...and it's MAMIL (middle-aged man in Lycra). Forget the drug cheats, Simon Hills anatomises the curious creature that clogs country lanes at weekends
If anyone were looking for evidence that in the 21st century we are just as snobbish as ever we have been, then you only have to look at the acronyms gleefully created across the Anglophone world.
NIMBYs, DINKYs, LOMBARDs (Not In My Backyard, Double Income No Kids Yet, Lots Of Money But A Right Dipstick) are signifiers of a knowing generation relishing the new opportunities to send each other up via Twitter, text and net. These little nuggets are bandied around as if we’re somehow sophisticated now.
But we’re really looking down our well-connected noses at each other. These kinds of acronyms are surely the modern equivalent of sticking our noses up at the neighbours.
Looking down our middle-class noses
So what should we make of the MAMIL – Middle Aged Man In Lycra? Does he really deserve our opprobrium?
Here he is, puffing over the South Downs, bedecked in CC-UK ‘Clima-Tek’ HI VIZ Short Sleeve Cycle Jersey, SPEG ‘ReFlex’ 3/4 Length Cycle Tights with Coolmax® Pad, and Specialized BG Tahoe D4W MTB Shoes, cranking away on his Bianchi Sempre Athena Compact 2012 Road Bike (£2,160 from Winstanley, on a special £540-saver deal, if you’re interested) with its carbon monocoque frame with nano technology.
MAMIL doesn’t do anything by halves, for sure, but surely he’s not doing us any harm?
In this health-obsessed society, where a pork pie is as upsetting to polite society as heroin, and smoking in public is on a par with spitting, so a paunchy man with a midlife crisis slipping through the gears in his Porsche has given way to a leaner, meaner equivalent: a 50-year-old adventurer as slim as a pipe cleaner (remember pipes?), powered by Gatorade, eating up the miles on his pride and joy, while the kids stay at home getting off with their mates’ mates on Facebook.
And why shouldn’t he? He’s earned it, hasn’t he? He’s not doing anyone any harm, not releasing any nasty carbon monoxide into the atmosphere, not causing any offence, surely? (Although it has to be said that, aesthetically, cycling gear is about as sympathetic to the countryside as a Banksy in St Paul’s Cathedral.)
The cycling equivalent of dad dancing
But acronyms only work because they encapsulate a deeper truth. And the reason the MAMIL gets his appellation is because the slim, dedicated athlete just a few practice days away from a Tour de France exists only in the MAMIL’s head.
While he sees a slightly (but only slightly) older version of Bradley Wiggins, what everyone else sees is an old bloke with a paunch and attenuated calves who frankly has as much chance of taking on the Alps as Orca the Whale.
In this respect, he is just that old exemplar of the mid-life crisis – the middle-aged Porsche Driver – incarnate. He has, in other words All The Gear, But No Idea.
More dignified, surely, to be like my friend Bill, who lives in Buckinghamshire and has formed the self-styled Lane End Gentlemen’s Bicycle Club. Bill has never heard of the expression MAMIL, but, he says: “It sounds terribly in-apt for what we do.”
Well, yes, because what Bill and his mates do is pedal off to a charming pub of a midsummer’s evening, sink a couple of pints and wobble home to their wives like latter-day Deryck Guylers.
Surely there’s a middle way here. I confess to having a few MAMIL tendencies myself. I write this having returned from a quick 12-mile thrash through the Chiltern Hills. But with my hybrid commuter bicycle, my Ron Hill tracky bottoms and running shoes that double up as cycling gear, I am certainly not one of them.
Indeed, sans proper cycling jersey and Oakley shades, I don’t seem to be deserving of a comradely wave from a fellow middle-aged man as we chance upon each other on a deserted country B-road of a Sunday morning. And this is probably the real reason why the MAMIL is held in some contempt.
We don’t like his self-denial and we don’t like the fact that he thinks he’s it. Far better to be a Middle-Aged-Bloke-On-A-Tatty-Old-Bike. You’ll never get a comradely respect from your oppo clicking through his SRAM derailleurs, but on the other hand you can retain a modicum of dignity. Let’s face it, it’s unlikely we’ll ever hear of the acronym MABOATOB.