When people meet me at our Clarendon location, they meet Dennis the Store Manager. I wear shorts all year long, funny colored sneakers, and a lanyard bearing my name, title, and several pieces of flair including a pink, plastic bunny head. What people do not know is that I have a secret: prior to joining the team at Revolution Cycles, I spent almost a decade as a member of academia teaching at the university level. I got my first taste for teaching as an undergraduate in the Psychology program at the University of Maryland at College Park. I was instantly hooked and, after spending a few years working in mental health case management, I decided to pursue my academic ambitions at the University of Washington, where I completed my Doctorate in Psychology with my emphasis on Neuroscience. That is, conducting research on the actual nuts and bolts of the nervous system.
After learning about what I did in my past life, most people have the same reaction: how did you end up working at a bike shop and how is any of what you did for 10 years relevant to your current work? I’m never too sure how to answer the first question. I “I guess I could have ended up working on a fishing boat, but I don’t like to fish that much.”needed a serious break from science post-doctorate, so continuing on that route at that time was not a healthy idea. I guess I could have ended up working on a fishing boat, but I don’t like to fish that much. Driving a truck would be fun, but I hate sitting in traffic. I have been an avid cyclist since I rediscovered the bicycle in the mid-1990s. At that time, I rode purely for recreation. Then I worked weekends for two years bike patrolling the C&O Canal for the National Park Service. By the time I hit Seattle in 2001, my bicycle became my main mode of transportation. I guess everything bicycle brings me a certain feeling of comfort and satisfaction because it has been an integral part of my life for so long. So, the bicycle industry just felt right for me as I made my transition away from science.
The question of how my experience in academia translates to my current work is much easier for me to definitively answer and actually was the impetus for me writing this piece. This piece started at the request of our Operations Manager, Jakob Wolf-Barnett. Jakob wanted to know how I approach staff training, since that is the major focus of my work at Clarendon. To fully explain my training approach, I have to acknowledge that my pedagogy is the same whether I am teaching about bikes or brains. The methods I use today at Revolution Cycles are those that I have used and refined over the course of a decade at universities on both coasts. Thus, the academic instructor has become the corporate trainer only by switching the topic of discussion and not the methodology.
Regardless of topic, I always teach using a Top-Down Approach. That is, I start by introducing the student to the highest or most complete level of a system or idea and then we proceed to break that down into component parts. As a modern-trained neuroethologist, Top-Down analysis was the absolute base for my work. As a neuroethologist, I studied a perceptual phenomenon, in my personal case, auditory sensation (hearing), and investigated the neurological wiring that was necessary to the proper function of the working system. I started by investigating gross structure of the brain and worked my way down to research the contributions made by the actions of specialized types of ion channels in individual nerve cells (neurons).
The Top-Down Approach I use to train incoming bicycle sales associates or “consultants” as I like to refer to my team members, does not start with a bike but rather starts with the experience. I train my team to start every transaction by asking the right questions to find out what type of cycling experience their client is seeking. There are myriad different types of bicycles available and each has its optimal use. What does the person in front of you want to do with their bike and, furthermore, what do they want to experience? It is common for a sales person to assume that someone looking for a “commuter bike” is looking for something of the hybrid variety. But what if the person desires speed and will only be carrying a small backpack? This person may be better served by a road bike. Thus, it is of paramount importance to have a clear understanding of the desired riding experience of your client before making any suggestions about what bicycles might satisfy their needs.
Once my sales trainees understand how to uncover the cycling experience their client desires, I move on to teaching them about different styles of bicycle and how these styles lend themselves to different cycling experiences. This discussion starts with illustrating the differences in geometry between mountain, hybrid, road, and triathlon/TT bikes. An effective discussion of bicycle geometry requires knowledge of the nomenclature used to name specific regions of the bicycle frame, so this is covered at this point. I then move on to speaking about frame materials and their characteristic ride qualities. For example, aluminum is a very common frame material that provides the rider with a stiff platform for efficient energy transfer, but can be considered by some to be too harsh for long rides. Conversely, frames built with carbon fiber provide an equivalent degree of or exceed the stiffness associated with aluminum while also providing vibration damping which results in a much more comfortable riding experience.
After my trainees understand how frame geometry and tube material determine ride quality, we move forward into discussions of “A beautiful car with a lousy transmission does not make for a happy driver.”wheels, shifters, derailleurs, cables, cranks, chain rings, cassettes, and chains- the parts of the bike that directly convert human energy into motion. One must understand the relationship between all these parts and how they determine ride quality. A beautiful car with a lousy transmission does not make for a happy driver. The same is especially true for the cyclist whose faults in transmission result in overexertion, lower-than-desired speed, and physical discomfort. Once the basic mechanics are understood, all of this information is put to use on the sales floor in training scenarios during which trainees select bicycles for other staff members based on the perception of desired user experience.
This process is analogous to how I used to teach my undergraduate neuroscience students about the auditory system. We would start with the experience of hearing and the physics of sound. I would then move them through the basic structure of the auditory centers of the brain responsible for processing information about sound. These structures would be further dissected down to the single units of neural processing, neurons, and how the function of a single, specialized neuron contributes to the auditory experience and how malfunction along the pathway affects perception.
At this point, I hope it is clear how one method I used and theoretical perspective I operated from in academia translate to the bicycle industry and my daily work at Revolution Cycles. Although teaching in a Top-Down fashion forms the base of my pedagogy, a full discussion would include other methods such as the effective use of analogy, hands-on learning, fostering the development of problem solving skills, and illustrating how the topic of instruction can be witnessed across modes of life experience. Maybe I will discuss these topics in a future blog entry along with how correcting poor bike fit is similar to treatment of psychopathology.
Dr. Dennis Dever