MAMIL is an acronym for Middle Aged Man (or Men) in Lycra, a term that is used particularly in Australia and the UK to describe a middle-aged man who rides a bike whilst adorned in lycra (aka Spandex). It is a term mostly used by non-cyclists to describe male cyclists rather than a term that male cyclists would use to describe themselves. It is often used to poke fun, albeit in a good natured way, in a majority of cases. I choose to embrace the term (probably for the best given the name of my Blog) but I also feel it necessary to delve more deeply into the meaning, history and usage within popular culture in order to set the record straight on what I believe it is to be a MAMIL.
Oxford Dictionary Definition of MAMIL
(British Informal, Noun) ‘A middle-aged man who is a very keen road cyclist, typically one who rides an expensive bike and wears the type of clothing associated with professional cyclists.’
History of the MAMIL
There are varying accounts of from where the term MAMIL originated. An oft cited version is that it was coined by UK market research firm Mintel in 2010. They reported that a growth in bike sales was being propelled by 35 to 45 year old men with families, who instead of going off and buying a sports car as they approach middle age were now going for a high end bike instead.
“Thirty or 40 years ago, people would ride a bike for economic reasons, but our research suggests that nowadays a bicycle is more a lifestyle addition, a way of demonstrating how affluent you are.”
I hereby feign a sneeze and utter Bullshit whilst covering my mouth. As usual, the marketers get involved and with dollar signs in their eyes attempt to on sell their “opinion” on this cultural shift to increased bike usage. Granted, there is a yuppie element to the rise of the MAMIL but it is only a very small part of the story.
The Cycle to Work Scheme introduced by the UK Government in 1999 provided fertile ground for an increase in bike usage in the UK amongst those in their 30s and 40s. This initiative made it not only extremely affordable but also tax effective to get a bike and it is the primary reason why I got back into cycling in 2008.
Success in the Tour de France by an Australian (Cadel Evans) in 2011 and a Brit (Sir Bradley Wiggins) in 2012 led to an explosion in popularity of cycling in both countries and the term MAMIL subsequently entered common usage. I saw this massive increase in cycling participation with my own eyes in London where my local roads in South West London and Surrey were increasingly clogged with cyclists, particularly on the weekends. Cyclist friendly cafes were popping up everywhere also. I also saw it during trips back to Sydney in March 2013 and April 2015 where I was amazed to see massive pelotons of cyclists (mostly middle aged blokes) cranking it out to the Northern Beaches along Mona Vale Road…..T’was great to see!
Use of MAMIL in Popular Culture
As I mentioned above the term MAMIL is often used to poke fun. Look no further than the following examples:
Telegraph.co.uk (July 2014): “It (The Tour de France) will inspire yet more men-of-a-certain-age to splash out on a bike and see if they can access their inner Chris Froome. It’s a sport of blood, sweat and tears – which are increasingly being shed by cycling widows left gaping at the cost of a mere ‘hobby.’ Searching for an escape from family life, British men used to seek refuge in the pub, the shed, or on the golf course. Now they join the cult of lycra.”
The Guardian.com (Sept, 2012):
“….In other words, we Mamils are pathetic creatures, cramming our spreading midriffs into unsightly spandex sports gear and spending unfeasible sums of money on custom-made carbon-fibre racing bikes. Then we jet off to the Alps or Pyrenees in order to live out a laughable fantasy that we, in some alternate universe, belong to the fraternity of demigods who ride bikes for a living.”
The Australian (Jan, 2012):
“Call them weekend warriors, middle-aged men in Lycra (aka mamils) or maybe it’s plain old bike bromance, but the number of corporate types taking to the roads on two wheels is exploding.”
Bloomberg.com (Oct, 2012):
“Move over Yuppies and Dinks, here come the Mamils. Britain’s middle-aged men in lycra are a growing group of sought-after consumers who rely on spandex for comfort, carbon fiber for strength and as many $2,000 bikes as they can smuggle past their partners.”
See what I mean about the poking fun? The common themes of these articles seem to be rather negative in that they believe MAMILs:
- Are experiencing a midlife crisis,
- Buy a fancy road bike instead of a fancy sports car to show off,
- Spend ridiculously huge amounts of money on carbon fibre road bikes,
- Are wannabee professional cyclists, and/or
- Look ridiculous in Lycra.
My Opinion: Setting the Record Straight
As a proud middle aged male cyclist, I am in an infinitely better position than the marketers and the armchair critics to describe the essence d’MAMIL. I believe in a broader and more literal definition. I am a MAMIL because I am a middle aged man who wears lycra whilst riding a bike. Simple. I don’t necessarily need to be a yuppie or going through a midlife crisis or have some need to show off or want to be a pro cyclist. I just enjoy riding my bike and the most efficient way to do so is by wearing lycra…..for crying out loud!
I do have some additional criteria however that further moulds my definition of MAMIL’ness. I’ll use some of the negative perceptions above to spin (pun intended) a kinder picture:
- In most cases a MAMIL learnt how to ride a bike during childhood but got back into cycling later in life. Thus my definition of MAMIL pretty much excludes competitive cyclists that have been cycling all their adult lives to date.
- The primary reasons for getting back into cycling are fitness related (eg to lose weight) and the desire to socialize with like minded cycling mates. If this represents a mid life crisis then so be it……….pretty bloody benign crisis for mine.
- There may be a little bit of showing off that goes on amongst MAMILs in their choice of bike(s), gear and gadgets….so be it. But there is also an innocent desire here to just get the kit that will help them get better at their chosen passion.
- Yes, cycling can be expensive but so is golf and going to the pub, expenditure on which dramatically reduces for MAMILs the more they ride their bike.
- Yes, cycling can be expensive but everyone knows that the correct number of bikes for a MAMIL to own is n + 1 (where n is the number of bikes currently owned)….don’t they?
- MAMILs come in all shapes and sizes and so does their aesthetic dressed in lycra…..deal with it! It takes a lot of guts (quite often literally) to head off into the public eye dressed in head to toe tight clothing. It is not done to look fancy (in most cases) or to try and emulate the pros, it is done for the completely practical reasons of comfort and efficiency.
So there you go, my humble take on the MAMIL. Tis’ a rather broad definition but a useful starting point to then look at the various subtypes of MAMIL which I will attempt to do in a future post. For example, there is definitely a yuppie MAMIL subtype whom is often spotted prancing around in full Rapha kit riding the latest top of the line Team Sky road bike. This is the MAMIL referred to in the Mintel Report but as I said, this definition is only part of the MAMIL story.
What’s your take on the MAMIL?