There’s no getting away from it, Cycling is huge in the UK now. I’d argue it’s always been popular, but then again I’ve always done it. However with the rise of Team Sky, the success of Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, Chris Hoy et al it’s all the rage. I’ve even seen the acronym MAMIL, middle aged men in lycra! I have to admit I’m one of those too.

The head of Team Sky, Dave Brailsford has been credited with the rise of cycling together with the success of Team GB and he always talks about ‘Marginal Gains’. The ability to make little tweaks here and there to improve performance. The small improvements can lead to a greater return on results. Chris Boardman, Olympic gold medalist and former World Record holder even formed a club called the Secret Squirrels club, to work on these small improvements. At one point they were apparently working on perfectly round wheels!

I’ve always been fascinated with performance improvement and work on it extensively in business and the whole idea of marginal gains intrigues me. However I’d never really recognised it until recently.

One of the best things you can do if you ride a bike is go for a bike fit. This ensures you are correctly aligned to your bike, enables you to sit comfortably and allows your body to function correctly. I went to Adrian Timmis at Cadence Sport in Barton-under-Needwood, Adrain is an ex Olympian and Tour de France rider. I spent 2 hours with him and during this time I sat on my bike, he videoed me riding on a stationary machine, he took some photos, measured my power output and generally stood and stared at me. After an hour he asked me to get off the bike and grab a coffee. This is easy I thought.

15 minutes later he called me back to the room, I sat on my bike and he repeated the whole staring, videoing, measuring thing. Strangest thing though. I now felt comfortable. I hadn’t felt uncomfortable on my bike before, well not knowingly, but you don’t know what you don’t know, however, compared to now it had felt like I was riding with my legs strapped behind my back! The difference was unbelievable. “What have you done?!” I exclaimed. “I’ve moved you saddle back 5mm and moved the gear levers up 2 mm.” came the reply. ‘Is that all? You’ve been staring, videoing, measuring for an hour and all you’ve done is that?’ I thought to myself.

Truth be told though, this was unbelievable! Just 7mm of change had resulted in feeling like I was sitting in heaven on a pillow made of angel hair!

However, the biggest impact was yet to be realised. I’ve mentioned he was measuring my power output. This is important as this determines how fast you can go. In cycling it’s measured in Watts. The more Watts you can push, the faster you will go, the more successful you will be.

Due to the 7mm of change that Adrian had made to my bike I was now pushing out 30 watts more power with less effort on the bike. 30 watts! ‘So what?’ I hear you cry! Well, to make a gain of 30 watts power output with less effort would have taken me a minimum of 3 months training. 3 months training! I had made 3 months worth of improvement in 2 hours!

The whole notion of marginal gains now hit me square between the eyes. Little old me, on my bike, sat upstairs in a Midlands bike shop. Just imagine what the professionals do. The time they spend. The dedication to the small improvements.

It can get a bit tiresome, consultants like me going into businesses and using sports analogies to bring home a point. Not everyone likes sport, I know that. However, this isn’t about sport, it just happens to be the vehicle for a success story. The point is small things can have unbelievable impact. Those small things can be people, process, decisions, attitudes, comments.

If you want to improve your performance or that of others, then look for the small stuff. Now what’s that saying about spending the night with a mosquito in a room……………

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