It’s that time again.
Up and down the country you’ll hear the shrieks as men (old enough to know better) hop around bathrooms trying to staunch the flow of blood after doing their legs a major mischief while trying to shave them smooth. Soon, once 1,000 tiny cuts dry, the same men are dousing themselves in talc and holding their breath as they squeeze into the Lycra outfits that make their professional cycling heroes look like supermen (sadly the effect on most amateurs can hardly be described as ‘super’). Next they’re out on the streets tentatively riding bikes that cost roughly the same amount as a starter home.
Who are these fellas?
They’re MAMILs (Middle Aged Men in Lycra) and this is their time.
Welcome to the age of the MAMIL.
It used to be golf. Back in the day any man who reached a certain age – essentially when they could no longer legitimately consider themselves ‘young’ – used to invest in plus fours, outlandishly expensive clubs and Bobby Jones memorabilia.
Times have changed and the energies of a vast number of men have shifted to road cycling as the MAMIL ‘scene’ across the land flourishes.
It would only be fair for me to lay my cards on the table and admit to being a MAMIL myself. For me, MAMIL life exists in that sweet spot that is the intersection between a healthy lifestyle and living in a fantasy world. Being in denial is an essential (and very worthwhile) part of MAMIL culture. Rides are somewhere between a workout and an immersive roleplay game, as MAMILs obsess with the minute details needed in order to pull off the ‘look’ of a pro rider – as discussed in my hilarious (yes, it is that funny) book ‘The Modern MAMIL: How to look pro’ (illustrated by Spencer Wilson).
“Like all Middle Aged Men in Lycra, you know in your heart of hearts that, if there was any justice in the world, you’d be a pro-cyclist. If only the stars had aligned differently, making you taller, thinner, sportier or less fond of cake.”
Being a MAMIL is, for me, the ultimate 21st century hobby. In the MAMIL world, looking like you know what you’re doing is far more important than actually knowing. He may have no discernible skill, but as long as a MAMIL appears confidently ‘pro’ he knows he’s onto a winner – the sporting equivalent of joining the Kardashians.
So, how will you spot a MAMIL? Firstly look at our legs. MAMILs shave their legs because pro cyclists shave their legs – it’s as simple, or as complex, as that. The thing is, pro cyclists shave in order to slice milliseconds off their performance. For the average MAMIL this isn’t an issue. In fact, for most of us, the size of our stomachs has a far bigger effect on our aerodynamic abilities than our relative hirsuteness. That there may be other reasons for MAMILs to shave our legs is something I cover in the book:
“There has been speculation that some men become MAMILs simply to have a legitimate excuse to shave their legs. This is, of course, untrue.”
It’s all lies! Lies I tell you!
A MAMIL will also be easily identified by his Lycra clothes. Skin tight shorts, tights and suits are our attire of choice – giving us a sleek outline, low on wind resistance (and chaffing) just like the pros. It takes a lot of confidence for an 18 stone plus fella to walk out of the door in an outfit that the average ballet dancer would think twice about. Cycling kit leaves nothing to the imagination – especially in cold weather. MAMILS are advised to ‘layer up’ on their kit, to achieve a professional look, but this too can come with pitfalls:
“WARNING: Wearing many layers of kit will slow you down if you need to pee. Plan for this, or things could get warm and soggy very quickly.”
So, next time you get stuck in your car going up a hill behind a large man puffing and panting in too-tight tights – spare a little thought for him. He’s probably exhausted, freezing and/or desperate for the loo (when getting access to his bits is trickier than a puzzle on The Crystal Maze).
If you’re keen to spot a MAMIL, as they leave their nests at this time of year, I’d recommend trying their natural habitat. You may think you’d most easily spot them on the roads or cycle paths of our fair nation, but you’re far more likely to see them perched outside your local coffee shop. Being a MAMIL is all about seeing and being seen (often in more ways than one). We love nothing better than finding a spot outside our nearest purveyor of caffeinated delights, and finding refreshment. Essentially, for many of us, the cycling part is the irritating part of the activity that must be worked through in order to hang around in full kit and drink coffee. Why do we do this? It all goes back to the roleplay. A morning outside our local coffee shop gives the local inhabitants the chance to see just how professional we look.
“Outside the coffee shop: Ensure your groups populate every chair. Bikes should get a seat of their own – if the ride is carbon give it two. Next, man-spread in the extreme. Make sure you roll up your shorts (to show off tan lines), then point your crotch at the sky. This is a VERY pro look.”
If you find yourself coming across a MAMIL or a group of us, please don’t be concerned. We are essentially harmless. The worst you can expect is having to listen to someone go on (and on) about the mileage they’ve covered that day, or how expensive their bike is – while trying to avert your eyes from the tractor-beam-like effect caused by an unsightly bulge in their Lycra.
What we are, at heart, is a group of men living a dream. A dream that gets us out there, a dream that gets us slightly fitter and a dream that makes us feel better about ourselves as we pretend to keep up with the Froomes and Wiggins of this world.
The rise of the MAMIL is quite a sweet story really.
So, if you suspect you might have MAMIL in your home, don’t despair. Yes, it may mean you need to look the other way as he squeezes into a whole host of unflattering Lycra and butchers his legs, but it also means the man in question is taking part in a positive movement that should have a great impact on his health – both mental and physical. You could always join him on a ride – and of course the hugely important coffee and cake stop that follows it!
Enjoy the ride!
The Modern MAMIL: How to look pro by Chris McGuire, illustrated by Spencer Wilson is published by Ice House Books at £9.99.