My husband Paul recently returned from a trip to the cycle shop clutching a plastic bag and looking sheepish. “This was in the sale,” he said, not looking me in the eye. “It was only £15.” He produced a garment I now know to be bib shorts, common among Mamils. I saw only what looked like a cross between a weightlifting outfit and a mankini. I couldn’t help it – I burst out laughing. My husband rolled his eyes and put the lycra one-piece in a drawer.
For quite some time, he has been a Mamil, defined by Wikipedia as a “middle-aged man who rides an expensive racing bicycle for leisure, wearing professional style body-hugging bicycle jerseys and bicycle shorts”. I can’t remember when it started, but I know that it has certainly intensified since he turned 40, in April.
All he wanted for his birthday was a new bike, so we all clubbed together to pay for a sleek Italian model made from carbon fibre. It is my husband’s pride and joy, and he was delighted to discover a video of the workshop where it was made – lovingly, by hand, by a company founded by a former cyclist with a passion for the sport.
Men’s love for bikes has been likened to the feelings evoked by cars – the flashier and more expensive, the better – and it is easy to see how this has contributed to the rise of the Mamil. With a decent racing model costing around £2,000, they are an affordable way of giving vent to a mid-life crisis, with the excuse of trying to combat middle-age spread.
Interest in the recent successful record attempt by Sir Bradley Wiggins shows how popular cycling has become. Millions of us were glued to our TVs as the Lancashire-based Olympian cycled round and round a velodrome in a weird-looking helmet and three-quarter length socks. Perhaps this gave a valuable insight into a sport not known for its fashion credentials. And where else but in cycling would you find a hero with a name like Wiggins?
Yet, unlikely as it seems, cycling is now cool. Following last year’s staging of the first three legs of the Tour de France in Britain, more than 95,000 people took part in British Cycling events in the areas covered by the Tour. The same year overall participation in the organisation’s programme increased by 64 per cent.
While there is evidence that cycling is starting to appeal to women, by far the majority of those taking to two wheels are men, with 40-49 year-olds doing twice as many miles per year as any other age group. The demographic of these Mamils is middle-class professionals with disposable incomes and the desire to own shiny new things. Their mindset can be broken down into categories:
Tribe mentality: Like other wild animals, Mamils hunt in packs. They gather with like-minded creatures at events known as sportives and much prefer cycling in a group to pedalling alone.
Love of gadgetry: Cycling offers endless scope for acquiring gadgets, including satnavs allowing you to plan your route and compare your speeds with other Mamils.
Competitiveness: Not only can Mamils compete to climb a hill the fastest, but also in the cost and desirability of their bikes. Bike envy is common, and it is rare for a Mamil with a sought-after bike to allow other Mamils to ride it.
Fitness: As maintaining a certain level of fitness and a flat stomach become harder, cycling offers an alternative to other, more punishing sports like football or squash. Ironically, lycra is less flattering as you progress to Mamilhood, but this is offset by a decrease in sensitivity over appearance.
Despite the questionable dress code and cost of bikes, being a Mamil has its benefits. For men, it can provide a relatively tame outlet for midlife angst while, for women, it can help by addressing primeval needs (theirs) and facilitating much-needed me time (ours).
And there’s good news on the health front. With middle-aged men who cycle living an average of two years longer than those who don’t, being a Mamil truly is about the survival of the fittest.