L’Eroica: how we’ve fallen in love with vintage bike rides

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In 1997, in the village of Gaiole in Chianti, 92 cycling fanatics decided to create a bike ride through ‘the stade bianchi’ – the white roads – that criss-cross the Tuscan countryside. The entry rules were strict. The only bikes permitted had to be steel framed road bikes, built before 1987. Gear shifters had to be on the down tube and all pedals had to have toe clips and straps. In addition, riders dressed in vintage or era specific clothing. They called it “L’Eroica”

In 2015, the ride in Gaiole had over 6 000 riders and has reached its maximum limit. It is always oversubscribed. Now there are 9 Eroica events all over the world – including the UK. They all follow the same strict rules of the original Gaiole event. It’s a true Global cycling ‘brand’, with a consistent look and feel. It attracts some of the world’s biggest cycle manufacturers and suppliers as co-sponsors. There’s no doubt it will spread to other parts of the world.

So why has it become so incredibly popular?

 1 It’s a Celebration of Italian Cycling Culture

Italy has always been in love with road cycling. They worship their heroes such as Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali. The Giro d’Italia is one of the oldest and most challenging bike rides in the world, second only to the Tour de France. They have wonderful bicycle brands such as Bianchi, Colnago and Campagnola that create machines of true beauty. Taking part in the Eroica allows you to experience the style and passion of Italian cycling.

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2 It’s an Opportunity to Re-discover the Joy of Riding a ‘Vintage’ Bike

Today’s modern bikes are lightweight, made of hi-tech materials and are aerodynamic, but lack the purity and the elegance of the classic steel bikes. Riding an old racing bike feels very different and in some ways more enjoyable that the modern bike. A bit like driving a vintage car rather than a new one. For cycling aficionados, acquiring and renovating a classic bike is a real pleasure. A well known or rare vintage bike brand in good condition is a true collector’s item. I have a vintage Francesco Moser bike and I love it!

3 It’s an Excuse to Revel in Nostalgia

At it’s most basic, it’s a chance to dress up in old cycling gear. Looking the part is an important element of cycling culture and there’s a rich history of cycling apparel, from the old merino wool tops and racing shoes of the pre-war era to the famous team kits of more recent cycling legends. Admiring and discussing all the old bikes and outfits is all part of the experience. For people of a certain age, it’s a chance to relive their youth.

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4 It’s More Than Just a Bike Ride

The Ride itself is only part of the Eroica experience. For example the Eroica Britannia in Bakewell takes place over 3 days and 50 000 people attend. There’s exhibitions, live music, other vintage themed attractions, camp sites. It’s got the same vibe as a music festival. This film from the Eroica Britannia gives you a flavour

5 It’s a Genuine Sporting Challenge

The old bikes are more challenging than modern bikes as they’re heavier and don’t have same range of gears to help you along. Plus you ride on un-tarmaced roads and on steep hills. There are several rides to register for. Some are more than 100 miles in length, so there’s a genuine sporting challenge involved. You have to take it seriously!

The Eroica format has been so successful that it’s spawned similar events elsewhere. The town of Anghiari, also in Tuscany, has a race called L’Intrepida, and follows a similar format, which I took part in last year. It was a wonderful event that galvanised the whole community

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This year I’m taking part in the Eroica Britannia as it will give me a chance to ride through my beautiful home county of Derbyshire. Can’t wait.

Why Uniqlo Will Take Over the World

3036745-poster-p-2-jj-uniqlo-hires-wk-superstarMajor fashion retailers have had a rough time recently and their troubles have been well documented. Earlier this year Next reported disappointing results. BHS is in deep, deep trouble, threatening to close 52 of its stores. Even John Lewis has a tough time recently.

However, one fashion retailer that’s going from strength to strength is the Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo. I’m a big fan. With over 1 500 stores worldwide and the business continuing to expand, I’m clearly not the only one. So why is it so successful?

1 The Marriage of Style with Technology

Uniqlo’s products look great and many of them are super functional. Plus they organise them into a series of sub-brands that make it really easy to understand and navigate your way through the ranges. For example HEATTECH, created in collaboration with a materials science company turns moisture into heat and the fabric traps air which heats-up and protects you from the cold. The AIRism range does the opposite. It lets your skin breathe and keeps you cool.

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2 The Clarity of the Offer

Uniqlo occupies the space in the market vacated by Gap (whatever happened to Gap?) – everyday, utilitarian staples, which appeals to a wide breadth of audiences. They ignore fashion trends, choosing not to imitate the latest catwalk offerings. Instead they focus on creating a huge range of bold colours to offer variety and choice

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3 Incredible Value

Because of its simple, consistent ranges and the scale of its business, Uniqlo is able to order huge quantities and negotiate great deals with it suppliers. As a result, its garments are made with high quality fabrics and sold at really affordable prices.

4 In Store Discipline

There is a strong emphasis on staff training to ensure everyone understands the company culture. Store staff have to learn a set series of ‘behaviours’ which translate into a series of phrases that define what they believe to be great customer service. This discipline enables them to maintain high standards and a consistency throughout the world

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The brand is very ambitious and is driven forward by it’s charismatic owner Tadashi Yanai who’s created a thriving business culture and developed a winning offer which really stands out from the crowd.

I’ve no doubt that the brand will continue to thrive and will dominate fashion retailing.

Why You Can’t Avoid the Deliveroo Riders

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Every time I cycle around the streets of south London I seem to overtaken by a Deliveroo cyclist with a huge box strapped to his pannier. They never used to be there, but now you can’t escape them. So I thought I’d investigate.

Deliveroo is a restaurant home delivery service. However the key difference between this and other on-line hubs such as Hungry House and Just Eat is that

  • the focus is on more premium outlets rather than standard take-aways
  • Deliveroo is also responsible for delivering the food as well as ordering

For every delivery, a customer is charged £2.50. Deliveroo is (at least partially) one of those ‘sharing economy’ business ideas that I referred to in my previous post – people using their assets to earn money. The people who deliver the food are self employed. As long as you have a bike / scooter and a smartphone you can apply to become a Deliveroo driver and can work as often or as little as you like. A bit like Uber but for people with 2 wheels rather than 4.

Our appetite for home delivery seems insatiable and invades all walks of life and almost every branded offer – thanks Amazon, thanks Ocado. I read that you can even get American Apparel items delivered to your home within an hour if you suddenly find you’ve run out of underwear.

As with all great business ideas, Deliveroo seems quite simple in retrospect. I’ve no doubt it will continue to grow and I can imagine lots of other similar services beginning to emerge. And if you’re ever short of cash, you can always dig out your bike from the shed, apply to become a rider and become part of the sharing economy yourself.

Why Sharing is The Way Forward

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I’ve just been reading a fascinating book – The Business of Sharing, by Alex Stephany.

The book explains and describes in detail a relatively new phenomenon – people building businesses that revolve around renting or selling what they own. It’s creating a whole new world of entrepreneurs as well as disrupting traditional businesses – and often causing controversy along the way.

The book focuses on some of the most famous and well established ‘sharing’ businesses, such as Uber, Airbnb and Zipcar. However, I particularly enjoyed the smaller examples which cover all kinds of sectors from ride sharing to crowd funding

A couple of my favourites are Borrowmydoggy, where people can the experience the pleasure of looking after a dog, without the commitment of full ownership. (Am thinking of joining!). I also liked the idea of TaskRabbit, where you can out-source tasks you don’t want to do – or indeed offer up your skills for the benefit of others.

For me, these are the businesses of the future: nimble, community based, problem solving and enabled by technology. All you need is a great idea!

Good Old Fashioned Sampling

IMG_3199I do a lot of on-line shopping – groceries, trainers, stuff for my bike. This morning I got yet another free pack of Haribo Starmix with my delivery of contact lenses (which I usually give to my kids)

There’s a lot of new media opportunities out there and clever ways to connect with you audience. However, sometimes the old ways are the best. Sometimes there’s nothing nicer than getting a free sample. It’s a chance to try out your product and a chance to demonstrate your generosity.

6 Brands That Symbolise Finland

I’ve been in various parts of Finland for the past couple of weeks. Here’s my take on the key brands that I came across most often during my travels.

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1 Nokia

Born in the town of Nokia, nearly 150 years ago, it started off selling paper products then rubber boots and throughout it’s history has continued to re-invent itself. Best known as a mobile phone brand, it sold the mobiles business to Microsoft in 2013 and is about to go through another phase of re-juvenation.

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2 Finlandia Vodka

Finlandia is the national vodka and according to the people I met in Finland, the purest vodka you can buy. The most distinctive element of the brand is it’s beautifully designed bottle. I also really like the ‘Life Less Ordinary‘ Comms Campaign. Very quirky, outdoorsy and a little bit scary/

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3 Karl Fazer Chocolate

I have to say, I got quite hooked on Fazer milk chocolate. It’s like Finland’s version of Cadbury’s. Founded over a hundred years ago, Fazer chocolate is everywhere. They even hand them out free at the Finnair Lounge in Helsinki airport. There’s loads of different flavours and various sub-brands, but the classic chocolate is the blue pack is the one for me. I always stock up at Duty Free.

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4 Marimekko

Marimekko is a Finnish design company, renowned for it’s distinctive bold prints and bright colours which you soon begin to recognise. It sells a range of clothing, accessories and home decor items. Founded in 1951, you can find Marimekko items all over world. Very stylish

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5 The Moomins

The Moomins are hippo-like creatures which appeared originally as a series of cartoons and comic strips. Since then, they’ve come to life in tv series, films and even as a theme park – although not quite on the scale of Disneyland. In Finland, the Moomins are hard to avoid – mugs, fridge magnets, tea towels – you can find them all with Moomin characters

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6 Stockmann

Stockmann is Finand’s best known department store. There’s a huge one in the centre of Helsinki, but they’re in other cities. It’s a fairly upmarket store, i guess equivalent to John Lewis, but maybe not quite as upmarket as Selfridges. Had a wander around one when I had a bit of spare time – nice.

I really enjoyed Finland. Full of nice people, beautiful scenery and lovely restaurants. I look forward to returning.

7 Ways Facilitators Can Build Rapport in Workshops

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As a facilitator, your primary goal early in the sessions to build a powerful rapport with the people in the room to get them on your side and ensure you have a successful outcome. Here’s a few tips on how you can do this.

1 Create a Relaxed Informal Environment

Be laid back, no matter how serious or important the session is. It immediately sets the right tone and eases the tension in the room. A few light hearted gags and anecdotes – usually at your own expense – goes down well. If you’re aloof or stressed, it will immediately show.

2 Naming

Focus on remembering and calling out people by their name. It really helps make a connection with everyone in the room and demonstrates that you’re fully attentive. It also shows that we’re all friends together and allows you assert control.

3 Actively Listening

It’s easy to listen in a half hearted manner, particularly when you have a lot on your mind. However, it’s crucial to demonstrate you’ve taken in what people say. The key tricks are: focus on eye-contact, play back what they say, refer back to what people said earlier in the day, avoid cutting people off.

4 Great questioning

The flip-side of great listening is great questioning. Use a range of questioning techniques that allow people to connect with you. Ask lots of questions, notably questions that are open and exploratory. This also demonstrates that you’re listening

5 Remember – its all about them not you

Don’t grandstand or try to appear ‘impressive’ or brag about your achievements. People hate a show off and resent being talked down to. Don’t make jokes at other people’s expense – no matter how funny you think you are. Instead, celebrate other people’s success and make sure the people in the room become the centre of attention – not you

5 Trade stories

Demonstrate you know how they feel by referring back to your own personal experiences to reinforce a point you want to make or to show empathy with someone else’s stories i.e. ‘the same thing happened to me…’

6 Be Responsive

If they ask a question – don’t ignore them. Try and respond. If you can’t, ask for help. This extends to broader questions. If they make a request for more coffee, the temperature of the room to be changed or a wireless code do your best to be accommodating

7 Give Feedback

People love to know how well they’re doing. Have they done a good job or not? Focus on the good stuff, not the bad stuff and if you’re going to criticize or judge them, do so with a positive and constructive mindset. This also demonstrates that you’re really listening and have internalised what’s been discussed