What About Riding On Two Wheels Makes It An Ideal Mobile Networking Venue?

Cycling is fast becoming the new, diverse, inclusive networking activity of choice – pedal power seems to be boosting all kinds of business, including the property industry…

On the eve of the financial crash, a group of British property entrepreneurs embarked on a charity fundraising cycle ride from London to a convention in the south of France. By combining work with pleasure, the contacts made on that ride have grown each year since to become Club Peloton a leading example of how, in the world of business, cycling has overtaken golf as a networking event. RISING took a ride with the group CEO Nick Hanmer to discover how deals are being done on wheels.

RISING Has ‘cycling become the new golf’ when it comes to business networking, and what’s behind it? NICK HANMER ‘In many ways I would want to disagree with the suggestion that cycling is the new golf. Golf was always a more exclusive tool for business deals, requiring some specialist level of skill and being particularly the preserve of men. Cycling for business networking is much more inclusive. Our rides feature men and women, of all ages, of all skill levels. We’ve got cyclists who’ve ridden to high standards alongside newcomers. You’re not prohibited by your experience or to an extent your fitness levels. We provide support teams to help get you to the stages. Our main rides bring together people across their industry, from different aspects and different levels in company hierarchy. I don’t think you’d get that with golf.’

RISING What would someone looking to develop a similar networking facility need to have? NH ‘Good fortune. Although the origins of our rides began just before the property crash, we have also benefitted from a number of key events including the introduction of the London Congestion Charge, which forced more people to consider cycling more seriously, and the surge in cycling participation around the 2012 London Olympics. Despite the crash in 2007/8 and its impact on the property market at the time we weathered the storm and the events have grown in number every year.’

Strong relationships are being spawned as people from diverse areas are brought together in a shared, challenging experience

RISING Why is cycle networking so popular among property entrepreneurs especially? NH ‘In our case because the first event was a combination of its founder – architect Peter Murray – wanting to raise money for a charity close to him and the realisation among his peers and contacts that they all liked cycling, that they all had to go to a real estate conference in Cannes and thought: ‘Why fly there when we can cycle the 1,500km instead and enjoy the experience?’ It was a difficult time to get it up and running, but the belief that through networking and shared experiences stronger businesses bonds could be built, made it a success.’

RISING So other industries could learn something from swapping the golf clubs for lycra shorts? NH ‘The beauty of this form of networking is that you can have someone new to an industry riding alongside someone who’s been working in it for 35 or 40 years – and we do. Over the course of four or five days and nights cycling, and socialising between stages they learn a lot about each other.’

RISING Long bike rides sound great, but aren’t they taking people away from their work? NH ‘In sectors where many different skilled professionals need to come together for a development to get off the ground – quite literally – then these kinds of networking events come into their own. Relationships are forged in the saddle that will last for years – and many of the bigger building projects can take decades to come to fruition. Our rides bring together designers, architects, agents, finance people, property law specialists and local authority planners among others in a spirit of collaboration. As the numbers have increased we’ve sought out new events to ride to and expanded the idea to include the music industry too.’

RISING Music? You’ve taken big bands on the road by bike too? NH ‘Not quite. We staged an event for the Universal Music Group last year taking employees on a three-day, 480km ride from their offices in London to Paris. We provided experienced ride captains, physiotherapists, support staff and mechanics – the Universal team just got on with enjoying the experience of road cycling from an elite cyclist’s perspective (and raised over £50,000 for music charity Nordoff Robbins and FENVAC, the National Federation for Victims of Catastrophes). Riders are grouped according to their ability. After cycling through Kent and crossing at Folkestone to Calais they rode on to Amiens, via Brunembert for a brief refuel break, and lunch at Fruges before an overnight stay. On the final day they rode on to Paris and the Eiffel Tower for cold beers and celebrations.’

Cycling together over a number of days leads to a mutual respect that you wouldn’t get with other networking events

RISING It sounds like a bit more than just a work jolly, then? NH ‘Absolutely. We also run a 700km, four-day ride from Girona to Cannes in November – it’s a tougher ride than the other one because riders are required to ride the whole distance together. Also we run pedElle which is a women-only event, over 500km from Porto to Lisbon in Portugal, for those in the property industry. We find that strong relationships are being spawned as people from diverse areas of their prospective industry are brought together in a shared, sometimes very challenging experience. Friendships blossom and people are more likely to do business with those they have a shared interest with. Certainly the experience of cycling together over a number of days leads to a mutual respect and support of each other that you wouldn’t get with other networking events.’

RISING So will we see the boardroom being replaced by the peloton across more and more businesses? NH ‘I’m not sure the model is transferable to all industries. It’s worked with the property one thanks to a number of factors – chiefly having an event to ride to at first, coupled with a revolution in cycling, the industry dynamics and a desire among everyone involved to build business networking in a new way. In just over 10 years we’ve gone from one ride with a handful of cyclists to four or five a year, plus training rides and events, reaching out to many different cyclists of different standards. I think we’ll see more younger riders from more creative industries coming together and forging relationships through cycle events in the future. For now our aim is to keep the numbers manageable – it’s not about bums on saddles as much as making sure the whole experience is one that everyone who takes part benefits from, whilst raising money for a good cause in the process.’

WHAT NEXT? Club Peloton are one of several firms organising cross-industry and corporate cycling events in the UK; others include Passion In Events and Prologue, whilst cyclists looking to make local rider contacts can find their nearest club through the clubfinder search at British Cycling.