Monday, March 2, 2015

Bikes Of The 2015 Corporate Triathlon

In the world of pseudo-competitive sports-based marketing, there are few events more impressive than the wonder of Corporate Triathlon. Targeting the corporate sector is an ingenious way for event organisers to capitalise on the holy trilogy of event promotion—exorbitant entry fees, minimal prizes and mass participation.

Elwood Beach hosted the Melbourne leg of the Australian Super Corporate Triathlon Series on Sunday and astute readers will have noted the unfortunate calendar clash that had the event scheduled on the same day as The Color Run [sic] at Albert Park’s Grand Prix racetrack. The most noticeable effect of this will be a dilution in the number of Tinder profile pics featuring either of the events in the coming weeks.

Incidentally, as a Tinder profile picture sub-group, Color Runners are numerous enough to warrant their own blog site alongside Tinder Guys With Tigers and Humanitarians of Tinder.

Corporate triathlons are utilised by many organisations as an easy team morale builder. They allow for a bit of friendly competition amongst companies grouped by segment and force employees to socialise on the weekend—two important factors in building a loyal and productive workforce.

There is always an impressively diverse range of abilities and equipment on display at these types of events and it is obvious that many of the competitors have been roped in to competing by the overwhelming peer pressure of their colleagues or superiors. Participation probably started out as little more than an innocent suggestion on a team building day by a slightly dysfunctional group who were running dangerously low on ideas.
Innovation: Enter a team in corporate triathlon.
Benefits: Public brand exposure, increased morale, enhanced productivity.
Costs: Entry fees, custom jerseys, marquee rental.
Ideas like this require very little thinking or imagination but tick a lot of boxes with human resourcing facilitators. Even if there aren’t any actual practiced triathletes in the company, there’s still the option for the relay event, which always poses one major hurdle:

“OK, so, who wants to do the swim?”

Between the genesis of these sorts of ideas and the entry deadline, time seems to pass more swiftly and a last-minute flurry of emails will almost certainly be required to finalise teams and logistics. Despite the events being comparatively short compared with other popular forms of triathlon such as Ironman, Olympic Distance or even Sprint Distance, the time invested in planning, registration, number collection, equipment check-in, briefings and pack up quite vastly outweighs the hour or two that the actual event takes to complete.

This year, as always, there was a broad spectrum of equipment to be found racked up in the bike compound. From the featherweight wind-cheating sleekness of carbon time-trial bikes with disc wheels to the ever reliable and only recently dusted off mountain bike—reliable in terms of being slow, not necessarily mechanically so. While there was certainly enough material for a lengthy bikes of the bunch-style feature that could easily rival one of Shona Stephenson’s hefty 6000+ word tomes, one machine stood out so discernibly from the rest of the pack this year that it warrants the full attention of this report.

It was a bike that—while not aerodynamically gifted—certainly took logistical streamlining to impressive new heights. It was one of the distinctive Melbourne Bike Share bikes, shown here racked up for the Woolworths Fun Tri Relay—an event that even makes the regular race look like an extreme endurance test.

Even to the untrained eye, a few conspicuous distinguishing features set this bike apart from many of the other machines spotted on race day.

Reports indicate that the Melbourne Share Bikes weigh in at an incredibly hefty 33kg (18kg for the frame alone) making the effort of just hoisting it up on to the rack an impressive effort. Compared with a top-end carbon TT bike (at around 7-8kg), it's obvious that these bikes are built to last, not to be fast.

Corporate triathlons are notoriously (and inexplicably) popular events with this year’s entries capped at 1800 3-person teams. Organisers therefore require competitors to drop bikes off at the event compound on the day prior to race-day—where they then sat exposed to the full force of a rather destructive overnight storm that wiped out a significant number of sponsor marquees. This is obviously not an ideal environment for an expensive and delicate race bike, particularly when combined with the salty sea air. But if you live near enough to one of the Bike Share stations then you can effectively ride to and from the event with no risk of depreciating the value of your own bike. Obviously you would need to find a way home on Saturday (or camp out at the venue) but this will generate far less hassle than trying to load a time-trial bike with aero extensions in to the back of your Suzuki Swift.

That said, with a bit of ingenuity Team Sky don’t have any trouble fitting multiple time-trial bikes in to their rather compact team vehicle.

On Sunday morning organisers decided that the overnight storm had washed too much pollution in to the bay leading to the intensely ironic decision to cancel the swim leg due to excessive rain. Replacing the 400m swim with an 800m beach run effectively turned the event in to a much less prestigious-sounding Corporate Duathlon or—as it has now been coined—a Corporate Douchebagathon.

While the initial capital outlay of a top-end time-trial bike would probably outstrip the GDP of some developing nations*, the Bike Share scheme’s pricing structure also provides some strong economic disincentives—for extended rentals, anyway.

*This is probably an exaggeration, I’ll admit, but powerful quantitative comparitors are in short supply these days.

Consider this: The nearest rental station to the race venue is outside Luna Park in St Kilda, approximately 3km away. Allowing 15 minutes to cruise down to Elwood, even if you checked your Melbourne Share Bike in to the compound at the latest allowable time (2pm on Saturday), you’d need to commence your rental at 1.45pm on Saturday. Bikes can’t be removed from the compound until after the last cyclist has left on their race leg—this year, it was around 11am on Sunday. So given that at an absolute minimum you’d need to rent the bike for about 9.5 hours, the cost would be calculated as follows:

$167! And that comes on top of the initial rental fee of $2.90 for a daily use or a pro-rata fraction of the weekly ($8) or yearly ($58) account if you’ve already signed up to one of those. Obviously you need to take in to account the included value of a free helmet (if you’re lucky) but seeing as how they only cost $5 anyway, the shrewd economist could not really justify such a hefty rental price. You can find a head-to-head comparison with some more pricey helmets in this article.

Now I don’t want to jump to any conclusions here but I’ve got a feeling that the competitor who thought it would be a great idea to take one of the Melbourne Share Bikes along to the corporate triathlon without properly checking the pricing structure might have been in for a bit of a rude shock around lunchtime on Sunday. Given the diverse range of people who patronise these events, it’s just as likely to have been a senior partner of Minter Ellison Lawyers or a receptionist at Specsavers—let’s hope that they had sufficient balance on their corporate credit card to avoid an embarrassing scene on par with the bike leg of the corporate triathlon that they'd just taken part in.

The Final Word
If you’re thinking of getting involved in next year’s corporate triathlon, my advice would be to start planning now. Different organisations will necessarily find it advantageous to play to their strengths. HR & Recruitment firms should be organising cohesive team units, while those competing in any of the Accounting, Banking & Financial or Consulting & Corporate Strategy categories will obviously need to prepare a careful cost-benefit analysis of the Melbourne Bike Share option. Legal firms might attempt to freeze bank accounts of competitors prior to registration deadlines and the Media, Marketing & Advertising contingent can probably find a way to spin their team’s performances in to something suitably captivating several months in advance of the actual event. Just be careful not to rely on too many assumptions about the structure of the event as unforeseen circumstances could easily lead to next year’s bike leg being cancelled in favour of a 6km roller blade.

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