In defence of the middle aged men in Lycra

Britain’s dads are struggling*: middle aged men are the most likely group to take their own lives while being more likely to be overweight but less likely to diet than women which can lead to a whole host of health complications including an earlier death. In recent times one possible solution has started to rise of its own accord. Middle aged men are gaining a new hobby, socialising more and getting the exercise they need. It has been met with disdain however and all because of a little Lycra.

Described as a midlife crisis by some, thousands of middle aged men are looking at their expanding waist lines and turning towards exercise as a way to solve or just alleviate the problem. Some of them are getting on their bikes and finding the process most agreeable. As a result cycling is having a boom period, at least for middle aged men. Men in their 50s are now more likely to cycle than children. Some have got into the hobby with such enthusiasm that they have even acquired their own acronym: MAMIL – middle aged men in Lycra.

This is great for them, they get exercise which, among other benefits, wards off heart disease, depression and dementia all while slowing the aging process. It offers goals, a sense of achievement and the option to join clubs that can expand social networks for fun but also to turn to in a crisis. In short it just makes their lives better.

That doesn’t mean the process has been welcomed. Road cycling requires being in a public space and the brightly coloured outfits (to make you more visible for safety) make these chaps hard to miss. An overweight middle aged man dressed in tight fitting Lycra isn’t too difficult to make a joke at the expense of which many will be keen to do especially when stuck behind a group of them.

As a result these middle aged men have become the butt of many jokes and even described as shameful. The Daily Mail published an article entitled “On the shame of being married to a MAMIL” but it isn’t as anti-MAMIL as its headline suggests.

To begin with the author describes the increasing numbers of these keen cyclists as alarming, she worries about the expense, their outfits and time lost to cycling events. Every picture features the wife/writer looking angry as the husband/cyclist stands there wearing bright pink with a massive grin on his face. Towards the end her tone changes and you get the impressions she isn’t as set against it as the opening suggests. She is happy for the dedication her husband has developed and the positive influence it has had on their children. She is happy that her husband has been able to raise money for charity with his new hobby (which, as a side note, you could do for CALM at the Tour De Test Valley if you wanted to).

It’s not just from their wives and drivers even fellow cyclists have hit out against these middle aged cyclist, a world record breaking long distance rider Mark Beaumont argued that these men have intimidated women away from cycling by making it seem a supper serious competitive sport rather than the simple fun it can be.

I’d argue different. According to research by sustainable movement charity Sustrans the main thing keeping women out cycling is a perception of danger from traffic that can be alleviated chiefly by an increase in the provision of cycling infrastructure like cycle lanes separated from traffic. It has always been a chicken and egg story – you can’t build cycling infrastructure and hope that cyclist appear out of the ether (even if they probably will). The rising numbers of cyclists puts pressure on the government and local authorities to invest into cycling infrastructure. As a result our middle aged cycling enthusiasts can lead the way for those of us who, like myself, are less happy to battle with traffic get on our bikes. The result could be a cleaner, healthier Britain.

It might be a midlife crisis but these hobbyist have the potential to not only make themselves physically healthier and mentally more resilient but help the country as a whole tackle some of its biggest challenges: air pollution, congestion, suicide, obesity and more. Not bad for a bunch of middle aged men wearing tight fitting plastic.

Photo by RachelJH_ originally found Flickr used under creative commons licence.

*Yes, this is a cheap attempt to make this story relevant to father’s day.