Cyclometric testing for lawyers

World Brompton Championships 2008 - photo by Tim Branch

Photo by Tim Branch.

Great piece in today’s FT by Lucy Kellaway arguing that how you ride a bike shows what you’re really like at work. As she puts it:

I’ve always fancied that as a group, cyclists make relatively good employees. All of us are vaguely fit [some of us more vaguely than others]. 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 [speak for yourself, Lucy – I worked from home]. We are risk-takers and ever so slightly rebellious, which works quite well – especially in a job like journalism.

But as Ms Kellaway goes on to point out, cyclists aren’t a unitary group at all: fast or slow, with or without helmets, jumping red lights or respecting the rules of the road, and so on. Or (to add one of my personal bugbears) weaving in and out of traffic, passing buses on the inside, and so on.

So I can see what Ms Kellaway means when she says that watching people ride a bike will tell you far more about their aptitude as employees than any amount of psychometric testing: the black-clad, headphone-wearing banker with no lights, the pedestrian-scattering baby-pink Brompton rider, and so on (“it is the red light that is the richest point for data gathering”). The bike test weeds out non-team players and those men who are incapable of allowing themselves ever to be bested by a woman.

Kellaway also pre-empts my own objection when I saw the title of her piece:

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.

This pulled me up, because I tend to think I am rather different on a bike than at my desk. I like to think I work in a calm, professional, collaborative way; by contrast, on a bike I become rather more aggressive and sweary (as a certain driver who pulled out from a side road in front of me this morning could testify, had she even noticed my existence).

But then I thought about it a little more, and I think this is a fair description of how I cycle: assertively, but not recklessly. I follow the rules of the road pretty faithfully: stopping at red lights, not riding on the pavement (my absolute, number one personal bugbear), and so on. I prefer to take and hold the lane in slow traffic rather than weaving around queuing vehicles – it’s safer, and to my mind more assertive, even if fractionally slower. My mantra (often muttered under my breath at some taxi driver who seems to doubt my right to exist) is “it’s a road vehicle” – which implies both rights and responsibilities. And yes, if you cross me then I’m likely to respond pretty firmly, but without losing control.

Perhaps those are not such bad traits for a lawyer – and if Kellaway is right that cyclists are “risk-takers and ever so slightly rebellious”, perhaps that’s not always bad for a lawyer, either. Or perhaps I just fit into the “red-light refuseniks” category:

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.

Ouch.