After dusting off the mountain bike and hitting the trails during lockdown I’ve been reminded of the simple principles I often bang on about at work.

Repeating a process multiple times gives multiple opportunities for feedback. We do, we learn, we do again, we learn more. Rinse and repeat.

On about the fifth ride this realisation smacked me in the face, like the occasional fly was hitting me in the back of the throat. Yummy.

I no longer needed a metaphor, I had the real deal, so here it is.

1. Familiarity increases comfort and confidence to go a little further

Starting out with trepidation is common. Unfamiliar paths being explored for the first time. Destinations not yet visited. Worrying about the first big hill, or puncture and how you might deal with it. But, after a while, and once you’ve encountered these a couple of times, the worry starts to drift to the back of the mind, you find ease with the process and become willing to aim a little bit further each time.

2. Energy needs to be monitored

The eighth principle of the agile manifesto states that the team ‘should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely’. After nearly fainting on my second long ride, I learnt this one the hard way whilst taking 20 mins to recover on a grass verge next to the canal. I neglected the importance of planning regular breaks, keeping hydrated and not to try to go too far too soon.

3. It might not get easier, but it will get faster

The effort is still required, the complexity still exists, but as you stick to the routine and keep getting back on the saddle, your stamina and fitness increases. You cover the same ground in less time, or over the same period of time you travel greater distances.

4. It’s better in a team

The difference between the distance and speed achieved when going out as a single rider compared with being in a small group is significant. You encourage each other, you compete with each other and it simply feels more enjoyable.

5. Having the right tools help (up to a point)

Crikey – there are lots of people making lots of money from cycling equipment. The amount of refinement you can do to your bike is almost limitless, but for some the constant pursuit of perfection (in bike terms it’s mostly to do with weight, and the lighter the better) ends up usurping the original intentions of fitness, enjoyment and getting outdoors.

Sure, having the right type of bike for the right terrain matters. Some new tech can help navigate the way more easily. Finding the right tyres (and tyre pressure) will make the ride smoother, but after a certain point the cost outweighs the benefit, so it’s important to identify the essential from the non-essential.

6. Taking your eye off maintenance is dangerous

Yep, it’s a chore to keep the chain clean, lube the gears and keep muck off the frame. You can get away with that for a while, but if the dirt builds up, the bigger the impact. Efficiency is reduced, creaking pedals start and if you don’t address it eventually something breaks. Sorting this out then takes longer and needs a lot more elbow grease. It’s much better to do a quick hose down after each ride than wait for weeks or months and having to miss an opportunity (release) because you’re fixing something that could have been avoided.

7. Data and metrics provide empirical evidence

It’s easy to just go out a ride, week after week, but how do you know the distance you travel or how fast you ride if you don’t measure it? After signing up for Strava and syncing it with a Garmin, the transparency was a revelation. Seeing where you struggle and slow down affords you the option to find an alternative route. Seeing improvements over time (however small) is hugely motivating.

This is why I revel in agile ways of working. Intuitively we all know an iterative approach makes sense.

It’s not a rule book, it’s sensible, fairly obvious principles and values. It’s about doing stuff to find out what works and doesn’t, and being willing to try new things to see what difference they make.

Once you’ve learnt about it and experienced it for yourself, you just can’t escape noticing it all around you. You’ll never forget it. Just like riding a bike. 🚴🏼

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