We’ve seen them all. Groups of weekend warriors, wrapped in brightly colored (often overstretched) Lycra, sipping lattes in a café packed with what looks like a slightly overdone version of the pro cycling peloton. The familiar ‘clicking’ of cleats on polished concrete is all too familiar in most inner city cafes on weekends. Mixed with the usual brunch conversation, you’ll hear serious discussions on topics like average watts, the aerodynamic benefits of shoe covers and the best leg hair removal techniques.
While MAMILs (Middle-Aged Men in Lycra) have long been widely derided and dismissed as hard-working with some kind of identity crisis, many are now turning to the very real commercial benefits of riding on the group on a weekend.
For the past three decades, golf has reigned supreme as a business networking business for the superstar CEO. Many high-profile corporate deals have been struck on the fairways of world-class golf courses, or over another drink at the country club. These days cycling has firmly established itself as the preferred networking event for the modern entrepreneur.
Golf and cycling share many similarities, and it’s easy to see why more and more corporate players hit the roads every weekend. Fashion choices are notoriously evasive, with plaid pants or tight-fitting pink lycra pants becoming a common sight. The obsession with owning and showing off the best and most expensive equipment is also prevalent in both sports. It’s not uncommon to see a $20,000 bike on a suburban group ride around Melbourne. Carbon wheels, power meters or carbon putters. Everything is really the same.
Despite this, it is the social aspects of joint physical activity that hold the key to cycling’s popularity among our business leaders. Instead of the formal, structured interactions so prevalent in our boardrooms, cycling offers a relaxed and flexible environment combined with a true sense of shared achievement and camaraderie. The group journey also allows participants to evaluate their companions on a pure, primitive level without the masks and personas of ordinary business meetings. Not only physical fitness but willingness to work towards a team goal, self-sacrifice, aggression, resilience are all on display and impossible to fake when you’re riding into a screaming headwind with 40km still to ride. Sometimes it is the collective suffering of the difficult journey that binds the participants. Shared water bottle, warm bag of “fruit” flavored energy gel handed over to a frail companion.
The post-ride ritual of donuts and coffee (or a full-fat fry-up) is where the magic really happens. Share stories of real (or slightly exaggerated) ride stuff, power outputs, average speeds, and Euro-Pro fashion tips. The bond that develops on a group journey creates an ideal environment for business deals. Information is shared, opinions are sought and offered, and connections are made. It seems reasonable. Of course you’ll be dealing with someone you’re riding with as a stranger.
As someone who works in a sales-based role, I have found cycling to be invaluable in building and fostering not only genuine social friendships, but also mutually beneficial working relationships. Not only do I enjoy the fitness and social elements of a ride, but I find that my work benefits equally from the open networks of social cycling.
The great thing about cycling over golf is that it doesn’t take long to get to a level of proficiency that allows you to participate. You don’t have to hit endless training shots for years on end not to humiliate yourself, you just need a bike, some lycra, and some vague level of fitness.
If you’re starting a business, looking to expand your network, or just want to make new friends, cycling is a great way to meet people. See you on the way. I’ll bring my business cards.