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

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.”

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.