Learning from Team Cycling

Some of us decided to go to Nandi hills on Thursday and this being my first ride with the group, I was slightly apprehensive.

I met up with the guys in Koramangala at 5.30 am and from there we started off for a 80km ride to the top of Nandi hills. The fastest stretch for us was the ride on the Highway and it was the most exciting. For an avid  road biker, speed is the essence, going fast was the only thing on my mind. I was pacing the other( really good) cyclists the most of the time.  Pacing or Drafting or moving in an Echelon means you follow the other cyclist very close, literally a few inches tire to tire. This makes you (and the group) much faster, by cutting the drag. This is akin to (though not the same) as birds flying in the ‘V’ formation. Initially, it was extremely scary riding at 50 kmph on tarred roads, but we got more comfortable after a while. Some point I took over as a leader for a bit. There’s a continuous change in the leaders of the echelon, that way all are getting their bit of rest.

Was this a self organizing system? It did seem like that, there were some basic rules. Distance between the cycles provided the feedback. We all strive to keep the distance moreorless same. And the group speed emerged from the riders’ individual speeds. And yes, there was no specific leader, No one person could be the leader all the time, but the stronger people lead for a longer time.

Emphasis on trust in this system is probably unique. For me, it was a leap of faith, to follow somebody just looking at his back tire. Having no straight line view, I was never sure when there is a pothole or a rock on the road. It was quite amazing to see that despite none of us knowing each other we had developed such a bonding so quickly.

The other thing that was obvious was the seamless change in leaders, when the leader starts tiring somebody else just takes over. It works because the incentive from leading the group has marginal incentive difference from resting in protection of echelon.

(At the risk of oversimplification) Leaders on Project Teams have disproportionate incentive to stay leaders (salary and control) vs. disincentive (stress) that makes rotation impossible.

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