Like most physical activities, audaxes mean different things to different people. They are designed to be rides of exploration, both in terms of the countryside and the rider's capabilities. You get to see some truly stunning scenery on (usually) quiet roads. You also test your body and mind to see if you have what it takes to complete the ride, hopefully leaving yourself wanting to push for bigger challenges in future.
Most sporting disciplines are quite rigid in terms of what you're trying to achieve. They're typically race-oriented or just for fun. Within the cycling world there's a broad spectrum of motivations across many types of cycling. We go all the way from gentle, short recreational rides to fully competitive races like cross-country, time trialing and road racing. Audaxing is definitely in the "recreational" camp, but the levels of endurance required make it comparable in difficulty to competitive racing. Furthermore, some riders will make a point of completing an audax as fast as possible.
This leads me on to the key point that audaxes are not timed, and there are no leaderboards or timed result sheets. You either complete an audax or you don't. As you do more of them, the completion of a standard audax (200 or 300km) loses its shine and you then need to consider the awards that combine multiple events of varying distances.
Audaxes do not come with support. There is no broom wagon or mobile mechanic, no number to call if you're stuck, no signs showing you the way. A lot of them will promise free food and drink at one or more intermediate controls, and you can generally expect the same at the start of any audax, but a good many organisers will wave you off at the start and not expect to see you again - even at the finish! It is up to you to look after your bike and to keep nourished, and you will be expected to prove that you've ridden the whole distance by collecting receipts or bits of information, so there's a lot of care needed to make sure that you complete it and can get it validated afterwards!
What this means is that you're not just riding along, following arrows at the roadside, and expecting a feast of jelly babies and jaffa cakes every 20 miles or so. You need to be prepared, think about where you're going, and to me this makes it much more of a rewarding experience.
Audaxes are an excellent way to find new places and landscapes. Sure, you don't have to ride an audax to do this, but they give you the reassurance of quieter roads that have been checked beforehand. If you're on a calendar event, you also get the opportunity to enjoy it with other cyclists!
If this has left you wanting more, head over to the Audax UK's Calendar events page.