Synergy, cycling and Six Sigma: A professional's journey

By Scott McDonald

linden.jpgRic Van der Linden is quickly approaching his sixth year of teaching the Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Program at UC San Diego Extension. Another upcoming anniversary, however, is getting all the attention.

Van der Linden and his wife, Anne, are celebrating 25 years of marriage with a 3,300-mile, cross-country tandem bicycle trip.

This weekend in Oceanside the couple will start with a ceremonial tire-dip into the Pacific and a 30-mile ride back to their home in Temecula. From there, it’ll only be one day off a week, and 80 miles a day, until they reach Virginia.

Although the Van Der Lindens have been cycling together since they were both student athletes in college, this trip will be their longest ever.

“It’s our longest by far,” said Ric. “I ride between seven and ten thousand miles a year. But I never do it on the same bike. So to do 3,300 miles on a tandem bike with my wife is a totally different thing. The most we’ve ever done at one time riding the tandem is 120 miles.”

In addition to teaching Extension classes, the tall, side-burned instructor is president of ProgressivEdge, a Lean Six Sigma consulting firm. So it’s no surprise that the many parallels between Van Der Linden’s professional life and his impending journey aren’t lost on him.

“There are certainly correlations between the two,” he said. “Six Sigma is all about efficiency and effectiveness. I’m using things like project management, organizational skills, packing efficiency, all the way down to how I place the tools and spare parts on the bike. It’s about not being wasteful, improving quality, and reducing variation. These are all things I teach and do, so they’re things I’m doing while preparing for this trip. It’s really a great comparison.”

While it would be impossible for Van der Linden to escape from viewing this trip through the lens of Six Sigma, he and his wife are making sure that the reason they’re undertaking it never gets lost in the shuffle.

Ric and Anne have started a Facebook page entitled “Lasting Marriage Bike Tour” to chronicle the expedition. The page features personalized details of their route, equipment they’re using, and pictures of the couple training together. There will also be ongoing posts of marriage advice and resources. Ric and Anne are even planning to talk to one married couple each day and posting that couple’s marriage “advice” on the site.

The “Lasting Marriage Bike Tour” is truly a family affair. Ric’s parents – who coincidentally are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this year – will follow their son and daughter-in-law along the route in a motorhome. The cyclists’ 18-year-old daughter will also be on hand to assist with daily chores and moral support.

It’s going to take a team effort. The first leg of the trip promises brutal weather, with average daily temperatures reaching 110°.

linden2.jpg“It’ll be rough crossing the desert,” said Ric. “Assuming the heat matches what they say it’s going to be, it will be impossible to ride during the heart of the day. So for the first two weeks we’ll be starting at three in the morning, and be done by 10 or 11 o’clock each day.”

Despite the extreme conditions, the couple will be joined by a few other family members and friends along the way, each of whom plans on riding with them part of the route.

For the times when it’s just the two of them alone and the motorhome is nowhere in sight, Ric says the couple will have no problem with communication.

“It actually works itself out,” he said. “When you hit a hill or a climb, neither one of us wants to talk much. And downhill is just too windy. There’s definitely a ‘right’ time to have a conversation. But there’s also just so much to see. It’s not like you’re confined in a car, motorcycle, or plane. On a bicycle, you see it, you smell it, and you hear it. And that creates all the opportunities to talk that you’ll ever need.”

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