The bike test that shows what I’m really like at work

Bosses can learn much by watching a prospective employee on a bicycle

“It is not just the behaviour on the bike, it is the bike itself. The person with the carbon racer wants to impress. The person on the hybrid just wants to get the job done.” Photograph: Tim Ireland/PA Wire

“It is not just the behaviour on the bike, it is the bike itself. The person with the carbon racer wants to impress. The person on the hybrid just wants to get the job done.” Photograph: Tim Ireland/PA Wire

Mon, Nov 4, 2013, 01:00

Cycling through the City of London to work on a dark morning last week, I was overtaken by a man in a black coat with no helmet, no lights, and listening to music through headphones.

Idiot, I thought. As he disappeared into the underground parking of a large bank, I wondered: what sort of banker does a man like that make?

Either he is boneheaded in his assessment of risk – or he wants to die. Both are unfortunate traits in someone who handles someone else’s money.

He got me thinking about the things we reveal about ourselves when we are on two wheels, and how useful that data could be to our bosses.

I’ve always fancied that as a group, cyclists make relatively good employees. All of us are vaguely fit.

We have the wherewithal to be reliable and punctual. When the trains stop running as a result of a little wind – as they did in London last Monday – we still get to work on time. We are risk-takers and ever so slightly rebellious, which works quite well – especially in a job like journalism.

Only 10 minutes on a London road shows that we aren’t a group at all. Some of us are fast, some slow. Some wear helmets, some don’t. Some break all the rules, some break none.

If employers really want to know what prospective employees are like, they should forget psychometric testing and watch them ride a bike.

Some cyclists may protest that they are aggressive in the saddle only to become pussycats at their desks, but I don’t agree: on a bike you are close to death and so become a more intense version of your true self.

After I left the banker who didn’t get risk and proceeded to work, I saw three other cyclists showing traits that should have interested their HR departments. The first had his right trouser leg rolled up to reveal a meaty calf. Such resourcefulness in the absence of a clip impressed me: I’d hire him as a problem solver. The next was a man balancing, stationary on a fixie at the lights – no one likes working with a show-off.

And then there was a woman on a baby-pink Brompton going through a red light just by St Paul’s Cathedral forcing pedestrians to step out of her way. One of them yelled “Asshole” into her oblivious ears.

Clearly, it is the red light that is the richest point for data gathering. This woman comprehensively failed the job test, while other red-light skippers – who do so without inconveniencing anyone – possibly pass.

Red lights also sort out leaders from followers. When there is a big group of bikes together at a light, it takes a particular sort of cyclist to break the consensus and ride off, but once he has done that, others follow, leaving just one or two behind. I would hire these red-light refuseniks at once – but only for jobs in audit or compliance.

The two-wheel test also weeds out those who are not team players. All cyclists view cars, lorries and buses as natural enemies, but the cyclist who is hostile to his own kind, and who squeezes past others on the inside is suitable only for solitary working.

Not only does cycling show how competitive someone is, it shows how men feel about women being faster than them. On the (increasingly rare) occasions when I overtake a man on a bike, he almost always overtakes me back at once, just to make the point.

It is not just the behaviour on the bike, it is the bike itself. The person with the carbon racer wants to impress. The person on the hybrid just wants to get the job done.

The not terribly fit man in Lycra is all talk, no trousers.

The person who wears no helmet or reflectors is mad, but so too is the person who has so many lights and mirrors on the bike that there is hardly room for a person on it too.

To check my theory about the connection between personality and cycling style, I have just conducted a little control test.

A reader had been offering for a while to take me for a ride on his tandem, and so last week I climbed on the back and was forced to cycle as him – which turned out to be safely, confidently and courteously.

I definitely would have hired him. And yet I was terrified: to be on a bike without being me felt all wrong.

So what does cycling as me show? That I like being in control.

That I’m cavalier about some rules and fairly selfish, but try not to be flagrantly obnoxious.

I wear a helmet, a nasty fluorescent tabard and high heels – but to prevent any more pairs being destroyed by the pedals I have invented a heel condom made out of an old inner tube.

Which shows I can be creative – but only when really desperate. (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2013)