People riding bikes in a single line

Leadership Lessons Riding in a Peloton

I participated in One Helluva Ride last Saturday and had an amazing time riding 66 miles in a peloton with my husband and a couple of our good friends. For those of you who are not familiar with cycling, a peloton is when a team of riders forms a line and works together so they can all go faster and longer than any of them could individually. Below are a few valuable leadership principles that I have learned from riding in a peloton that I would like to share.

Safety is the most important priority. Riding a bicycle is dangerous and riding fast and closely behind another cyclist increases the risks. It is very important to know and abide by the safety guidelines when you are riding in a peloton and to know and trust your team members. At work, mental and emotional safety are critical so that people are willing to take risks, be creative, and work as a team to solve complex problems. As a leader, this means that you foster a safe environment that builds trust among all team members. A big part of that is establishing clear guidelines and boundaries.

Leadership is shared, roles are clear, and constant communication is vital. In a peloton, the position in the line determines the role of the rider. The line is shifting every few minutes when the leader of the line moves to the back of the line after their shift is done. Communication happens with a combination of hand signals and verbal signals that are clearly understood by each rider. The first person in the peloton is responsible for scanning the horizon, communicating back to others in the line, and setting the pace and direction. The last person is line is responsible for monitoring what is behind the group and communicating forward. Each rider in the middle passes every communication along and also communicates anything they notice, like a slowdown in front of them or someone in the line falling behind.

A peloton team works best when the members together establish shared goals for the ride, including the destination or length of the ride, the expected pace, and the duration of the pulls. At work, when I have had the pleasure of being on a team where everyone is aligned, willing to adjust their roles, and openly communicating, it has been effective and fun.

Managing energy is the key to optimal performance. The main advantage of riding in a peloton is that drafting behind someone takes about 30% less energy than riding alone or at the front of the peloton. Optimal performance happens when each person in a peloton is going at a pace that pushes them when they are leading and allows them to recover when they are not. Each rider has to be conscious that they will hit their limit (aka bonking) if they take the lead for too long or are traveling at a stressful pace when they are not in the lead. If this is happening, they need to communicate that the peloton should slow down or choose a group that is going at a pace that is more appropriate for their fitness level.

Acceleration requires a tremendous amount of energy, so riding at a steady and sustainable pace and avoiding frequent stops and starts conserves energy for the entire team. One of the things that is hardest for me is not accelerating when I get to the front of the peloton because there is a natural feeling of freedom that happens when you are looking up instead of at the tire in front of you. Jumping ahead of the team wastes energy and exhausts the rest of the team.

This translates directly to what it takes to be a leader. If you are constantly stretching and end up stressed with no recovery time, you will become exhausted and burned out. Make sure you and your team have recovery time, are working at a sustainable pace, and are not constantly starting and stopping projects. And make sure that you are not getting too far ahead of the rest of the team, so that they don’t waste energy trying to chase you down.

My challenge for you this week is to look at your current work teams and see how well they are working together. Hopefully, some of these peloton principles can help make your teams even better.  Good luck!

Power Cycling Bloomington Training Camp Photo taken by Jeremy Zeigler

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