In praise – and incredulity! – of the MAMIL
From what I see and hear, there is a new trend for the middle age man’s “crisis”. Gone are the traditional sports cars, motorbikes and younger ladies. And very much in are carbon fibre racing bikes. The lighter and more blingy the bike the better! These guys – aged 45 to 55 in general – don’t stop at the carbon bike frame. They want the best and lightest bike components and they want to dress in co-ordinating Lycra outfits.
None of this is bad and if it means that men are becoming fitter, spending less (than a car) and staying with their current partners as part of their middle-aged crisis then all the better. It’s just that sometimes they need a little reality check!
The thing is, because I’m outdoorsy and love cycling I have had many male friends and acquaintances call me for advice. My responses go something like this:
Yes, I think cycling is a great idea.
Of course you should go for a road bike with drop handlebars if that’s your heart’s desire.
Carbon is a great choice, I agree, although aluminium is great, too, and cheaper if you’re not sure about this new hobby.
Brand is a personal thing but there are many fantastic bikes out there so you don’t need to be riding what the pros are riding.
Remember that fit rather than looks and price tag is important.
Lycra padded shorts help with comfort but, no, they don’t look glamorous.
If you want to spend many hundreds of pounds on Rapha clothing then go for it but expect a few sideways glances from the club cycling community and don’t expect to look fabulous in the slim-line, retro style.
And, sorry, but I have no idea if your wife will figure out that you have spent thousands of pounds rather than the hundreds of pounds you’ve told her on your new shiny carbon gadget. (Hide your bank statement?!)
Rise and rise of the MAMIL
These guys – most commonly known as MAMILS (Middle Aged Men in Lycra) – are obsessed with looks and weight (of the bike!). They want a bike that will go at high speeds, take them swiftly up hills, looks fabulous hung up in their hallway and is better than their mate’s. They don’t seem to mind spending thousands of pounds to achieve all the above. And they are happy to spend many hundreds of pounds more on top-of-the-range Assos or Rapha clothing.
But there is one thing that I don’t say, unless they are very good friends. Rather than obsessing over the lightest bike and the bike with all the go-faster components, they could simply lose a few pounds from their waistline. In many cases, these MAMILs have a couple of stones to shift, which will help immensely when trying to cycle uphill, on the flat and when attempting to ride while down on the drop bars. In fact, wouldn’t it be better to make the first bike purchase something less blingy and cheaper just to be sure that this cycling thing is for them?
And rather than worrying about what brand of Lycra to go for, how about choosing a cheaper range first so that when they do shed the pounds – as many inevitably do as soon as they start riding their bike – they can treat themselves to a few select items of Assos and Rapha. To be honest, though, guys, there are other fabulous cycle clothing ranges out there that are less costly, very practical and will last a very long time. For example, Gore Cycle Wear, Endura and Altura.
The other thing I want to shout is: Rather than lying to your partners about the cost of the bike, why not buy her one too? Cycling is a great past-time for men and women to enjoy together.
More about the cycling, less about the kit
For more ordinary, less middle age crisis ridden men, this is how the bike buying and progression usually goes. And it’s one I wholeheartedly recommend. First, buy an entry level or slightly pricier bike to see if the style of bike and the riding is for you. Become fitter and enjoy cycling. Spend a year or more seeing if this is the new hobby for you.
Ride to new places, enjoy a cycling sportive, head off for a cycling holiday and encourage your nearest and dearest to cycle too. At the same time you might buy a few cycle-friendly clothing items such as Lycra shorts (baggier style if you’re self-conscious), a good waterproof jacket, cycling gloves and a helmet.
And from this entry level comes the next stage. Many cyclists go on to buy lighter weight aluminium (Canyon has great lightweight aluminium bikes) or a carbon bike. You could keep your first bike as a “winter” training bike or sell it second-hand.
By this point, the cyclists are usually a good bit fitter and slimmer and this is when weight and stiffness of carbon will be an advantage. Keeping the weight down helps with going uphill. Having a stiffer bike means that power through the leg muscles is pushed out efficiently through the pedals to make the rider go faster.
Wearing Lycra clothing is all part of the cycling scene by this point. No one blinks if you turn out in tight-fitting all-matching shorts, jerseys, socks and arm warmers. You’re slimmer and bike fit so you’ll look great. Lycra is also practical. Padded shorts aid comfort in the saddle. Most clothing is made from breathable materials so you don’t end up wet and sweaty. Waterproof jackets come in Gore-Tex fabrics and similar to keep the rain out. Clothing has well-placed pockets for stowing spare inner tubes, pumps and tools etc. Helmets are not only good for keeping your brain safe but also, in many cases, are designed to make you more streamline.
Did I mention streamline?
Additions to your cycling kit might include aero bars – for getting lower on the bike and going faster – GPS gadgets, arm warmers, leg warmers, clip on pedals etc. The list will go on. But if you’re now hooked on cycling you’ll be fit enough and slim enough to justify the price tag of your new bike bling. If you have to buy Rapha at this point then so be it!
* Please note that this article is written in jest, for fun and is entirely my opinion! I could easily be accused of being a MAWIL myself and if I was I'd grin broadly and say: "Ao what? I love my bike bling!"