Never mind partaking in a few rounds of golf to help seal a deal – an increasing number of leaders are heading out on two wheels to create new partnerships and attract investors. Director took to the road with execs and experts to find out why cycling is the new networking
Attending fundraisers or industry events was once considered the best way to forge new relationships in business. Despite the popularity of social media, many business leaders attest that there’s still no substitute for face-to-face networking. Not only does it build up trust and respect, it enables leaders to get to know their potential customers or investors on a personal level. While LinkedIn messages can all too easily sit idly in inboxes, faces and encounters are harder to forget.
If games of corporate golf or weekends away at a swanky resort used to provide the occasional fun diversion, an increasing number of directors are now looking for more thrilling, energetic and health-enhancing ways to network – in particular, through cycling.
The surge of interest in cycling has been well documented in the wake of Bradley Wiggins’ victory in the 2012 Tour de France (British Cycling saw its membership surge over 50 per cent in the 12 months following the win). Cycling has now become the third most popular recreational activity in Britain, with an estimated 6.8 million people riding each month. Meanwhile, research published by cycling charity CTC in January estimated that the pastime could be worth £248bn to the UK economy between 2015 and 2050.
Leading the trend
Organisers of cycling groups, clubs and events are noticing they’re fast becoming the latest trend among business leaders who want to build new connections in a less formal environment with the added bonus of getting fit. Not only does it enable them to get a bit of breathing space from the office, but talking shop while riding outdoors alleviates the awkwardness that can sometimes accompany work meetings.
“We’ve definitely noticed a surge in the number of directors taking part in our tours,” says Tina Makin, managing director of Passion in Events (Pie), a company that specialises in bespoke cycle events throughout the UK and Europe. “Cycling brings people together because it caters for lots of different abilities and it’s a great way to share time away from the office and switch off.”
To meet the demand, some of Pie’s events have been tailored to bring company heads together. “We provide corporate entertainment packages which are very popular, such as evening rides with dinner and accommodation somewhere at the end of it,” adds Makin. “It’s a great way for directors to meet and greet in a relaxed environment. Sometimes an event will involve joining two company headquarters across Europe together, with a cycle from London to Paris, for example. This gives leaders the motivation to meet potential clients in another country.”
But the benefits aren’t merely social. Regular cycling not only aids weight-loss, reduces stress, and improves cardiovascular fitness, it also has positive effects on the brain. In a 2014 study in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, scientists found that people scored higher on tests of memory, planning and reasoning after just 30 minutes of spinning on a stationary bike. It’s also much easier and kinder on the joints than running and one of the easiest forms of exercise to fit into daily life. An hour of pedalling at a moderate pace can burn around 300 calories – and it’s certainly more eco-friendly than driving. Given all these positives, it’s no wonder that so many business leaders are jumping into the saddle.
One of them is Alison Love, founder of Alison Love Ltd, a company that provides mediation and leadership skills services. The 54-year-old managing director, who is a member of IoD Wales and Swansea, took up cycling two years ago with some associates. “It was a nice social thing for us all to do together.” Love explains. “We started off going out on a few trails at weekends and it was tough at first. But the fitter we all got the easier it became and the more fun we had. Cycling clubs are a great way to network because you establish authentic connections with people that are much more organic.”
Simon Mottram, the chief executive of premium cycling clothes brand Rapha, which also has eight café cycle clubs around the world (including London’s Soho), says: “They are a great ‘neutral’ space for business meetings. Over the last 10 years we’ve seen road cycling go from a niche pastime to becoming the most popular of all sporting activities for business leaders. It’s become something of an epidemic – but a good one!”
He also puts the move away from more meditative activities such as golf down to the fact that they no longer suit the health-conscious and frenetic environment of the modern workplace. “As all of us get more interested in living healthy lives, so we are turning to more active sports,” Mottram says. “Playing golf and corporate entertaining at sports events are nice things to do but they don’t fit with our self-image any more.”
So if you are looking for a way to build new contacts while staying trim, perhaps it’s time to get on your bike.
Watch more about Pie’s bespoke cycling events at passioninevents.co.uk