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School of Rocks with Audax cyclist Eleanor Jaskowska

What Is It Like To Be An Audax Cyclist? Eleanor Jaskowska Interview With Carradice.

A Carradice Cycling story by Fergus Coyle Photography

Within the Audax community it is a right of passage to ride with a Carradice Saddlebag.

The growing trend of long-distance cycling invites a new generation to discover them

Every bag tells a story and here is one...

Eleanor Jaskowska or El for short, is an accomplished Welsh endurance cyclist who now lives in Bristol. She has competed in the Transcontinental, completed the 1000km Trans-Wales Mille Cymru, was the third female ever to complete Paris-Brest-Paris on a fixed gear bike and is part of Cycling UK’s 100 inspirational women in cycling.

I caught up with El on a ride around some of the lanes just over the Suspension Bridge in Bristol.

How did you get into cycling?

"I was introduced to cycling as a child. It was a form of entertainment and a vehicle for independence. I was never a cyclist at this time but would ride up and down the lane and explore the local area with my school friends. When I left for university it was logical to take my bike with me as a quick and cheap way to get to lectures. It wasn’t until I was writing up my PhD that I found ‘cycling’. Injured from rugby and with the rowing season over. the local club Cowley Road Condors ran a series of club rides aimed at bringing more women into road cycling. After years of using my bike for transport I had forgotten that I could also use it to escape the city and explore the countryside. I was hooked.”

 What motivates you to ride long distance?

“I’m still trying to work this out. Curiosity is a big driver. Curious about whether I can ride the distance, curious about what will happen, what the landscape will look like, who I’ll meet along the way. It’s also somewhere where I can be completely myself, no mask or need to put on a show. It’s also a way to learn and practice different mental tools and strategies. Long distance riding has taught me a lot about acceptance, that suffering is optional. These are tools that I try and take into everyday life to help me manage my mental health.”

“Audax riding or randonneuring is about riding a certain distance within a time limit. Around the ride you collect stamps or receipts as proof of your passage. Depending on the distance and your riding style it can be a smash fest or a rolling picnic. That’s part of the beauty, there’s so many different ways to do it. One of my patches is for a Audax Altitude Award Super Randonneur, that’s a 200, 300, 400 and 600km event where each ride gets AAA points for being hilly. I’ve never considered myself much of a climber so this was a real personal achievement and there are some great stories behind it! Like descending passes in Snowdonia in a storm in the middle of the night, stopping to shelter in a barn to warm up! Another one is the Randonneur around the Year or RRTY which is for riding a minimum distance of 200km in an Audax event each month for 12 months. This one required serious dedication to calendar management around Christmas party season!

When it comes to single events the Mille Cymru pin and Paris Brest Paris roundel are the rides that I’m most in awe of. They both represent achievements that I didn’t think I was capable of. There were certainly out of body type experiences on both rides where you just let your body take over and keep turning the pedals. You finish and you’re so empty you don’t know how you dug so deep or where the strength came from. The sort of ride that if you knew how hard it was going to be you’d probably not have bothered starting!” 

El's Carradice saddlebag with a mass of patches.

“I think Audax can be anything that you want it to be. For someone looking for a fun day out with some high-quality cake shops then a 50 or 100km brevet populaire event is perfect. For those training for ultra-distance events then it can be a great way to build confidence and hone ride craft and fuelling strategies. I think the organic growth in popularity of Audax events over the last few years in the UK is testament to its broad appeal and accessibility.”

You’ve recently moved towards gravel and off-road riding, setting up the School of Rocks series of rides. Could you talk a little about the new discipline and can anyone join one of your rides?

“The School of Rocks is a female-led community movement to try and demystify and break down some of the barriers to women getting hooked on off-road riding. It’s a series of progressive rides over 6 weeks and by the end you’re sending it down rocky descents! We’re going to launch the new term in September and particularly welcome participation from those who don’t feel represented among the traditional cycling structures such as those from the LGBTQ community and riders of colour.”

COVID has had a major impact on events the past year or so, how much has it affected your plans and riding in general?

“Yeah I mean the events scene has been badly impacted but cycling more broadly has boomed. I think this shows us that cycling events cater to such a small percentage of the overall population who ride bikes.

The biggest setback for me last year wasn’t COVID at all but a problem with my back which has made both sleep and movement difficult. I had planned to go back and take part in the Transcontinental again but I think I was actually quite relieved when it was postponed.”

How important is it for you to be part of a cycling community?

“I think it’s a really primal human need to feel accepted and like they’re a part of a community. For me, it’s really important to be a part of something, not just for my own social and cycling opportunities but also to help give something back.

None of us exist in a vacuum and we’ve probably all been encouraged in small ways by club volunteers, coaches and event organisers.”

Cycling in Bristol with the Clifton suspension bridge in the distance.

Ever wondered what is the perfect Carradice bag for Audax cycling? Here are our recommendations.

1. Carradice Original's Pendle Saddlebag

El uses the Carradice Original's Pendle Saddlebag, which weighs 630g and holds up to 11 litres! Made from our classic 18 ounce Cotton Duck material it is 100% waterproof. Features include:

  • Made from 100% waterproof waxed 18oz cotton duck
  • 2 pockets
  • Handmade in the UK using high quality materials and fixings
  • Double seams for extra strength
  • LED mounting strap
  • Extendable flap for large loads
  • High-quality reflectors (colour may vary)
  • 2 colours available – Black and Green
  • Leather patches on corners help protect from abrasion
  • Strapping points on the lined lid allow lashing of extra loads
  • D rings to fit adjustable shoulder strap (sold separately)

Price: £89.00

2. Carradice Lightweight Cambrian Bikepacking Saddlebag (9-17L)

The Lightweight Cambrian Bikepacking Saddlebag has been specifically designed with Audax and Bikepacking riders in mind. Its a smaller version of the Odyssey XL Saddlebag with a roll top closure for flexible capacity - ideal for day as well as longer rides. It includes:

  • 2 external pockets with storm flaps and quick release buckles
  • Made from tough lightweight 1000 denier Cordura
  • Weighs 600g
  • 9-17 litres of storage space
  • Handmade in the UK
  • Internal organizer with zipped pocket
  • D rings on the lid to attach extra loads
  • LED strap
  • Reflectors on each pocket
  • 3 colours available: Black, Neon, Camo

Price: £79.00

Fergus Coyle Photography

I have been riding bikes my whole life and particularly love going long distances, preferably with a tent strapped to the back. I’ve toured across Europe and North America, raced around Ireland in the Transatlantic Way and regularly take part in events around the South West with Audax Club Bristol.
My photography background is a mixture of commissioned work and creative projects, often centered around travel and cycling.

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