A Middle Aged Man In Lycra, or as it is more commonly known MAMIL is a term I hate. I hate it because I didn’t know at 46 I was middle aged and when I did come out of my day-dream to realise it I quickly slipped back into the fantasy world desperately trying to remember what it was like to be a 25 year old again. I also hate to think I am part of a much wider group, not that I am embarrassed by them or even dislike them, but because I’m not really good at conforming to anything.
I’m failing miserably in my resistance though. I now wave at other cyclists by way of a nod, a raising of fingers or even a loud “good morning” and I haven’t felt that socially connected with strangers since my dad flashed his lights at another English car as we drove to Frejus in France in 1984.
It got me thinking how baffling this must be to any woman or man of course that had a partner who has joined the masses as I do recognise that the number of Ladies In Lycra (LIL’s) is growing rapidly too.
So, if you have a partner who fits nicely into the above description and you would like a third party perspective on why they do it, read on:
1. Everyone else was doing it. Yes that’s the truth, we followed the masses. Anyone who says that they didn’t must be able to cite you great historical references from professional cycling that pre-date Lance Armstrong. Saying they know Eddie Merckx doesn’t count because everyone knows Eddie Merckx in the same way you can say you know a lot about diving because you have heard of Tom Daily. Talking about last night’s football match is for the bloke down the pub but the MAMIL is talking about the Tour de France and you will know when he’s really gone past the point of recovery when he is referring to it as ‘the tour’. And woe betide anyone who calls it something else.
2. Our bellies and boobs wobbled when we cleaned our teeth. If you have ever tried playing 5 a-side football at the age of 40 you will know it’s not only hard work but can take 4-5 days to recover. Cycling is pretty much harmless in that regard as the very action of spinning your legs is the same one that helps them recover. It’s easy to slow down on the mid-week evening pint, or to skip the packet of crisps in the lunch box but as time flies you realise it doesn’t quite have the drastic effect on your waste-line that you hoped. One day that morning glance in the mirror as you clean your teeth threw up more surprises than you would want and it was time to do something about it.
3. Unhappy & bored. It’s still not cool for a guy to sit down and share his feelings, but the reality is (and I’m sure it’s the same for many woman out there) life was becoming a bit more unfulfilling. The salary at work had stabilised a bit and your motivation wasn’t quite that of the younger you. The kids are a bit easier now they occupy themselves and you’re finding a bit too much time is now being spent in front of the TV or on the iPad. And let’s face it, the sex life isn’t up to as much and you’re, well basically, bored. Then you ride a bike, complete your first 10 miles, first 50 miles or record your highest average speed and all of a sudden it’s like scoring a goal in the school football team. You are reminded that for the first time in many years you are doing something that is for YOU. Not for your wife, your partner, your children or your boss but for you. That’s a feeling that hasn’t happened for a while and you like it.
4. You can’t come home drunk from a bike ride. No wonder pubs are being turned into coffee shops, it’s just so much more enjoyable to sit in the sunshine having a cup of coffee with the same friends knowing that you cycled there and will be cycling off the huge chunk of coffee & walnut cake on the way back. Rather than get a bollocking when you get in from the pub you now get asked if you had a good ride. The conversation with your friends is the same: women, bikes, women and maybe bike stuff but this time nobody is drunk, the laughs are as hard and there is no hangover. Physically or maritally.
5. You’ve awoken your Phyleas Fogg. After poking around on Instagram and reading a few cycling magazines you realise just how beautiful the rest of Europe is, even the bit the Russians used to look after. You learn that Ventoux is THE mountain in France that cyclists want to climb up and you’ve seen photos of someone 20 years older than you standing on top of it with their bike. You need that badge of honour too, you need to know you can start a conversation with another cyclist that slips it in and you need to know how many bends there are on Alp D’Huez because you want to tell people what you remember about every one of them. Taking of which, read how Alp D’Huez broke me here. Oh and it’s 21.
6. Men love accessory shopping too. The great news about owning a bike is that it opens the door to a whole host of shopping options and yes despite us sulking and waiting outside Karen Millen when you want to try out the new season’s offerings, we do actually love shopping. We love looking through the latest accessories on Wiggle, Chain Reaction Cycles and Amazon. New tyres that will make us go faster, a pump that will inflate the tyres quicker, a water bottle with an antibacterial coating. None of it will make the different to our riding experience but it’s such a buzz when that brown parcel awaits us when we get home from work. There is literally no end of reasons to justify a purchase of a new bike accessory and that is both the bad news and the good news.
7. You finally get back on a ‘career path’. When you career has died a death and you are stuck with the same car for the next five years work is going to be a bit Ground Hog day. Unlike cars, that might be on 4 year leases or linked to depreciation and payment structures we are stuck with, a bike can be changed, upgraded or even if you are lucky repositioned to suit a particular season. You’ll know when the discussion is coming around to a new bike being added to the stable when the term ‘winter bike’ is mentioned more than once. You will be right to be confused when they refer to their current bike becoming a winter bike, like it is going into hibernation or something, but in fact what they really mean is they are justifying the need for another bike for summer. Maybe a bike made of the latest carbon materials, from the latest brand, gears that are electric and not manual. Don’t worry about the justification, you’ll lose the argument because there is always another bike and you can’t argue because this is how you buy shoes. And please don’t think those shoes and handbags cost what you told us they cost because our bikes aren’t that cheap either.
8. Cave time. If you read and observe the findings of John Gray in his book Men Are From Mars & Woman Are From Venice you will appreciate that men need their ‘cave time’. Riding a bike provides the perfect cave time as despite the fact you tend to think about everything that might be going on in your world, for good or bad, it somehow brings about some perspective to it all. The hill in front becomes that challenge you can’t solve at work – but you climb it. The miserableness and frustration that you might have that you are getting old, don’t have abs, are going a bit grey and don’t get noticed by girls anymore can be pretty depressing for all of us. Riding a bike brings back that ‘ah but it’s not so bad’ feeling because it’s what you did as a 12 year old down the back-alleys in the summer holidays. Nothing mattered, you just needed a full stomach and a bicycle and you were happy on your own wandering around in a day dream and that’s exactly how it feels riding a bike through a country lane on a Tuesday evening. Cycling somehow provides the perfect opportunity to retreat back into yourself for some inner reflective thought whilst at the same time fuelling the explorer that exists within you to see daylight, taste fresh air and ultimately get a bit dirty again.
There it is. Read this as an education on life being a MAMIL or a justification of it from just one person’s perspective. Either way, as both an activity and a life issue it is here to stay and long may it continue…