In Lycra they trust and trade

A good golfing handicap won't help you meet the entry criteria for Ryan O'Neill's exclusive club on wheels.

Members need to be top-of-the-tree decision makers who manage large teams and share a love of cycling.

Golf was once the only game in town for business heavyweights but, for many, talking turkey in lycra has supplanted beer and bonhomie at the 19th hole.

Born out of a LinkedIn group two years ago, Australian Cycling Executives has morphed into a networking group of 500 members from ASX200 companies and multinationals in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

In order to join, there has to be no question about the fact that you've already arrived.

O'Neill says he looks for candidates who are a "good corporate and social fit" and that means the blackball for mid-career business climbers and salespeople. Women are welcome but comprise just 15 per cent of the membership.

"These guys don't want to be sold to; they get sold to every day of their professional lives," O'Neill said.

"We have a 'tell not sell' philosophy. It's a business networking community for people who share a passion for cycling."

It's also an attractive target market for advertisers - so much so that they're happy to pick up the tab at the group's quarterly Friday morning meets, in return for the opportunity to put on a presentation after the bacon and eggs.

Other executives are building their own, more informal, networks with fellow lycra wearers.

The managing director for software firm Interactive Intelligence, Brendan Maree, swapped his putter for pedal power four years ago and now rides several times a week, with a pack of semi-regulars and a triathlon club.

Cycling has thrown him together with other people from the high tech sector, including a Microsoft executive with links to a vertical market Interactive Software was trying to penetrate.

Maree said the sport afforded multiple opportunities to meet different people in the course of a morning. Cyclists ride two abreast and rotate their positions in the pack as often as every five minutes; a practice which can turn a long ride into the networking equivalent of a speed dating session.

"You do talk about work as you're riding along," Maree said. "It's easier to do it while riding than in the coffee shop. Out of a group of 30, you might get half turn up each time, so you'll get to chat with 14 people."

By contrast, 18 holes of golf means half a day stumping around the course with the same three players.

"You might go with a buddy and get paired with two others and you're with them for five hours," Maree said.

"It's much more limited opportunities. The most you will get to meet is three decision makers. I'm definitely a keen golfer but cycling is the new golf for networking. I'm making far more contacts than I could meet on the golf course."

For ambitious types, two wheels can also provide an easy entre to the executive suite of their own organisation, as more senior staff embrace the middle aged men in lycra (MAMIL) movement.

Melbourne based Tru Energy sponsors a company team to enter events like Bupa's Around the Bay in a Day ride. Senior manager of renewable energy Cameron Garnsworthy said up to 70 of his firm's 1000 staff would sign up and attend training sessions before the event.

"You can meet people in the organisation at all different levels, from the managing director down," Garnsworthy said.

"It's mostly compared to golf but cycling gets a bigger cross section of people."

And it's a cross section that's more female friendly than the blokey atmosphere of the fairway and the clubhouse, according to NetSuite commercial manager Vanina Bel-Madella.

"There's a better team spirit than something like golf – more involved," Bel-Madella said.

"I've felt more comfortable as a woman at such things."

But golf aficionados say when it comes to networking, it's all about quality, not quantity; a leisurely three course spread to cycling's speed date.

Business development manager for second tier accountancy firm Sothertons Leon Jacobs regularly hosts a party of four at corporate networking days organised by the Melbourne Business Golf Group.

Included in the package is 18 holes at a private course, followed by dinner and drinks. For Jacobs, it's a relaxed way of entertaining good clients and qualified prospects, rather than fossicking for new business at random.

"I don't think business deals are done on the golf course any more but I do think that, as part of the relationship building process, it's important to get together with clients outside the work environment," Jacobs said.

"People only tend to accept the invite if they're serious about doing business. Although the days are promoted as networking, I don't go as a single player and try to meet others. I won't go with 100 business cards and work the room."