly French event, PBP gathered momentum in Europe, then the Anglo-Saxon world and is now an international event with riders from all over the world. On a global scale, the typical fledgling long-distance rider now is young, and from an emerging economy.

The closing stages of PBP! Still smiling!

But there must have been an equivalent in the UK?

In Britain, the equivalent in the early-mid C20th was long distance time trialling and place-to-place record breaking. Audax UK [AUK] was formed in 1976 to enable British riders to qualify for PBP on home soil, and soon an extensive programme of events or ‘brevets’ was established, from 50 to 600km. AUK rules are broadly based on the ACP original, with some quirky concessions to local conditions. The typical British rider may have raced in his or her youth or have a background in touring, is aged 40-60 and uses a touring or road bike, with practical provision for self-sufficient riding over several days, in all weathers:  luggage, lights, tools, spares and mudguards. There is a typically eccentric tradition among some British riders of the ‘inappropriate’ or unusual bike for Audax: recumbents, trikes, fixed-wheel, vintage and home-made machines are often seen.

There are now hundreds of events across the country, several of 1000km plus the four-yearly London-Edinburgh-London [LEL] 1400km, next run in July/August 2017. LEL looks likely to become a truly international event next year, with more overseas than British riders.

Despite being non-competitive, each brevet of 200km and over earns AUK championship points, so there is a whole range of individual and club prizes, also medals and badges for individual brevets, or series of events. An example would be the entry level Randonneur 500: 500km of events, starting at 50km through to 200km in one season, to the Ultra-Randonneur, ten seasons of 200, 300, 400 and 600km ‘Super-Randonneur’! There is always something to aim for to give structure to your riding.

Presumably you didn’t start by doing such long rides!? Have you always been a cyclist?

I grew up in a small village in Essex, where cycling was my main means of transport and later also at university. I considered myself more a rambler/mountaineer in my youth, but gradually became more interested in exploring by bike. I got more into the sport and fitness aspects due to increasingly sedentary work and the side effects of another hobby: cooking!

Out and about at the Spring Lambs

Are Essex and the East of England your favourite places to ride or do other parts of the country hold a special place in your heart?

Essex and East Anglia in general are great, with a vast network of pretty lanes and villages on our doorstep. There are also some good off-road routes, like the Icknield and Peddars Ways.

I love the North of England, especially Yorkshire, where my mother’s family originate and have been fortunate enough to ride Audaxes and tour there occasionally. I also enjoyed my time at Newcastle University, and got to know Northumberland well. Wales is good too: wonderful scenery, quiet roads; a bit of a ‘land of my fathers’ thing here too, from way, way back.

And presumably you would use a regular road bike with panniers? We heard there is a particular penchant for riding a lot of these events in a fixed gear…?

I mostly ride a 2014 Genesis Day-One 853 on 65”- 75” fixed, depending on season, hills and fitness. It has full mudguards, with flaps almost to the ground, which in wet weather somehow seems to attract slip-streaming followers like a magnet!

Acquired many years ago from a near neighbour and its original owner, I also have a vintage 1950s Parkes Lightweight, on 80”- 85” fixed, which I now keep from the ravages of winter and use for fast rides in summer. If I feel like a change or go to somewhere seriously hilly, I have my lovely old 1970s Holdsworth Mistral tourer, very light for its era, which has done it all: LEJOG, over the Alps, two of my four PBPs and an LEL. For Audaxes, I have a Carradice bar-bag at the front and a Barley saddlebag which holds enough for 5 days on the road, if you’re not too fussy! I’ve never used a bag-drop or support vehicle, except on long time-trials.

When I go out on the Dunmow Velo club-run, I have been known to ride something 21st century, with a full complement of gears and containing actual carbon fibre! There are loads of good modern machines now that are designed for comfort and stability on long rides, without the weight penalty of a full-on touring machine or the excessive liveliness of a road-racing bike. Disc brakes have made it easy to fit wider tyres and mudguards too.

 So before the inception of ACME how did AUDAX events run in Essex?

I started running events in 2009 but there are a number of other clubs who have done their own thing for some time: Essex CTC put on the ‘Windmill Rides’ in June and there are well established ‘Classics’ from the famous London 32nd Association club huts at Ugley, including the Shaftesbury CC ‘Springtime’ and ‘Autumn Tints’ also Victoria CC ‘Brazier’s Run’ in February.

Herman Ramsey [Colchester Rovers CC], a legendary long distance rider, used to put on a whole series of events from Wrabness, and later Manningtree. I took on the 300 and 400km events in 2012 when he retired from organising. Going back a few years, Maldon and District CC used to be a big Audax club.


Locked and loaded and out on the road

How can people give an ACME event a go?

All ACME Audax events are listed on: www.aukweb.net - paypal [online] or postal entries [cheque, paper form and a stamped addressed envelope], though some events also allow entry on the day. Entry is open to non-members of AUK, for a small additional fee of £2 for event insurance. Fees are low compared to many cycling events, as we aim to run them at cost price, covering just refreshments, hall hire and admin costs. We rely heavily on AUK/ACME members to ‘give something back’ by volunteering to help on the day or by checking routes and gps tracks beforehand. We also run a ‘Helper’s Ride’ up to two weeks in advance, or one after, in order to get the brevet. AUK members also receive an excellent quarterly club magazine ‘Arrivee’ which lists events. In 2017, for the first time, we will have ACME events in every month.

We hope to have several ACME teams riding from Essex to York on Good Friday 2017, for the annual ‘Easter Arrow’ event. Teams from all over the country converge on York for breakfast on Easter Saturday. Unusually for an individualistic sport, this is a 24 hour team ride, for up to 5 machines [can be 5x tandems!] with a minimum 360km to cover in the time. The early spring nights can be cold, [we’ve had snow before!] and are much longer than for a typical summer overnight ride, so a good test of early season fitness. A lot depends on the ability of the captain to keep everyone together and if necessary, as only a minimum 3 need to make it to York, to ‘cull’ the weaker members, ideally near a train station for a safe return home!

ACME is also linked to ‘Witham Cycling’ [Cycling UK affiliated], so we have insurance for projects like Stratford Velodrome training sessions.

We also have a popular Wednesday evening pub ride, where a venue is nominated and individuals or groups converge from all over. It’s organised via ‘yet another cycling forum’ [www.yacf.co.uk] under the name ‘Mid-Essex Mid-Week Nocturnal Series’ [MEMWNS] and is more a social than a riding thing – typically 25-30 miles in winter, maybe 50 on a fine summer evening, but it has proved a slippery slope into Audax and more miles, less beer…

ACME enjoying some time in the bar

Having met Tom and several of the ACME members in the last year we will certainly be joining them for a ride soon! Although we’re not quite sure what we are letting ourselves in for! If what you have read here interests you then please get in touch with the ACME club through the AUDAX website or the forums on www.yacf.co.uk or email: tom.deakins@btinternet.com

www.acme.bike is currently under construction.


Blackmore Custom proudly provide ACME with their jerseys and caps and are to be found on a country lane, pub or cake retailer near you!