Proud to be a Mamil
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Why are so many middle-aged men donning lycra and taking up cycling? Diss Cycling Club member Neil Collins admits to being one of them and says while they might look a little daft, the benefits of their sport certainly aren't.
There is a strange beast out there. Seen in small flocks on country roads or huddled in cafes, the Mamil (Middle-Aged Man In Lycra) has become something of a modern phenomenon. Brightly coloured and normally well-padded around the midriff, what is it that motivates men of a certain age to shun the golf clubs and sofa and take to two wheels?
Well, as a cyclist in my late 40s who has been known to a bit of cycling ware, I can give a personal view on what motivates me and my kind.
For a start, it definitely is not a fashion statement. We may put a brave face on it, but we know full well that we look daft. You need to have a lithe, low fat physique to look good in lycra and your average middle-aged rider is about as low fat as an ice cream sundae with extra custard.
No, the truth is that there comes a time in a man's life when you realise that youth has left you. It is when the belly goes out and the hair goes back. When you look in the mirror and realise your body is getting old while your mind still feels young. At this point you have to decide – get fit or get fat.
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Cycling is undoubtedly a good way of getting fit. Unlike running, rugby or football, it's low impact and preserves the joints while building muscle and burning fat. The cardio exercise is also excellent at fending off heart disease – the second biggest killer of men in their 40s and the primary killer of men in their 50s. More though, in terms of a physical activity, it's one that men over 40 can actually do pretty well. With a bit of practice, you're soon riding as fast as those 20 years younger than you. There aren't too many sports where that it is the case and, I've got to say, it feels great.
You also burn a lot of calories – perhaps 2000 or more on a good ride. There's nothing that tastes as fine as the guilt-free cake at a café stop halfway through a ride. You've not just earned it, you need it to get home again. Ah – the joy.
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Cycling also offers that certain something that men find irresistible – boastability. As with fishing, golf, motorbikes or hifi systems – men are more than keen to spend money to have the flashy thing their mates will envy, whether or not it makes any real difference to their chosen endeavour.
In the case of the bike industry this flashy thing is carbon fibre. Seemingly you can make anything out of carbon fibre and Mamils will buy it in bucketloads and swear to the cycle gods that it has made them go faster or go further. I kid you not – you can buy carbon fibre shoes and carbon fibre bottle holders (or cages as they are known). These will save you a few grams which is a detail your average middle-aged man cannot help boasting about over an espresso with his cycling colleagues – while quietly ignoring the weight they are carrying round their middle which is certainly not made from carbon fibre.
There is something more significant though, and less discussed, than the physical fitness and the bike bling. I said heart disease was the second biggest killer of men in their 40s. The leading killer is suicide. That says something about the turmoil of this time in a man's life and the depression that this often leads to. Combatting this is actually the key reason, I think, that middle-aged men becoming fixated on, you might even say addicted to, cycling.
Study after study tell us that for good mental health you need to exercise, get out in the fresh air and mix with others socially. Cycling brings all of that in spades and packages it up in an acceptable and accessible way for middle-aged men. The exercise-induced endorphins give a rush of energy that is the body's reward for your efforts and, as any runner, swimmer or cyclist will tell you, it's like a drug but better and healthier than any prescription.
So while it's keeping us fit, healthy and happy the question should probably not be: 'Why are men going out in lycra and looking daft?' but perhaps, 'why aren't more?'