Five Things about Business I’ve learned from Mountain Biking

7 min read · 6 years ago


shutterstock_206887177Even if you have never ridden a mountain bike I think these tips might be helpful to you.

Pro Tip: If you have ever ridden a bike you can ride a mountain bike.

Some might say, but it’s too hard or there might be obstacles that I won’t be able to navigate.

Guess what? This is just like business. Where we encounter obstacles every day. The same thing happens on the trails. The good news is that in business and in mountain biking you can continue to learn, grow and expand your experiences just by doing them more often. I got to thinking about this post as I was out riding my bike in the local forest close to my house. The realization that the more we do things the better off we are and the more prepared we are when a difficult situation presents itself.

I’m fortunate in that I live in the Pacific Northwest and we have a lot of open trails where we can ride. However, no matter where you live you can find a place to ride. Again, just like in business there are always places to ply our trade and hone our skills. As we master one area we can always be on the lookout for our next area to improve. In business we might be working on developing skills with Microsoft Excel or working on improving our negotiation skills. On a mountain bike we might working on trying to excel at descending a trail or improving on our skills at negotiating a stream crossing. Both of these are learned skills that we develop over time … not over night.

Here are a Five Tips I’ve learned from Mountain Biking

I combined a few into a super-categories for clarity. I hope they help you navigate the trails and your business dealings. If you have had similar experiences (or have a completely different view) drop a comment here.

Get a Grip

There are two kinds of grip that are important in Mountain Biking and in Business. Both are critical to keep moving forward and to minimize sideways slip. Both need to be understood and can often times be felt at a gut level. You can usually tell when a deal is slipping away and when your tires are about the let go. Sometimes slip is a good thing. But, you have to be ready and be willing to adapt.

  • Rubber on the Ground – Gaining and keeping traction is important when riding bikes and working on business deals. Understanding the terrain and the conditions is critical to understand before the ride. You need to bring the right gear for a ride and the right team for a deal. Being able to improvise on-the-fly is often the secret when the conditions change unexpectedly.
  • Rubber in your Hands – At the end of the bars there are handgrips to help you hang on and to absorb some of the shock that comes from a bumpy ride. While most business deals don’t come with handgrips the same principle applies. There are areas in every deal where you should be able to get a grip on the situation and sometimes you’ll just be hanging on to get through a bumpy patch.

This is what my friend Kevin Zollinger says:
Rubber side down, shiny stuff up!

Command and Control

In business and in biking there is always something there to upset your balance. Whether it’s a log on the trail or a speed bump in a deal. That is to be expected and while they cannot always be anticipated you should be prepared. Much like airplanes with control surfaces to keep them airborne Mtn. Bikes and businesses also have control surfaces.

  • Handlebars – Decisions need to be made. The handlebars of a bike in combination with your ability to pull on the brakes and a bit of body english can determine where the bike will go. In a similar way these same skills apply to business deals. Knowing when to adjust the path as well as knowing where (or who) to redirect a decision or action to can make all the difference for a business deal.
  • Brakes – Sometimes you need to pull on the brakes to slow down a deal just like you may need to slow down your bike. Knowing how hard to pull and which direction to steer can make the process smooth and safe. Whereas pulling to hard may throw you over the bars and too soft might not allow time to stop in time. Knowing your brakes and how to use them can help you control the bike and the deal.
  • Suspension – A lot of Mtn Bikes these days come with full suspension options. Meaning the bike will absorb bumps much like an automobile does. Suspension does a few things – one is that it cushions the ride which enables longer rides. Being able to take on the bumps of the trails without it being a distraction is very much like a long term business engagement. There will always be hiccups and challenges. Being able to absorb and adapt to them means you can be in the game for the long haul.

Gears Are Good – Pace Yourself

We can’t always pick the terrain where we will ride or do business. Sometimes it is a vast open expanse in front of us and others times there are hills or chasms. Having gears makes it possible to adjust our effort to the terrain. If you have every ridden a bike with only one gear you know it can be difficult to climb hills or go fast. Gears were developed for bikes to adapt to changing terrain. In business there are gears too. We can’t always sprint flat out, but there are times we’ll need to. There are also times where we have to put in the effort to grind out a long hill climb. In business they call this earning your stripes. In bike rides they call this “Earning Your Turns”

  • Hills & Flats – Use your gears as needed. Choose wisely. Because in business as in Mtn Bikes it’s often a long slog to the finish.
  • Grind it out – Sometimes we just have to put in the time and burn the energy to “Earn Your Turns
  • Sometimes it’s a sprint – When it’s all hands on deck to get it done. In business it can be a proposal that is due or a trade show that is beginning. These are often dates that cannot be changed so you have to adapt and sprint.

Stages and Finish Lines

As with everything there are both stages and finish lines. Where stages are the intermediate areas where you can win a victory, rest and regroup. Sometimes these are just transitional periods where you get to take a breather. In business this could be winning an initial bid or proposal where you have the right to compete for the next set of business. On a Mtn. Bike it might be an intermediate hill on the way to the summit.

  • Stages are just that … they are stages in the bigger picture.
  • Someone “wins” the stages … but only those with stamina can make it to the finish.
  • A finish line can be a new beginning. This is true in Mtn. Biking and in business.

An important point to note is that a finish line can be something that is a formal effort or just something you have set for yourself. Perhaps you wanted to achieve a specific milestone. Whether or not you communicated that to anyone else you will know where you stand towards achieving it.

Pro Tip: Tell Someone … they can help you stay on track for achieving your milestones.

Climbing Above it All

A mountain bike allows you to literally climb above the trees so that you can see the forest and separate yourself from the trees. I have found that people that Stand Out in their Careers are particularly good at seeing the details when needed (aka The Trees) and being able to step back and see the bigger picture (aka The Forest).

“Seeing the forest for the trees”

This is from an old metaphor that applies to business too. There is often a need to detach yourself from the details so that you can get a look at the bigger picture. Hence … seeing the forest and not just the tree in front of you.

I call this Step Back Optimism (SBO) and have written about it here on the Personal Branding Blog before in this post Ready, Fire, Aim. It is when you purposely take a step back, either figuratively or literally, to take a look at the big picture. SBO allows you to ignore the detail of the individual trees and take a look at the forest as a whole.

There you have it. A few comparisons between Mtn Biking and Business. If you are a mountain bike rider and a business person I’m curious to know if you have had a similar view of business and biking. If you are not a rider I’m still curious to hear your thoughts. Add a comment and let’s get the conversation started. And, my offer always stands for anyone visiting the Pacific Northwest to ride together. So, I hope to see you on the trails.