What can cyclists tell us about motivation?

by Didier Marlier on Friday July 5th, 2013

A timely post from our partner, Marvin Faure, who, amongst many other talents is a very serious amateur cyclist. The study he made amongst his fellow bikers is rather interesting as many parallels can be drawn with the business world.

Cycling is in the news this week as the Tour de France started its historic 100th edition from the island of Corsica. The world’s largest annual sporting event, the three week race will attract over 12 million live spectators as well as a worldwide television audience of 3.5 billion people.

The Tour de France is the best known of the professional bike races. Less well known are the hundreds of races arranged for amateurs, some of them as tough as or even tougher than stages of the Tour de France itself. Fascinated by this, and a keen amateur cyclist himself, our partner Marvin Faure set out to investigate what motivates otherwise normal people to train for hundreds of hours just to be able to finish these races.

Marvin received over 600 replies to his research study. The participants were 94% employed or in work, and 91% male. Their average age was 43, and they cycle on average 6,500 km per year. In other words these are highly motivated cyclists.

So why do they do it?

The first five reasons are all personal, intrinsic motivations:

  1. The fun, the pleasure of riding
  2. To stay in good health
  3. As a personal challenge
  4. To take time out for themselves
  5. Camaraderie and friendship

The notion of competition – an extrinsic motivator – was in sixth place, and was important to only just over half the participants.

The key point is this: these people are highly motivated for their own, intrinsic reasons. It is not the desire to win a prize (or to get approval from others) that keeps them going, but the enjoyment of the activity itself.

Marvin also asked these people how motivated they were at work. Almost exactly half said they were motivated and excited by their current position, while the other half were not. It is this second half that interests us: why do people that are so tenacious and determined in their private life lack motivation at work?

They told us that their work environment was missing some or all of the following:

  • A sense of purpose, a meaning to the work,
  • The opportunity to learn and grow,
  • Sufficient freedom and autonomy.

You can find a complete presentation of Marvin’s study here.

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2 Responses to “What can cyclists tell us about motivation?”

  1. Although cyclist are tend to be a rather typical breed (I’m a >6500km annually one myself…) I convinced that a lot of them were giving socially correct answers! Why? Simply look at the success of websites like eg. STRAVA.COM; this is all about competition between amateurs, and becoming the fastest rider on a segment; the so-called King of the Mountain. Shouldn’t this have been ruled out of the research? And then the findings are no different from what Dan Pink writes in Drive, what really motivates us: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Gets one thinking; faulty research or are cyclists just incompetent for being managers?

  2. Hello Leen – my apologies for the slow response, after riding the Etape on Sunday I was travelling and have only just read your post.
    My research did not find that cyclists are NOT motivated by competition. On the contrary, over half of them are (but just less than half are not…) However, competition was the sixth most important motivation for the group taken as a whole.
    This of course does not exclude that for certain persons it is the number one motivation. However, I wonder if competition in the sense of Strava is not better considered as an intrinsic motivator than an extrinsic one. There is no reward or punishment attached other than the personal satisfaction at seeing one’s name on a list and trying to edge it higher up the list.
    I am not clear why you suggest that the fact that my conclusions agree with those of Dan Pink imply that the research is faulty. Surely one might conclude exactly the opposite: this is further confirmation of Pink’s theories.
    I take your final remark about cyclists as a touch of humour and will now get back on my bike!
    Kind regards,


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