The Making Of a MAMIL: My Journey Back Into Cycling
I cycled as a kid as most kids do. It’s a right of passage, a first taste of freedom, independence and adventure but for some reason, I stopped. I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened but high school and then life just got in the way. Fast forward 30 odd years and cycling has become one of the most important things in my life. There is my family and my close friends and then there is my passion for cycling and the unquenchable desire to just go for a ride at any opportunity. My journey back into cycling….into MAMILhood is a pretty decent story I reckon. Here goes….
But first a few photos old photos from the family archives:
The story really begins back in April 2004 when my girlfriend (now wife and mother of our 2 sons) and I moved from Sydney, Australia to London, United Kingdom. The young expat life was great! Every spare moment outside of work was either spent in the Pub or travelling throughout the rest of the UK and Europe, exploring and savouring the local beers and gastronomical specialities. Sensational fun but no good for ye ole’ waistline. They call it the “Heathrow Injection”, an extremely common malady affecting enthusiastic young things from the Antipodes (that is from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) whom stack on the weight within months of passing through customs at Heathrow Airport.
I daren’t talk about my wife’s weight but have no problem talking about my own. Suffice to say, with organsied sport left behind many thousands of miles away on the fields of Sydney I stacked on the weight. At one point you could say that I had more chins than a Chinese phonebook. (sorry, i just love that one liner :-))
Enough was enough so I strapped on the Asics’ and started running a bit here and there. I found running boring as batshit so to force feed my motivation I’d sign up for the very occasional 10k or half marathon to give me something to train for.
I was also playing a bit of golf at the time but 4+ pints and a meal at the 19th post round ain’t really gonna do much for one’s weight loss efforts. Neither is a very occassional game of Vets (Old Boys) Rugby where I literally couldn’t move my body as it was intended for weeks after the game.
November 2008: My First Bike in 20 Years
I had been working for a finance company for a few years and had just stumbled over an employee benefit that enabled the acquisition of a bike up to the value of 1,000 GBP tax free via the UK Government Cycle to Work Scheme. As I mentioned running was boring and tended to hurt on occassion so I thought I’d supplement my “healthy” lifestyle via cycling.
My bike of choice was a rather snazzy Boardman Hybrid which I used recreationally on a casual ride here and there on local roads and for laps around Richmond Park.
Note the distinct lack of lycra in these photos. I was still well off MAMIL status.
July 2009: Bike Share in Paris
A trip to France in the summer of 2009 was very much a cultural awakening of sorts to the significance of the bike in French culture. We were in Paris with friends and a mate and I hired a bike via the bike sharing system of Paris, known as Vélib’.
I had been to bike friendly cities before like Amsterdam and Copenhagen but had never really understood how practical and enjoyable getting around a city by bike was. Ripping up and down the grand Avenues and Boulevards of Paris with no real safety concerns due to the bike friendly and savvy vehicle traffic was absolutely exhilarating. The city was also buzzing with excitement as the 2009 Tour de France was only a couple of days away.
I was inspired and when back home started using the Hybrid to explore London a bit more rather than sticking to the tried and tested few laps of Richmond Park. It was a good time to be doing so as cycling infrastructure was definitely on the improve leading up to the 2012 Olympic Games.
2010: A Mate Got a Road Bike
A good mate of mine (one of the golfers pictured above) had also aquired a bike on the Cycle to Work Scheme but he got a fancy road bike. Rather than just using his bike for general fitness and to potter about like me he used his to commute from Twickenham to Waterloo and back every day, a round trip of about 45 kilometers.
He would join us in the pub on his way home fully kitted out in his cycling garb, you know MAMIL type stuff. We would take the piss a bit as we thought he looked rediculous. This world was completely foreign to us at the time. Privately though I was pretty damn impressed with the fact that his commute of a similar distance by bike took less than my commute by London Underground. This time efficiency was multiplied by the fact that his commute doubled as his exercise, 10+ hours a week. I was also envious of the undeniable mental stimulation and freedom he was enjoying out in the fresh air, taking in the sights of London whilst I was stewing sardinelike and frustrated in a train carriage staring at the back of someones head.
His bike was also an extremely impressive looking machine.
Yet another seed had been planted.
January 2011: Another Mate Got a Road Bike
Yet another good mate bought a road bike. That was it, I had to get one too……
April 2011: My First Road Bike
My wife was skeptical of my new found interest in road bikes so a compromise was struck. I could buy a relatively cheap used road bike and if I was still into it after a couple of years I could lash out on a new one. I sold the hybrid to a mate and bought a used Cannondale Caad 9 on eBay.
I bought the Caad 9 in April 2011. It was a big moment. My first, what I called “racing bike”, in other words a bike with drop handlebars. It took some getting used to as did the cleats. I still chuckle when I recall pulling up in the driveway after my first spin, furiously trying to extricate my feet from the pedals only to be overcome by a strange sense of calm inevitability, knowing that resistance was futile and that whether I liked it or not, I was going to hit the pavement……..Tiiiiiimber!
I was now riding consistently 3 to 4 times a week for around 5 hours total but full adoption of the Lycra had still not occurred. I was instead adorning ridiculous combinations of rugby or sports shorts over Lycra shorts in combination with a T-shirt or rugby jersey.
July 2011: Road Trip Following The Tour de France
Bike riding was still very much a means to keep relatively physically fit. The true love affair with the sport of cycling began during a road trip in July 2011 following the Tour de France.
I had just been made redundant from my sales role in IT finance which meant I all of a sudden had a shedload of spare time on my hands. My wife Melissa’s job at the time was extremely flexible so we decided on an immediate road trip through France and Italy following the Tour de France. I still had use of my company car so we hastily packed and hit the road for a magic few weeks of adventure, food, wine and Le Tour! I could well get quite carried away at this point but will attempt to keep my excitable diatribe to a minimum by focussing on providing a brief explanation of the stages of the race that we witnessed:
Stage 14: Saint Gaudens to Plateau de Beille
Stage 15: Limoux to Montpellier
After a rough ole’ night sleeping in our car we literally drove the next days stage 15 from Limoux to Montpellier and pulled up at a decent spot about 10km from the finish.
Stage 16: Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux to Gap
As we’d already witnessed a mountain stage and a flat stage we thought we’d mix it up a bit and check out a start at Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux.
Stage 17, Gap to Pinerolo (Italy)
And then all of a sudden we were in the Alps for the business end of the great race:
Stage 18: Pinerolo to Col du Galibier/Serre Chevalier
Stage 21: Créteil to Paris
So after witnessing 5 stages in a row of Le Tour we decided on a couple of days break. Melissa had a Hen’s do (Bachelorette party) to get to in the Prosecco region of Italy anyway, so I dropped her there and headed back to Paris via Munich (to see visit a mate) for the final stage.
Yep, I put away some serious miles in a coupla days but it was oh so worth it to witness Cadel Evans cruise to victory on the Champs-Élysées, the first ever Australian to do so.
Just writing about that trip still sends shivers up my spine and it was almost 6 years ago now. Cycling was now in my blood!
July 2012: The London Olympics
By the time the London Olympics came around in July 2012 the popularity of cycling in the UK had reached feverpitch. Brad Wiggins had just won the 2012 Tour de France and British Cycling were expecting a haul of gold medals in the velodrome. It was impossible not to be further inspired and spend more time on my bike.
By this time a few more mates had jumped on the cycling bandwagon and weekends spent on the golf course had been completely made redundant by group rides through the country lanes of Surrey….magic stuff!
Cycling had become my sport. As such there was absolutely no point cocking about in rugby shorts and T-shirt. It was well and truly time to Man/MAMIL up and adopt the full uniform of lycra. I was MAMIL!
September 2012: My First Sportive
Group rides were a shedload of fun. We were exploring new roads and riding for a lot longer than we ever thought possible. But we all felt that we needed to take this cycling business to the next level. We needed to test ourselves and flex our competitive muscle. We needed to train for something!
Sportives were the answer. The first being the Access Sport Ride around London of September 2012, a 115 mile ride (around London believe it or not) from South London to Box Hill to Windsor to North London.
April 2013: My first Carbon Framed Road Bike
We enjoyed our first Sportive so much that in October 2012 a few of us registered for the following year’s L’Etape du Tour, arguably the biggest and best such event on the planet…We were doing nothing by halves. Such a challenge was deserved of a new bike. Time to cash in on the agreement I’d made with my wife almost 2 years earlier.
I waited patiently for the new years bike models to hit my local bike shop and then lashed out on my first carbon road bike, a 2013 Cannondale Super Six.
My riding now was all about training for L’Etape du Tour.
July 2013: My First Etape du Tour
T’was a magic experience. Riding my bike with a few good mates on the same roads that the pros would for the ‘Queen Stage’ of the 2013 Tour de France a week later was a dream come true.
For more detail on this amazing experience head on over to my race report; 2013 Etape du Tour: Annecy to Annecy-Semnoz.
This first Etape du Tour experience has had such a lasting effect on us that it has since become an annual tradition that combines the race with a family summer holiday in the South of France with friends. Everyone wins! From the initial group of 4 in 2013 we now have a group of around 15 for the 2017 edition which will be the 5th Etape du Tour in 5 years for 3 of the 4 chaps in the above photo:
- 2013: Annecy to Annecy-Semnoz. (Race Report)
- 2014: Pau to Hautacam.
- 2015: Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to La Toussuire.
- 2016: Megève to Morzine. (Race Report)
- 2017: Briançon to Col d’Izoard. (Route Analysis) Race report tbc.
May 2014: My First Gran Fondo
Now I could go on and on about my first race here and then and this blog post would never end but it is definitely worth mentioning my first Gran Fondo, the 2014 Gran Fondo New York.
It is significant in that we had just moved from London to Philadelphia a few weeks before so it represents a new chapter in my cycling “career”. I had fresh roads to explore, in a new city, in a new country. Registering for this race meant that I literally had to kick off my training for this 160 kilometer (100 mile) immediately and I really got to know Philly a lot quicker than I otherwise would have.
By the time the race came around I was still a bit underdone but had a really enjoyable day finishing in a humble 1,771st position (out of 2,239 finishers) in a time of 8 hours and 15 minutes.
This race is also one that I aim to do regularly. As the course is pretty much the same year on year it is a great way of measuring improvement. In fact I beat my 2014 time by 1 hour and 20 minutes in the 2016 race which was rather satisfying. Check out my 2016 Race Report here.
September 2015: I started a Cycling Blog
Another significant step on my journey back into cycling was starting up a blog in Setember 2015 about my cycling exploits.
I was having amazing experiences on the bike and was learning a lot about the sport and thought a blog would be a great platform to share my experiences and freshly acquired knowledge with other like minded cyclists and those looking to get into cycling.
March 2016: I Got a Coach
I think by now it is abundantly clear that cycling is a big part of my life. It is my means of fitness, transport and adventure. It is also my sport and as such it is something that I cannot just participate in. My nature drives me to get better at it. I don’t hold any lofty ambition here I just want to get faster and able to ride further. Simple!
In early 2016 I was 5 months away from my next Etape du Tour, the previous edition of which I had gone really badly and hadn’t finished. I was really down on myself and wanted to make absolutely certain that such a piss poor performance would never happen again. At the same I also felt the need to find some big cycling challenge to participate in and whilst researching suitable events stumbled across Lee Rogers (aka the CrankPunk) who provides cycling coaching via skype from his base in Taiwan.
The light globe went off, if I wanted to get better then I needed a coach. Lee, an ex professional cyclist who himself was late into cycling has become the man for the job. He is not just a coach putting together training plans for my chosen events but he has also become a mentor of sorts whom I can chat with regularly about all matters cycling.
July 2016: I’m Actually Starting to Feel Like a Cyclist
There were moments during the 2016 Gran Fondo New York and the 2016 Etape du Tour that I actually felt like a proper cyclist. I wasn’t pissing about at the back of the field like I had been up until this point but rather I was mixing it here and there with cyclists who actually looked like they new what they were doing, club cyclists who had been riding for years. This mainly happened on the flat and rolling terrain and my bubble was burst on the hills and mountains where I still struggled but hey my overall improvement in my new sport was very real. It made me smile and really stoked my competitive drive further.
I was also starting to look like a cyclist……in my opinion:
June 2017: Completed My First Ultra Endurance Bikepacking Race, The Trans America
Which you can read all about here + a book is in the offing!
So there you have it. Giggling around Richmond Park in November 2008 on a steel hybrid dressed in cargo shorts and rugby jersey, to my first lycra clad Sportive in October 2012 on a proper road bike, to completing a 6,730 kilometer ultra endurance bike packing race across America in June 2017.
It has been quite a journey, I must say.
…..but it is only just beginning……Giddyup!