(Published by the Malay Mail Online 22 Dec 2014 & Maisons Laffitte Cyclo News Jan 2015)
I was asked recently what drove a forty-something female to join the racy ranks of the French cycling classes. I didn’t want to have to explain. Only the follow-up email from “USML Cyclotourisme” was too polite to refuse:
“Je sais que ton vélo est sur le traineau du Père Noël."
“I know that your bike is on Father Christmas’ sledge” (because someone nicked your old one even though it was locked to the railings outside Maison Laffitte’s police station.)
“En l’attendant tu nous faire comme convenu un petite article sur le thème de ton choix.”
“While you are waiting for him, it might, as agreed, be a suitable time to write a small article on a theme of your choice.” (We know Sunday mornings you’re lazing in bed not pedalling with us in the rain, so cough up that article you promised sometime ago.)
So I registered with my town’s cycling club this autumn. It was no big deal really. That is, until my father-in-law seemed to suggest I was in the throes of a mid-life crisis.
“You’re joining the MAMILs!” he laughed. Bushy eyebrows raised, lips twitching before a raised forkful of tandoori chicken. He’s wicked. He’s irritating. He’s almost always correct.
MAMIL or “Middle-Aged Man In Lycra” is an amusing acronym that gained popularity in the UK after Sir (no less) Bradley Wiggins won the 2012 Tour de France. Hot on his hallowed heels, British men of a certain age with cash to burn and portly midriffs are apparently opting for souped-up road bikes rather than the usual flashy sports car.
I can totally see why. The two-wheeler delivers hours of quiet time, hills and valleys away from the other half and the kids. It’s a sport—say no more—which allows for plenty of showing-off especially if you’re peddling a €7000 (RM29,827) Pinarello Dogma. It also has the added bonus of reducing the beer belly. Perfect cure for the male midlife crisis if ever I saw one.
Do I fit the MAMIL mold?
Maybe. But some rebranding is certainly needed given I don’t have a beer gut, nor the dosh to buy the cheapest racing bike let alone a Pinarello. And what midlife crisis? You be the judge.
I do, however, enjoy slipping on the lycra and slipping off on a Sunday for a 60km-plus ride leaving the hubby to deal with the roast and housework. I can’t think of a more compelling way of escaping domestic drudgery.
And it’s clear that cycling is the ticket for toned legs and firm buttocks going by those brightly clad bodies cranking past my car daily, all fit and purposeful. At one with roads that lay claim to the most prestigious of cycling races, Le Tour de France.
But what really made me crawl out of bed at 8am that first damp October morning, is that I do actually enjoy cycling: the freedom, the fresh air, the call of the great outdoors. Fond memories of cycling in my teens across the rolling hills of South Wales come flooding back, like a long-lost friend.
Which is why neither the embarrassment of pitching up at the meeting point in patchy lycra leggings and clutching my vintage mountain bike, already breathless, nor self-consciousness (being the only Brit, and almost only female) was going to stop me.
Nervous, I reached the sea of mirrored sunglasses, wafer-thin bikes adorned with GPS monitors straddled by shaved legs and cleated feet. Immediately, one of the cyclists stepped forward to do what the only the French do best—kiss. First the left cheek, then the other, our cycle helmets tapping together as he closed in. Then another, and another, until the pack had pecked and tapped their way around the newcomer; all tribal and disarming.
I’ve yet to discover whether there is a French equivalent to the UK MAMIL. But I do know they’ve gained their first Middle-Aged Woman in Lycra. Their very own MAWIL.