Recently there have been a few articles in the mainstream press about MAMIL's (middle aged men in Lycra).
Before reading any further I have a confession to make, I am a MAMIL and I am proud of it - I feel I should be sitting in a group in some community centre with everyone standing up and applauding, meanwhile the group leader gives me a manly pat on the back and a middle aged woman sits beside me wiping a tear drop from her cheek.
So here is a brief outline of what my interpretation of a MAMIL is:
1) middle aged (obviously) for me I reckon this is 40 - 55 years old
2) money to spend
3) loves gadgets
4) wears Lycra
Here are some other interpretations:
1) suffering from a mid-life crisis
2) wastes money on pointless cycling items he doesn't need
3) Rides around looking like a fool in Lycra
4) Rides around looking fat in Lycra
5) Rides around puffing in Lycra
6) Rides around on a bike in Lycra, when he should be driving a car like other sane people
7) Rides through red lights wearing Lycra
8) Rides on pavements in Lycra, knocking down old ladies who are not in Lycra
Note a trend? There is a heavy focus on Lycra, it is as if people are going out in public dressed in a gimp suit!
I will attempt to move away from stereo types and exaggeration and take a look at what a MAMIL really is, and ask why do middle aged men get all dressed up and go out on their bikes? People assume men should stop using a bike once they pass their driving test - only children and those on a drunk driving charge should be riding a bike surely.
This is a list of my thoughts on why I and many others are MAMIL's
1) Cycling is a sport that you can do in your later years. It is possible with a sensible level of effort to still be able to mix it with people 20 years younger and even be faster than they are. Often it is your aerobic fitness that counts along with your weight / strength ratios. Yes of course someone genetically the same as you but younger putting in the same effort will be faster but given all the variables you stand a better chance on a bike than you do on a run. This I think is a major appeal in cycling for older people.
2) I think cycling appeals because it is a social sport - it is something you can do at the weekend with a friend and have a bit of a chat en-route, for me and many others it is a social and physical activity.
3) There is the gadget element - bikes offer infinite permutations of equipment across a broad range of items and prices. Older men man have spent their previous 20 years glueing back on the hand of the stars wars action figures, carried out minor engineering miracles to keep a favourite toy going, or to make sure that a shelf can handle 3 kids swinging from it. In our DNA there is a love and appreciation of mechanical things.
Often nowadays, cars can no longer be fixed without a raft of special tools and computers, besides all that, the car engine is often hidden by some plastic cover designed to make it look "cool" and to stop you fiddling with it beyond adding water and oil. But bikes on the other hand are totally accessible, fairly easy to tinker with and build and are, to the eyes of men in the know, a thing of beauty!
4) We want to stay healthy - many sports are just too likely to give painful injuries. Last time I had a rugby kick around with my sons I broke two ribs - my sons are just too damn big and my bones a lot less dense than they used to be. But I can cycle all day and unless my eldest son decides to make any effort, I can still beat him at one sport. Besides (and no I wont admit it to them) I enjoy getting out, on the rare occasions we cycle together, with my sons
Why should men accept that they have to grow fat and unhealthy just because they have passed 40? Gyms have lost their allure often, either our joints just can't take that heavy pounding any more, or we can't stand looking at some 20 year old thinking he is the bees knees, when we know we were twice as fit at his age but nowadays it would take two of us just to spot him. Also (and maybe this is just me) but I seem to be a lot more sensitive to the unwashed masses in the gym now than I was before (or maybe young people wash less nowadays).
5) We get a little time at last to have a hobby - it is not just about the physical side of cycling that appeals, there are a plethora of gadgets for us to read and learn about; and what can be better if we find that must have gadget, we can then buy it! We justify the benefits we will feel from that carbon bottle cage that is 2 grams lighter - maybe it will be difference between first and second on the imaginary TDF we cycle in every day we cycle off to work.
6) We get away from it all - there is just so many benefits to getting some quiet time, either in the garage building bike things, or out on the road. It offers such an opportunity to de-stress that it is hard to explain. Often when I come back from a ride the noise in the house is a real shock.
7) Cycling is a practical exercise, you see the world about you, or if you are like me you get to commute to work (I am not going into all the cost savings, health benefits etc. in this post) maybe it is a middle aged thing but I can't see the point of spinning my legs in a gym going nowhere fast and I loathe getting on public transport (maybe it is that not liking the small of unwashed people again)?
So why the negative connections to the term MAMIL?
1) I suppose the one item from above that annoys me the most is the
"mid-life crisis" tag.Why is it that everything a man does in his
mid-life a crisis? Maybe there are some logical reasons for what we do, once a man passes 40 he doesn't go a bit mad, but it seems that the media takes the easy route of labelling everything we do as a mid-life crisis, in just the same way they have to label us MAMIL's
2) Do MAMIL's waste too much money on cycling? Yes we do! Is that such a bad thing? If you own a cycle store a MAMIL is heaven sent, as explained above, we love all the gadgets and have the ability to buy them. Do all the gadgets make a difference - well yes they do. Do they make as big a difference as their cost - well no of course they don't - does that matter - hell no! If you can afford it then why can't you have it? What is annoying though is when you compare the money you spend on a bike etc. to that of your spending on a car - the bike is many times cheaper, but we have been conditioned nowadays to accept the spiralling cost of car ownership and it seen as a necessity and a bike as a luxury item - I am sure it was that way round 50 years ago even.
3) Your other half (sorry "better half") - how should she feel about this, after all you are out on your bike instead of lying on the sofa at home. Obviously I am going to have to make some assumptions here but I would think the following applies:
a) You are out on your bike - not in the arms another woman. My wife is all I need, and my bikes are my hobby (though my wife thinks I treat them as if they are mistresses). My bikes take up my attention and thoughts outside of the family, I worry about when I should clean or service them, not about should I try and continue my youth by chasing another woman.
Once I forgot my phone when I went out to the shops, my wife needed to contact me, She thought about going to look for me, but she admitted she would not have gone looking around the pubs but around the bike shops instead.
b) My bike keeps me fit - what wife wants her husband unhealthy and fat before his time (feeders excepted).
c) When we have a dinner with friends, fellow MAMIL's have loads of exciting things to talk about rather than get into some argument about politics.Gear ratios can take up many an hour of dinner conversations!
4) So how do you justify buying expensive bike bling? Well if your wife thinks it is fine to always buy her shoes from ASDA then I guess you have no right to buy bike bling. But as no woman wants to buy all her shoes at ASDA I think we are safe in using that as an excuse for buying more expensive components. Besides we get years out of our bikes as opposed to one season for a pair of shoes which often cost more than a reasonable level carbon frame!
5) And this is probably the main reason for all the media slagging off - it is so cool to be negative about something. It is real easy to be a critic and laugh at someone else, but a damn sight harder to get off the sofa and push yourself to be fit and slimmer.
A MAMIL will ordinarily have a more positive outlook on life, maybe be a little less cynical. Yes that's it the word I have been searching for CYNICAL - the mocking of a MAMIL is far too easy, be cynical and delude yourself you are cool, after all MAMIL's are far too busy living life (or too busy deluding ourselves that we are just one more training hill away from being called up to Team Sky) to waste time in arguing back to cynicism.
OK that is all the non-controversial things covered, now for the tricky one - LYCRA. It is fair to say that a fat man in Lycra is not a good sight! So I suggest we take a sensible approach here, yes Lycra does help;
a) padding in all right places
b) gets rid of the sweat
c) reduces drag.
e) dries quickly
The above advantages do pale into insignificance when compared to the sight of a fat man wearing it, at least for the more refined people. So for all would be MAMIL's I suggest the following approach - if slightly overweight start off in more normal clothing, then as you progress and the fat starts to go - then introduce Lycra in step process, keep the baggy clothes covering the flabby parts and introduce the Lycra where it will not induce onlookers to vomit (or much worse mock you). Nowadays there are so many choices though, where you can wear baggy shorts over Lycra - so you can get the best of both worlds with a little compromise.
The advantages of proper clothing though are not to be underestimated, there will always be the people who mock and have an indelibly burned image in their head of someone in Lycra who really should have known better from a few years back. But provided you are reasonably healthy (as most cyclists are, or soon will be) then wearing Lycra should not offer up such disconcerting sights.
The thing that does rile me personally though is the people who say "I rode my bike once 50 miles and I didn't need Lycra". Well yes maybe they didn't, maybe they made it without too much hassle, but please tell me where it says I should put myself through unnecessary discomfort just to meet their satirical requirements? I have never dressed to impress (much to my wife's chagrin) and I as sure as hell am not going to do it on a bike where there are practical considerations to take into account as well. As a final point I would just like to say, even if you think we look a fool in our Lycra, quite frankly we are just too old to give a damn about what you and others think.
So forget about hugging a hoodie - hug a MAMIL - we are a much more maligned section of the community!