5 Things I Learned About Business From Bike Racing

Bike racing is often termed, ‘Chess on Wheels.’ This is for good reason as it is as much a thinking game as it is a physical one. For example, you could train with a much stronger rider on a daily basis and get your doors blown off 9 times out of 10… however, in a race scenario, it’s very possible to beat the stronger rider every race due to their lack of being able to ‘read a race’ and not knowing how to dose their efforts. But I digress…

It was only when I began working on forming UESCA that I began to notice and appreciate the similarities between bike racing and building a business. There is so much minutiae involved with building and running a business that it’s very easy to get lost in the weeds and lose focus. This is why sports are so awesome. By and large, they cut through all the BS and minutiae and clearly present the facts and risks at hand in a way that is easy to understand and take action on.

Attack with one lap to go and possibly win, or possibly get caught and lose – the options and possible outcomes are clear. A cyclist has to perform a near instant risk analysis of the scenario and act one way or another. In this scenario, a cyclist has no time to wade through a million factors or wait to see what someone else will do. A decision has to be made and once made, must be fully committed to. Using this example, I found that using cycling scenarios as a reference point to UESCA provided me (and still does) with a level of clarity that allowed me to make sound and expeditious decisions to manage and grow UESCA.

1. Know The Competition

Talk to any cyclist that races with some frequency and they’ll tell you that at every race within a particular region, it’s usually the same cast of characters racing from one week to the next. Due to this, you have a good opportunity to learn the strengths and weaknesses of your fellow competitors.

CYCLING SCENARIO: As a muscularly-challenged cyclist (read: good at going up hills – flat sprints… not so much!) I was constantly racing against much faster sprinters. I knew that when racing against them, I typically had two options – tire them out so they couldn’t sprint as fast at the end, or drop them. If there was a hill, I’d try to drop them and if no hill, I’d often repeatedly launch short, sharp attacks to force them to chase me to tire them out.

BUSINESS SCENARIO: You need to assess your competition to see what their strengths and weaknesses are and decide on a strategy take advantage of their weakness or weaknesses. In some cases, this might even mean partnering with them in some fashion. Emailing the competition to see how fast they respond, reading reviews, understanding their core market and values and learning what they do well and not so well are just some examples of how to assess the competition.

2. Pack Fill

Yours truly trying my best to not get dropped!

This term in the cycling world is not exactly glamorous or flattering. It refers to a cyclist that just hangs out amongst all the other riders (termed: pack or peloton). The connotation is that either due to a lack of fitness, wanting to have an easy race or a lack of ambition, the cyclist doesn’t ever attempt to make a move(s) such as attacking or chasing down breakaways. In other words, they’re just along for the ride and while they may not be dropped, they’ll just finish with everyone else and will never put themselves in contention to possibly win. It must be noted that when riding as ‘pack fill,’ it’s much easier physically than riding aggressively due to being in the draft of other riders all the time – so it’s a very cushy way to get through a bike race.

Pack fill riders are technically in the race, but from a standpoint of making an impression or doing anything substantial, they might as well of stayed home and watched Netflix!

BUSINESS SCENARIO: Don’t be pack fill. Whether it has to do with your marketing, networking or revenue – don’t sit back and let your business churn along aimlessly. This is an easy scenario to end up in, especially if your coaching business is a side gig that doesn’t bring in the bulk of your income… or if your coaching business is doing well so you rest on your laurels. However, you started your coaching business to thrive so get out there, upshift and attack! Is it going to be hard? Yes. Will you have to push outside your comfort zone? Most likely. Will you fail? Possibly. But assuming you started your business to succeed, attacking is the only option!

3. Know When To React

Tactically, bike racing is very different than most other endurance sports such as running or triathlon. It’s not about riding one’s own pace, but rather adjusting their pace based on the actions of other riders. Tactics are largely based around wind resistance, or more specifically, minimizing one’s exposure to it. As an example, if there is a strong headwind and a bunch of cyclists accelerate as a group, you have two options – accelerate with them or be left behind. Conversely, if riding up a hill and another rider attacks, you have to decide if you want to chase them and use a lot of energy or keep going at the same pace and gamble that you’ll eventually catch up to them. There are near endless scenarios like the aforementioned ones that all have multiple factors that need to be taken into consideration to determine the best course of action. The main take away is that you cannot react to all attacks due to limited energy, so you have to analyze each scenario and decide which ones are most imperative to respond to.

BUSINESS SCENARIO: Like bike racing, there are endless scenarios that will require you to determine how to react. Perhaps it is a mean spirited email, a request for a new service, a partnership request or an unhappy athlete. Regardless of the scenario, you’ll have to decide how to react. The one advantage that you have in business is that rarely does your analysis and response to a situation need to occur in a matter of seconds!

Additionally, like bike racing where an effort now might cost you down the road, you have to think about how an action now might affect your business in the long term.

4. Learn To Love Racing In The Rain

A coach once told me that when it’s raining at the start of a race, you can right off the bat, count at least 50% of the riders to be non-factors due to being demoralized. While I’m not sure if this statistic is correct, it’s quite telling. As noted above, pack fill refers to cyclists that are just along for the ride and will never factor into a race. The greater the obstacles (ex: rain, headwinds, crashes, hard pace, etc…) the greater the percent of pack fill. Therefore, in order to be able to deal with harsh race day conditions, you have to train in them. Yes it sucks, but it’s a necessity if you want to be a good cyclist and not just be along for the ride.

BUSINESS SCENARIO: There are a lot of hurdles to get over to start a business and even more pain points to run one. Due to this, a lot of people never start a business or stagnate once they encounter obstacles or don’t get immediate traction. Understanding that obstacles are part of starting and growing a business will help you to accept them as normal and not as painful. Like training in the rain, there are often a lot of things business owners can do to minimize the negative effect of otherwise painful situations. Networking, forecasting, sweating the details and most of all, persevering through tough times will almost always pay dividends in the long run.

5. Quit

I’ve actually only ever quit one race. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve crashed out, been lapped and told to get off the race course and come in way behind the winner countless times… but actually quitting, just once. I can still remember the race. It was a race in the spring and during the race, the temperature dropped from 50 degrees to 30 in what seemed like minutes and was accompanied by freezing rain. To this day, I’m not sure I’ve ever been more miserable on the bike. Between seeing other riders drop like flies and knowing that I had a support car following the race, I pulled over the side of the road, hit the brakes and called it a day.

Was this a smart move due to the weather conditions? Probably. However, for the next few weeks, I was so mad at myself for quitting. Actually mad doesn’t begin to describe my feelings… furious is more like it! So every race that I did after that where I felt like quitting (which occurs at some point in every race!), I always thought back to the feeling I had after quitting and remembered that I never wanted to experience that again.

BUSINESS SCENARIO: Sometimes the best lessons are the hardest ones. Whether it be losing money from making too big of a gamble or even having a business close, there is ALWAYS a learning experience that can be gained from an unfortunate circumstance. But… in order to learn from these scenarios, you have to be able to get past the pain and disappointment and view the scenario in a different light and truly be open to learning from it. We all make mistakes, the goal is not to make the same one twice or more!

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Rick Prince is the founder/director of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA), a science-based endurance sports education company. UESCA educates and certifies running and triathlon coaches (cycling and ultrarunning coming soon!) worldwide on a 100% online platform.

Click here to download the UESCA Triathlon Course Overview/Syllabus

Click here to download the UESCA Running Course Overview/Syllabus

Rick Prince

Rick Prince

Founder/Director of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA).

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