Everyone wins when everyone pulls-Cycling Lessons on Leadership

A few years ago I made a commitment to ride my bike across Canada with the Coast to Coast Against Cancer Foundation as a method to raise funds and awareness for paediatric cancer. I expected emotional and physical challenges as we crossed the vast landscape, but what I never thought was that I would learn lessons on leadership at the same time.
Organised sports have long been cited as being the foundation for adults and youth alike to take on challenges as a team and work to achieve them. However, in the more traditional team environment the role of leader is traditionally filled through a coach or manager who comes with more experience. This often limits the opportunity to have those not comfortable with leadership roles to step up and try them on.

Everyone Pulls

What road cycling taught me was that in a great team EVERYONE holds a leadership position. Certainly there are those that are naturally stronger and are able to carry more of the weight, but a great peloton (cycling formation) is formed with a balanced approach.

When each person takes a turn in the front of the group (referred to as pulling), the rest of the team can take a moment to recover their strength at the back so they are ready for their next turn. This small reprieve from the wind or weather provides each individual a chance to rest and reset.

Short Turns

Now, not everyone is ready to pull for hundreds of kiliometres, but even just a short stint at the front can help to build confidence and skill for those with less experience. It also provides those with knowledge and talent to pull beside the less accomplished rider and help them to improve as individuals.

Is it the journey or the destination?

These short stints as group leader might not be as fast or as smooth a ride as those led by one of the more talented riders in the group, but in the end the whole team can arrive at their destination just the same. Each time I was empowered to pull despite being the least skilled rider, I felt more connected to my team and was able to push my own boundaries further. As a result of pushing outside my comfort zone I improved and became a better contributor to the team as a whole.

In business we often default to doing things with the same people “pulling” because it is what we know. This leaves the bulk of the team hiding from the weather and wind and coasting along behind without a chance to learn and grow. It also often causes a rift between those at the front and those at the back because they never get the time to bond and share skills if they don’t switch positions and see the view from another persons saddle.

Maybe it takes a few more minutes to arrive so everyone can contribute, or maybe it means getting rained on, but each person got to grow through the process. This results in making the whole team more capable of meeting the next challenge.

In the end if the entire team meets its goal, does it make any difference how you got there? 

Ride Your Bike-New Zealand!

On a recent trip to New Zealand I had the chance to do some mountain biking in some of the best* parks I have ever been in.

The best part about the journey I did around NZ other than the people was the changing scenery and landscape and I have to say that the trails and parks followed the same feel.  There are parks and trails operated all over the country and I only had a chance to sample a few, but I anticipate the flavour and outstanding level of maintenance is not localized, but national.

Trails are maintained by great local mountain bike clubs and the Department of Conservation and are proof that the entire country definitely seems to take pride in both the sport and the beautiful land that trails are built on.

This is where we stopped for a snack. Can’t beat looking out over the lake from the trail-Photo Credit Rowan Hick

Queenstown-Seven Mile

Seven mile is a no cost series of trails just outside of Queenstown.  We were lucky enough to steal a local friend to escort us because I promise we would have never found the nondescript parking lot along side the lake without a guide.

While trail levels vary they are all fed by a climb up to the top of a spiderweb that feeds the trailhead.  My Canadian (Ontario specifically) self was used to not really having to climb for very long and I have to say I was fully warmed up by the time we finished the climb to get started.  After a few lighter trails we started to get moving and spent a few hours weaving our way in and out of a beautiful pine forest with tightly packed dry singletrack.  Filled with trails at every skill set I would love to have had more time to explore.  That being said I loved a coulple enough to do them more than once.

Trails were in great shape and the forest was absolutely free from any debris that didn’t belong-proving once again that mountain bikers are lovers of nature and the environment.

Kudos to the Queenstown MTB Club for it’s efforts on this great park.

Auckland-Woodhill

While the only pay per use park ($7NZD/day) I rode in New Zealand, Woodhill is a beautiful forest full of everything from family friendly tracks all the way up to a pretty wicked (looking-I didn’t try any) trick park.  About 30 minutes outside of Auckland this was also the longest we had to drive to get to go for a ride, but the drive was definitely worth the effort.  Locals did speak of a route to the park via open trails but the ride there and back would have been longer than the couple of hours we had available to ride.

With a very sandy base this park is a bit hard on your drive train, but we were lucky enough to visit it after a couple weeks of rain and found it in a pretty good level of packing from the water in the forest.  Great trail markings and maps in different locations made it easy to figure out where you were and to shift easily from a harder trail onto an easier one (or vice versa) with little slowing you down.  I didn’t find the park suggested route flowing quite as nicely as some others I have ridden, but I think that with some time and experience in the park there is lots of flow to be found and more ways than I can count to challenge yourself as a rider.

Rotorua-Whakarewarewa

The Whakarewarewa (faakka-ray-wa-ray-wa…yeah that was hard for me too) Forest is as close to my soul as a forest outside of British Columbia can possibly get.  I was born on Vancouver Island and the giant redwoods of Whakerewarewa made me feel at home.  Rich rainforest like ambiance filled with signature silver ferns on the forest floor and a stream that would rival any storybook combined with a tall canopy that filtered in this amazing gauzy green sunlight and made you feel like you were wrapped in goodness.

Access to the forest is free but the local bike and tourist shops do sell a very cool microfibre waterproof trail map for somewhere between $5-10NZD.  Money well spent as there are over 100km of trails for all skill levels as well as multi use trails for everything from prams to trail running.

Some of the trails were in rough shape because of recent heavy rain and while I did successfully manage to come out reasonably clean, I did have to navigate some trails a bit slower than I would have liked because there were some massive divets from run off that were almost exactly the width of my tires.  What I enjoyed most about this forest was the fact that it was a mere 6km from the downtown core and we were very easily able to ride to the park rather than having to drive to a destination before going for a bike ride.

*This is my first season as mountain biker.  I do have a fair amount of kilometres under my wheel on a road bike, but am no pro.. hell I am no amateur, but a passionate newbie at best.  I do not mean to consider myself an expert on what makes a great trail, but I follow the logic of the smile test and feel that it can be the best definition of any sporting experience.  

The smile test: In sport it is said that it doesn’t matter what level you are performing at, but if you finish the run, ride, swim, wave etc with a smile on your face that is the definition of a good experience.

You can have a flowy piece of singletrack that just makes you feel happy and even if it wasn’t technical you can consider the run worth the time.

You can enjoy a downhill ride with a tail wind and consider that a great day cycling.

You can have a run with the perfect breeze, ride the softest wave and more.  Athletes that enjoy the time they spend should not always question whether or not it was their hardest or most challenging effort, but if they enjoyed it.

Joy can be defined in so many ways..don’t question how you found it.

Special Note also goes to the Queen Charlotte Track.  I am coming back to ride you one day on a road bike!