By: Andy Taylor-Vebel 

In the late 19th century, bicycles were everywhere. Leisure cycling for the upper classes consisted of Sunday 'spins' or week-long tours between railway stations. Fit young men ('scorchers') hurtled through quiet villages in pursuit of bragging rights. Races on the open road and point-to-point records had paid riders supported and paced by teams of cyclists to boost their speed. The public was enraptured by feats of athleticism and races got longer and tougher, pushing riders to the limit.

In France, Henri Desgrange, publisher of L'Auto, had been a talented bicycle racer. 

He had held the hour record of 35.325 kms (without drafting assistance) and, following his retirement from racing, had retained a taste for physical exertion. He was inspired by a group of twelve Italian cyclists, who in June 1897, set out to complete the distance between Rome and Naples (some 230 kilometres) in the same day, between dawn and dusk.

Bearing in mind the condition of the roads at that time, and the technology of the bicycles used, it was an impressive undertaking. Under the leadership of Vito Pardo, the organiser of this out-of-the-ordinary event, nine participants arrived in Naples in the evening of that day. The news of their success became widespread and they were distinguished with the term 'audace' - audacious in Italian. This term was soon translated into the Latin, 'Audax'. 

When Neapolitan cyclists reversed the route between Naples and Rome, it was decided to initiate a group of skilled riders who could manage 200 kilometres or more in a day. Taking the name 'Audax Italiano', the model of long group rides, led by a ride captain, spread throughout Italy. Sections sprang up in the major towns, and the number of cyclists awarded the "Audax" designation never ceased growing. 

It was this model of a group excursion, strenuous in light of the distance involved, that Desgrange wanted to introduce to those who had abandoned competitive cycling and were reluctant to take up the sport again. This would renew their taste for cycling, with a less intense but no less salutary effort and would be beneficial to physical well-being. So, in 1904, he announced, on the front page of L'Auto, his intention of founding a French Audax organisation, modelled on Audax Italiano.

Under the Audax regulations, groups rode a fixed pace (at 18 kph) following a road captain, with scheduled stops to eat, rest and stamp Brevet Cards. Successful riders were awarded a certificate called a Brevet d'Audax. A group of successful Audax cyclists formed the Audax Club Parisien (ACP), which took over the organisation of Audax events on Desgrange's behalf. In 1920, there was a disagreement between Desgrange and the ACP. Desgrange withdrew ACP's permission to organise events under his Audax regulations, and ACP created its own allure libre (free-paced) version of the sport, where successful riders were awarded certificates called Brevets des Randonneurs. 

So, there are now two styles of long distance cycling:

Brevet d'Audax

Group rides led by a captain, usually at 22.5 kph riding average. This Brevet style is fairly common in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands (at 25 kph) and more recently Sweden.

Brevet des Randonneurs

The ACP wrote the Brevet des Randonneurs Francais 'allure libre' (free pace) rules, allowing participants to ride, individually or in groups, between specified maximum and minimum average speeds.


San Fairy Ann Cycling Club Ltd - Registered in England and Wales - Company Registration Number: 13033225
Registered Office Address: 27 Old Gloucester Street, London WC1N 3AX

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