Does the way you ride say what sort of employee you'd be? Lucy Kellaway thinks it might.

Financial Times columnist suggests replacing psychometric tests with a bike ride with the boss

by John Stevenson   November 4, 2013  

London cyclists (CC licensed by Ambernectar 13:Flickr)

Does the way you ride a bike indicate what sort of employee you’d be? Financial Times management columnist Lucy Kellaway thinks so.

Ms Kellaway was inspired to muse on the topic by rider she spotted while riding through the City of London on a “dark morning” last week.

She writes: “I was overtaken by a man in a black coat with no helmet, no lights, and listening to music through headphones.

“Idiot, I thought. As he disappeared into the underground parking of a large bank, I wondered: what sort of banker does a man like that make? Either he is boneheaded in his assessment of risk – or he wants to die. Both are unfortunate traits in someone who handles someone else’s money.”

Like many mass-media writers, Ms Kellaway admits to initially seeing cyclists as a homogenous group, though - for a change - in a positive way. 

“All of us are vaguely fit,” she writes. “We have the wherewithal to be reliable and punctual. When the trains stop running as a result of a little wind – as they did in London last Monday – we still get to work on time.”

So, unlike your average columnist with an 800-word space to fill and a deadline 45 minutes away, she went out and watched some Actual Cyclists.

“Only 10 minutes on a London road shows that we aren’t a group at all. Some of us are fast, some slow. Some wear helmets, some don’t. Some break all the rules, some break none.”

Rather than waste money on dubious psychometric testing, maybe employers should watch prospective employees ride a bike, she suggests. And don’t protest that you’re a tiger on the road and a kitten at your desk. “On a bike you are close to death and so become a more intense version of your true self,” she writes.

She observes three other riders whose on-bike behaviour she thinks is telling. One, with a “trouser leg rolled up to reveal a meaty calf” she commends as a problem-solver, dealing with the lack of a trouser clip, though you might well say that you’d rather not work with someone so scatty they’d forget their bike clips.

A fixie rider track-standing at lights she dismisses as a show-off; and then she gets to red light behaviour.

“Clearly, it is the red light that is the richest point for data gathering,” she writes after observing a woman on a Brompton annoying people by riding through pedestrians at a crossing by St Paul’s. She would fail the Kellaway Employment Suitability Test, but “other red-light skippers – who do so without inconveniencing anyone – possibly pass.”

Ms Kellaway also identifies a phenomenon every female cyclist will be familiar with. “Not only does cycling show how competitive someone is, it shows how men feel about women being faster than them,” she writes. “On the (increasingly rare) occasions when I overtake a man on a bike, he almost always overtakes me back at once, just to make the point.”

You do have to give her credit for self-awareness though. A spin on the back of a tandem, with a captain who turned out to ride “safely, confidently and courteously” left her “terrified: to be on a bike without being me felt all wrong.”

“I like being in control,” she concludes. “I’m cavalier about some rules and fairly selfish, but try not to be flagrantly obnoxious. I wear a helmet, a nasty fluorescent tabard and high heels – but to prevent any more pairs being destroyed by the pedals I have invented a heel condom made out of an old inner tube. Which shows I can be creative – but only when really desperate.”

29 user comments

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Betteridge's law of headlines certainly applies here...

posted by kevtufc [28 posts]
4th November 2013 - 14:55

20 Likes

I think this would need far more study before being accepted as anything close to fact. For example: I behave completely differently in a competitive environment than I do out on the road on a Sunday morning, which Ms Kellaway clearly hasn't taken into account. Interesting, but needs more research...

posted by Linkinbassist [33 posts]
4th November 2013 - 15:08

20 Likes

I guess the piece is just a bit of fun, but thinking about it, you probably can tell a fare bit about someone as an employee from the way they ride.

And there attitude to work. crap bike, big muscular legs, v expensive bike, flabby sparrow legs...

mrmo's picture

posted by mrmo [1362 posts]
4th November 2013 - 15:34

23 Likes

The man in the black coat heading into the bank's carpark was as likely to be the Latvian odd job man as some rich banker. More likely in fact.

It really doesn't do to apply stereotypes based on dress. Hang around a Ferrari garage to find that one out.

posted by racyrich [152 posts]
4th November 2013 - 15:41

24 Likes

And the rubbish articles continue it seems.

posted by northstar [1110 posts]
4th November 2013 - 16:32

25 Likes

...sigh....really? perhaps this site is not meant for you...

posted by brackley88 [80 posts]
4th November 2013 - 16:48

15 Likes

Could be really interesting it is was flushed out slightly and some preconceptions were dropped

posted by jarredscycling [456 posts]
4th November 2013 - 17:56

8 Likes

A little more science and it would be worth considering.

What people call “stereotypes” are what scientists call “empirical generalisations,” and they are the foundation of scientific theory. That’s what scientists do, and we plebs; we make generalisations. Many stereotypes are empirical generalisations with a statistical basis and thus on average tend to be true. If they are not true, they wouldn’t be stereotypes. The only problem with stereotypes and empirical generalisations is that they are not always true for all individual cases. They are generalisations, not invariant laws. There are always individual exceptions to stereotypes and empirical generalisations. The danger lies in applying the empirical generalisations to individual cases, which may or may not be exceptions. But these individual exceptions do not invalidate the generalisations.

solentine

posted by solentine [95 posts]
4th November 2013 - 18:16

14 Likes

solentine wrote:
A little more science and it would be worth considering.

What people call “stereotypes” are what scientists call “empirical generalisations,” and they are the foundation of scientific theory. That’s what scientists do, and we plebs; we make generalisations. Many stereotypes are empirical generalisations with a statistical basis and thus on average tend to be true. If they are not true, they wouldn’t be stereotypes. The only problem with stereotypes and empirical generalisations is that they are not always true for all individual cases. They are generalisations, not invariant laws. There are always individual exceptions to stereotypes and empirical generalisations. The danger lies in applying the empirical generalisations to individual cases, which may or may not be exceptions. But these individual exceptions do not invalidate the generalisations.

Agree - but try telling some of the people on here. Make a generalisation or use a stereotype and you have committed a cardinal sin/killed a kitten.

I guess it must be nice to be paid to write this sort of thing.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1200 posts]
4th November 2013 - 18:30

9 Likes

I'm guessing the bank she mentioned was Goldman Sachs, because the laws of the land really don't apply to them.

I'm a human being, God damn it! My life has value. I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.

posted by Carl [136 posts]
4th November 2013 - 18:34

17 Likes

Well surely then we could also tell a lot about people from the way they drive. Are they aware/considerate of other road users? Are they making progress or just dodging around achieving nothing and annoying/scaring others (manager)? Or whether they use the middle urinal from an empty group of 3 (sociopath)?

posted by SteppenHerring [230 posts]
4th November 2013 - 18:35

7 Likes

I'm just impressed that banker chap even got on his bike the morning after what was no doubt a very late one in Spearmint Rhino drinking Dom Perignon & talking absolute bollocks at anyone in earshot while rubbing his nose a lot.

posted by Nick T [844 posts]
4th November 2013 - 20:13

9 Likes

Just being on a bike and commuting in London says a lot about you. One, you don't like other people (hence avoiding the tube). Two, you don't believe in myths (cycling in London is dangerous), Three, you value money (have you seen Tube prices?) Four, you value time (how long does it take on public transport? And so on...

The Human Cyclist A blog. Try it, you might like it...

sm's picture

posted by sm [355 posts]
4th November 2013 - 21:03

9 Likes

should a financial times journalist who is shocked to discover that city bankers might not be the epitome of responsible behaviour really be in that job at all?

Northernbike's picture

posted by Northernbike [173 posts]
4th November 2013 - 21:17

9 Likes

I've tried every kind of trouser clip and they are all rubbish, so the assumption that the leg roller is forgetful is nonsense

also track-standing is a safety thing: if you have both feet on the pedals, clipped in, you make a faster getaway which is better when there are cars also accelerating behind you

posted by prestwichdynamo [1 posts]
4th November 2013 - 21:18

9 Likes

prestwichdynamo wrote:
also track-standing is a safety thing: if you have both feet on the pedals, clipped in, you make a faster getaway which is better when there are cars also accelerating behind you

I disagree. A track stand is no quicker than clipping back in, in fact I would say it is slower. For a track stand you need your pedals roughly at 3 and 9 pm on the clock face hence you get a pretty slow start. Much better to jump down from 12 oclock and clip in quickly.

Plus most track stands look stupid. You spend all that energy trying to stay upright. Seriously, is clipping in and out really that difficult? Wink

The Human Cyclist A blog. Try it, you might like it...

sm's picture

posted by sm [355 posts]
4th November 2013 - 22:03

9 Likes

I commute in Northern Ireland, and have the joy of being able to travel to work either traffic free & slightly off road via a well maintained Coastal Path 16.5 miles ( MTB or Cyclocross required ) or by road 14.5 miles. I frequently vary which route & which bike I take to & from work, sometimes using single speed. My dress sense will change depending which bike / route im using, so wee bit of a generalisation to try and pigeon hole people by what they are riding or wearing, but none the less a nice article, providing a bit of fun in the morning!
Cool

Scott A. Harkins

scottharkins1971's picture

posted by scottharkins1971 [21 posts]
5th November 2013 - 8:26

6 Likes

I hate that trackstanding is showing off, I just find it convenient, don't judge me!

J Montaño's picture

posted by J Montaño [11 posts]
5th November 2013 - 9:03

10 Likes

SteppenHerring wrote:
Well surely then we could also tell a lot about people from the way they drive. Are they aware/considerate of other road users? Are they making progress or just dodging around achieving nothing and annoying/scaring others (manager)? Or whether they use the middle urinal from an empty group of 3 (sociopath)?

You may be on to something. I was cut up yesterday by a toad-like oik in a small grey van. At the next set of lights we were alongside each other and I noticed out of the corner of my eye that he was looking across at me, as if daring me to make a comment so he could leap out and start a fight. So I looked at him and I did wonder whether he was a sociopathic BNP or EDL member, or perhaps a Millwall supporter.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2308 posts]
5th November 2013 - 9:23

8 Likes

Wish I could track stand...it looks cool

posted by brackley88 [80 posts]
5th November 2013 - 10:00

7 Likes

On stereotypes: the other day I was walking through London when I spotted two very crusty, tattooed messengers on those fixies with sawn-off bars, both were obediently waiting for a red to go green. As they waited, an obviously middle-class girl on Brompton blithely rode past them through the red lights.

Earlier this morning I was crossing a road, green man flashing, and was nearly hit by another lady, on a Boris bike, who had cycled the wrong way down a 1-way street and was turning into the road I was crossing.

Two sensible messengers, two stupid women, proving you just can't stereotype any kind of rider.

I'm a human being, God damn it! My life has value. I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.

posted by Carl [136 posts]
5th November 2013 - 11:45

12 Likes

Flip it the other way...
I'd like to be driven round by a potential boss and see how they behave at the wheel of a car before deciding if I want to work for them.

Joselito's picture

posted by Joselito [143 posts]
5th November 2013 - 13:03

14 Likes

The article did go some way to separate "all cyclists" myth. The study could be very revealing both for cyclists and drivers.
Trouser leg/cycle clips is open to interpretation. I ride a bike with chain guards but if I have to ride one without, I'll roll mine up too.
Until I moved to London from NL, I'd barely set foot in a bike shop - in Holland, I bought my bikes from an old bloke who reconditioned them, rode them into the ground for a year and bought a "new" one. It was only when I moved to London, I started using bike shops, I even went and worked in one!
It comes down to walk a mile in my shoes. You have to know much more about a person to properly analyse how and why the ride the way they do.

posted by Belaroo [44 posts]
5th November 2013 - 13:07

8 Likes

Maybe we need an article on how to track stand - it isn't difficult and once people realise how easy it is then it wouldn't be showing off would it? Wink

Shay

posted by shay cycles [254 posts]
5th November 2013 - 13:18

11 Likes

If only Jon Snow hadn'd said such nonsense the other day, we could come up with a theory about good journalists being cyclists and bad ones (like Petronella Moir) being non-cyclists. Damn.

Edgeley

posted by Edgeley [195 posts]
5th November 2013 - 14:19

5 Likes

I don't think she was stereotyping people, just making observations (and providing content for the article) based on 10 minutes at a junction where behaviour differences are most obvious.

brackley88 wrote:
Wish I could track stand...it looks cool

It's not so hard. Just practice. Some tips here.

I decided to learn to do it after getting frustrated in queues - I would gradually slow and finally stop and put my foot down only for the lights to change to green! Starting off in traffic can be a bit of a slow grind, particularly on a gradient, even with stamp-and-go double sided SPDs.

I am not really proficient, can only wobble/wriggle for 10-15 seconds. If someone thinks I'm showing off (which is unlikely) that's entirely their problem.

Joselito wrote:
Flip it the other way...
I'd like to be driven round by a potential boss and see how they behave at the wheel of a car before deciding if I want to work for them.

Good point!

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2055 posts]
5th November 2013 - 15:45

5 Likes

sm wrote:
prestwichdynamo wrote:
also track-standing is a safety thing: if you have both feet on the pedals, clipped in, you make a faster getaway which is better when there are cars also accelerating behind you

I disagree. A track stand is no quicker than clipping back in, in fact I would say it is slower. For a track stand you need your pedals roughly at 3 and 9 pm on the clock face hence you get a pretty slow start. Much better to jump down from 12 oclock and clip in quickly.

Plus most track stands look stupid. You spend all that energy trying to stay upright. Seriously, is clipping in and out really that difficult? Wink

Check out the loser who can't trackstand!

Chicks* dig** trackstanding.

*By Chicks, I mean other inappropriately dressed men on bikes.

** By dig, I mean give you a barely perceptible chin jut of recognition.

posted by farrell [1580 posts]
6th November 2013 - 12:21

4 Likes

“I was overtaken by a man in a black coat with no helmet, no lights, and listening to music through headphones."

So what is her point? What did he do wrong exactly except ride his bike in a manner that didn't appeal to her? Was it actually night time, in which case not having lights would seem to be his only transgression. Personally I would have worn a helmet but that's my own choice.

Andy

posted by jazzdude [61 posts]
10th November 2013 - 23:37

1 Like

@Carl "I'm guessing the bank she mentioned was Goldman Sachs, because the laws of the land really don't apply to them."

Which law would that be then, the one that says "though shalt not wear a dark coat" or the one about compulsory helmet wearing?

Andy

posted by jazzdude [61 posts]
10th November 2013 - 23:40

2 Likes