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The year is 2006. There is a sport which sees hundreds of thousands of people in the UK, mostly men over the age of 40, heading out each week for several hours of fresh air, exercise and socialising with colleagues.

 

Those who don’t share their passion make fun of their hobby; the unflattering clothing and the amount of money they spend on their kit in particular.

Senior executives soon realise they all enjoy the same past-time and it becomes totally acceptable to use it as a form of business networking away from the boardroom.

The sport was of course Golf.

The trope of cycling being the new golf is now well worn and corporate cycling events are sprouting up worldwide to cater for the flourishing interest amongst business minded MAMILS.

However, as we agree enthusiastically that ‘cycling is the new Golf’, are we at risk of falling into the same traps that have left golf in the worst shape it has been in for decades?

Cycling continues to prosper, but golf participation in the UK has declined 30% in the last 10 years

In 2006 more than four million Britons played golf. Last year, that number was just under 2.8m. Membership of clubs in England has fallen almost as sharply from 850,000 to 652,000 in the same period.

The continued decline in golf is put down to ‘time, cost and perception’ by England Golf’s participation director.

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Sound familiar? As I try and pack in my own training for 9 days riding from Land’s End to John O’Groats as part of the Deloitte Ride Across Britain, I can attest to these three barriers being just as acute in cycling, if not more so.

  • Time: The average time for a round of golf is generally held as being 4 hours (I confess I had to look that up). In training for a hundred-mile ride one should be regularly putting in sessions longer than that.
  • Money: A top quality set of golf clubs? Around £1,000-£1,500. A top of the line road bike? Now comfortably upwards of £5,000.
  • Perception: The most subjective, but critical barrier of all.

 

Now to be clear nearly all the metrics around cycling are booming from investment in infrastructure to female participation. However, the parallels with golf are uncanny.

I love cycling. The first present I ever remember opening was a BMX. I have raced in the Alps, crossed the Himalayas, ridden from Mexico to Vancouver on a tandem, always commute by bike and now organize, amongst other things, bicycle events for a living at Threshold Sports.

For many reasons I want us to be building relationships on our bikes in ten years’ time so let’s not make the same mistakes that golf has.

Let’s build a cycling culture that celebrates inclusivity not exclusivity

exclusive |ɪkˈskluːsɪv, ɛkˈskluːsɪv| adj.

  1. excluding or not admitting other things
  2. restricted to the person, group, or area concerned
  3. catering for or available to only a few, select customers; high class and expensive

The definition above is not what I think of when I think of cycling, but there is a risk we unwittingly drift into this territory. So here are a few simple things we can consider to help us see cycling secure it’s place in the corporate calendar for the next ten years.

Let’s actively look to recruit a more diverse crowd

The reason cycling is considered good for networking is because of a common interest, but let’s be bold and extend the invitation to those beyond just your age, colour, industry or postcode.

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The workplace is increasingly gender balanced and so let’s lead the way by actively encouraging more women to join in corporate cycling events. Deloitte have shown its possible and now have a 50:50 male female split for their employee places for Deloitte Ride Across Britain.

Let’s build a pathway from armchair to Alpe d’Huez

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If you are a cycling advocate encouraging your company to get involved, then don’t just push for a 7-day trans-Alp epic.

Start by taking places in a shorter, family friendly event like the Dulux Trade London Revolution, and ask for funding for a Cycle to Work Scheme or Cycle Skills training. This will help overcome a key barrier to participation and will provide a ladder from entry to elite. Before you know it you’ll have a thriving peloton scaling Ventoux as well.

Let’s show that it’s not really about the bike

It can be intimidating for colleagues to join a cycling club if everyone else shows up on a £5,000 bike, looking like they’ve walked out of the Rapha catalogue and insists on riding for a minimum of 100 miles on their pre-determined power levels.

To gather members, focus on the social aspects and encouragement that enables everyone to become a more confident and stronger cyclist. Riding at a steady pace, having a no-drop policy, ensuring there’s a good café stop and cheering people up hills (sometimes with a little push) can transform people’s experience.

Also, if you’re leading a novice group why not leave the carbon at home and turn up on a classic in some looser fitting kit. Yes it’s slower and ‘nobody wears baggy shorts’, but you’ll ride with a different outlook, and if you’re using down-tube shifters you’ll also rediscover some of the nervousness of learning a new skill on a bike. It’s about perception and if you turn up in kit that people can relate to you are already breaking down a key barrier. It’s also an excuse to buy a new bike as well which is never a bad thing.

It’s not who is first, it’s how many you bring along with you

The above are just a few ideas to ensure the increased corporate interest in cycling doesn’t burn out. If it is going to be a genuinely sustainable addition to the corporate calendar, let’s not focus on who is first across the line. Let’s make it about how many people you bring with you.

Nick Tuppen, Managing Director, Threshold Sports

If you’d like to speak to us about the range of events Threshold does for companies like Vodafone, Deloitte, RBS, Bupa and more then please get in touch or check out some client case studies.