Audax is a style of long distance cycling event mostly popular in France, but also in Holland, Belgium and Germany. The term is now also commonly used to describe a different style of long distance cycling event found in many countries including France, Great Britain, Singapore, Australia, Canada and the USA.
The original form of the audax style involves riding in strict group formation at a steady pace set by a road captain. The group attempts to maintain a pace of 22.5km/h between stops. The route is pre-planned with designated stopping points. For longer audax events the group may ride between 16 and 20 hours in a day before stopping at a designated sleeping location. The goal of the audax is to finish inside the prescribed time limit with all members of the group present. A support vehicle is allowed to follow each group of riders.
In some countries such as Australia and Great Britain, the term Audax is also used for randonnées. These are also long distance bicycle events, but riders are free to cycle at their own pace (French: allure libre), stop or sleep wherever they want and form groups randomly, provided they stay within the time limit.
The national organising bodies for allure libre riding in these counties (Audax Australia and Audax UK) both include the word 'audax' in their names. In addition, Audax Club Parisien now holds events such as the Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) for the allure libre style, not the original audax style.
This has contributed to some confusion over the use of the term 'audax'.
The allure libre style is also favoured in the USA, where the governing body is the Randonneurs USA.
On June 12, 1897, twelve Italian cyclists attempted the challenge of cycling from Rome to Naples, a distance of 230 km, during daylight hours. Nine succeeded. This is credited as an early example of randonneuring. Their attempt was described as 'daring' where the word audax is a form of the Italian/Latinate word "audace" meaning "audacious"
In 1904, Henri Desgrange in France was attracted to this style of cycling and created the French Audax club. On April 3, 1904 the first 200 km audax ride was held, followed by the first 100km ride on June 26 of the same year. This style of riding led to the creation of the Paris-Brest-Paris cycle race, which was open for professional and for non-professional riders as well. The event evolved later into two separate non-professional events:
- the allure libre event, held on a on a four year cycle, and;
- the audax event, held on a five year cycle.
On July 14, 1921 the Union of Parisian Audax Cyclistes (UACP) was formed, which became the Union of French Audax in January 1956.
The official organisation for the original audax style is the Union des Audax in France.