“So, you’ve become a MAMIL then!?”
“Erm, sorry, what the hell you on about?”
“You know, a MAMIL. A middle aged man (or woman ie a MAWIL) in lycra”
Sniggering all round.
I’ve become the butt of an in-joke that I don’t know anything about and I’m not sure if it’s a good thing to be a “MAMIL” or not. When I first heard the term I realised that I already was one but….
Here’s the weird thing…..
I became a MAMIL quite naturally. (Sweet!)
I didn’t know about them or aspire to be one or think it looked cool in my mid forties to wear a spandex suit and ride a road bike which is a bit worrying because, in a way, it makes it almost as if becoming a MAMIL is a genetic thing, an age thing, it’s sort of built into the DNA of men my age.
Suddenly it seems like a great idea to go out in all weathers bulging out of a skin tight suit. You go a bit crazy for all things aero and lightweight and career around in a sweaty panting mass on a bike that cost more than the deposit for your first flat.
But for me, I got interested in “proper” road cycling after my physio suggested cycling to help with a knee problem (worn cartilage due of course and slightly ironically to middle age!). A fast road bike was appealing to prove that I wasn’t physically dead yet and of course proper cycling shorts are just so much more practical and comfortable than any other clothing…….maybe some road shoes would be good and..
…a MAMIL was unwittingly and happily born…..
So what’s all the fuss about?
Well, MAMILs are quite funny – there’s absolutely no doubt about that and they have had a bit of a poking in the press in terms of why it’s distasteful for people of a certain age to squeeze themselves into tight clothing and pant in public.
It sounds almost like some sort of strange fetish.
We all love to typecast people and to categorise and there’s been a number of articles about how women have become MAMIL / cycling widows (why is it always that way round? – there are many many MAWILs around and nobody seems to care about the poor old husbands left at home!), how they have been embarrassed by their husband’s new “habit” and how the financial strain has effected their well being.
Certainly making fun of the whole MAMIL culture thing is very appealing if you are of a curtain twitching, keep up with the Jones’s mentality but, frankly, who the hell really cares? Surely it’s just easy pickings for the media to poke fun at?
The MAMIL stereotype continues with the middle aged cyclist who has several bikes in his collection, traditionally they are expensive aero models in direct contrast to his rather non aero middle aged spread and the whole joke is that putting an unfit middle aged man on an expensive racing bike is a bit like putting a Land Rover engine in Ferrari. Then there’s the endless obsessing about having the right kit, trying to look cool, wearing shorts that are too tight and spending hours in the saddle working on our power to weight ratio, spending money on expensive power meters and spending whole days and weekends at cycling events.
It doesn’t stop there though as the MAMIL stereotype bores the pants off his/her friends and family with ride stats, is a bit obsessed with STRAVA segments and even rides in the rain (indoors on a turbo trainer) and drives the family insane! Cycling comes first, it takes over and the garage soon fills with tools, tyres and bits of bikes – the bike even lives indoors like it’s part of the family!
Surely you’re joking! (Erm…no.)
And then there’s the whole thing about it being part of a mid life crisis. That’s always good for poking fun at! What are these pseudo sportsman trying to prove? Do they think lycra makes them look more attractive, why do they still need to prove their verility? Who are they trying to impress and what’s the deal with trying to stuff our middle aged bollocks into the tightest pants possible?
Yes, it’s all good fun and I’m actually quite proud to be, at least in part a bit of a MAMIL myself.
Being a MAMIL is a GOOD THING.
Firstly I’m not too sure about the midlife crisis but I enjoy pushing myself physically and yes, it does prove that there’s a bit of life left in the old dog yet. I’m not that fit, I’m not that fast and I’m not a great one for enduring discomfort but I can out cycle and, as a result, out run up the stairs, or out run for a bus a lot of men my age and younger and yes, I admit it, that feels bloody good!
I wasn’t always like this in fact in may late 30’s and early 40’s I was fat, unfit and breathless. I was 3/12 stones heavier than I am now, I looked older than I do now and I had less energy than I do now – ten years ago. If I keep cycling I will probably live longer, suffer less illness and live a fuller life than if I don’t.
It’s a no brainer.
Of course I could get the same effect from running for example but why the hell would I put myself through that torture when I don’t enjoy it, I can go much faster on a bike and I have only limited opportunities to buy gadgets and tech for my hobby? Other men my age might take up injury risking sports like football or rugby (if you’re a real man that is!) or maybe even golf – don’t get me started on how bizarre the compulsion to hit balls into holes all day is though – plus golf is hardly exercise – it’s purely an affection.
So, cycling is great for the physical well being in midlife, it’s relatively safe and low impact and is great for cardio development and strengthening.
But there’s more.
How many men of a certain age do you know that are cantankerous old gits? The ones that mumble and complain about everything, everything irritates them and they have become repressed, grumpy old fogeys.
Probably a few as they are all over and I’m determined not to become one myself. I can already feel the overwhelming middle age urge to complain about things not being as good as they used to be slowly creeping upon me. A sort of middle age repression where we become emotionally stunted and a mild depression becomes the norm.
It’s mentally impossible to be in a bad mood on a cycle ride. It’s not physically possible to not feel some sort of uplift and positivity after a bike ride and, whilst I’m not suggesting that cycling will save you from depression or mental illness, it can certainly only have a positive effect. I’m prone to having good days and not so good days in terms of my mood and my cycling certainly and absolutely has a very positive effect. In the short term I invariably feel mentally strong and good after a ride and in the long term my increased physical fitness has also had nothing but a positive effect on my mental well being as well.
Let’s face it, blokes aren’t that great at talking about this sort of thing as I think we think it makes us look weak or unstable in some way.
And this is where the final and most beautiful part of the MAMIL culture comes in because, as with most animals the MAMIL is a pack animal. They move in herds (most annoyingly if you are a motorist on a Sunday afternoon, in fact they are always in the bloody way!). There they are – packs of MAMILS. Or, if you like, herds of middle aged men and women all cycling along and, most importantly, talking and passing the time of day and this is the key. They are all talking within the rather safe context and guise of being on a cycle ride, the ride becomes the vehicle or the mechanism by which conversations can be struck up.
Everyone has a common interest in cycling which is a great safe starter and the very distraction of cycling allows the conversation to flow in a way that it probably couldn’t if the same people were face to face over a table. They cycle side by side in fluid motion and conversation seems to flow within the shared experience.
Yes, you can chat with your mates during a football match, over a beer or walking round the golf course but it has a different quality to the conversations that are possible on a long cycle ride with like minded people. Where else do middle aged men feel safe to talk to each other? Where else can we hint at our insecurities and find out if others feel the same way as we do. How else can we find out that we are actually normal and not alone?
Being a middle aged man can be a stressful and isolating experience. We have such a lot of stupid male hang ups and ideals that we think we need to live up to.
Being part of the MAMIL herd can be liberating and reassuring!
If MAMILism really is a symptom of the so called midlife crisis then there are many, many worst ways for the middle aged man to go. Riding around on a Harley Davidson trying to chat up women half your age is, for example, much sadder than trying to get fit on your road bike. All we are trying to do is to get fitter, look better, live longer and have a bit of fun. Luckily this can involve a bit of mechanics and gadgetry as well – what’s not to like?
It really is harmless fun.
Have you seen the price of smoking forty fags a day or joining a golf club? A two seater sports car or having an affair with your secretary are far more expensive midlife crisis symptoms than buying a road bike. Taking up the electric guitar and joining a band is equally time consuming and far less healthy. In fact being a MAMIL is hardly drugs, sex and rock’n roll is it? In fact it might well be the most sanitised, life affirming and healthy way to have a mid life crisis that has ever been invented.
So I say bring it on! Embrace your inner MAM(w)IL and go for it! Let’s stick two fingers up at middle age and one finger up at anyone who takes the piss – in fact I can’t even be bothered to do that as the wonderful thing about being the age I am is that I couldn’t care less what anyone else thinks about me.
So, do you think of yourself as a MAMIL? Are you slightly ashamed of being one or do you embrace it? Let me know what you think in the comments below.