What's Tony Thinking

Riding Bikes and Flying Geese


Last Friday and Saturday I did the 200 mile RSVP Bike Ride from Seattle to Vancouver with my son, Joe. There were some 2,500 of us making the ride under the auspices of the Cascade Bicycle Club. We set out in the early morning light from a lot near UW.

It was a great ride, but not without challenges — hills, occasional obnoxious car/ truck drivers, and a few missed turns — all par for the course. Along the way, beautiful countryside and kind people.

As I rode I thought about parallels between cycling and a piece I had read years ago on “Lessons from Geese,” by Milton Olson. What follows are five observations about geese, a take away for we humans and a cycling parallel observed on the RSVP (as well as other large, organized rides).

Goose Observation # 1: as each bird flaps its wings, it creates “uplift” for the bird following. By flying in V-formation the whole flock adds 71% flying range than if a bird flies alone.

Lesson: So too, people who share a sense of common direction and sense of community get where they are going quicker and easier traveling on the thrust of one another.

Cycling parallel: there is “uplift” in doing a long ride like this with a whole lot of other people. You get energy from one another and from sharing the experience. Moreover, like geese, cyclists “draft” (close following) on one another to reduce air resistance and ride with less effort and greater efficiency. Truth is, I drafted on Joe a lot more than he did on me.

Goose Observation # 2: Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to fly alone.

Lesson: if we have as much sense as geese, we will stay in formation with those who are going where we want to go and accept their help.

Cycling: follow those who know where they are going, and accept help along the way.

Goose Observation # 3: When the lead goose tires, it rotates back in the formation and another goose flies point.

Lesson: Share the hard work and tasks of leadership!

Cycling: so too, people take turn in the lead position, rotating back to draft on others after they have taken their time in the lead.

Goose # 4: Geese in formation honk from behind to encourage those up front.

Lesson: Encouragement is good. And those in the lead especially need encouragement!

Cycling: Words of encouragement along the way, whether from fellow cyclists, or by-standers along the route mean a lot. Special thanks to the “pink lemonade” people at the crest of the big hill outside Bellingham.

Observation # 5: When a goose gets sick, wounded or shot down, two other geese  drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it flies again or dies.

Lesson: Notice and help those in trouble.

Cycling: You see much the same. When someone takes a fall or has a flat, several people always stop to check-in, help out and comfort.

So there are a lot of interesting parallels between cycling and flying geese — and a great deal to learn from both.

Keep on riding!



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