Let’s be clear, this is not a story about bi­cy­cles ver­sus cars. It’s prob­a­bly not even so much a story about bi­cy­cles, ex­cept per­haps as metaphor for some­thing that keeps you pedalling be­cause if you don’t, you’ll fall over.

This was to be a story about MAMILS, those much de­rided Mid­dle-Aged Men in Ly­cra, slow­ing per­fectly clear road­ways in their match­ing knicks, talk­ing loudly about their next car­bon frames, pol­lut­ing cof­fee shops with their post-ride per­spi­ra­tion.

But it turns out to be a story about a cou­ple of blokes who ride bikes to get them through what mid­dle age can throw at men.

Cu­ri­ously, Aus­tralian film­mak­ers Nick­o­las Bird and Eleanor Sharpe struck the same phe­nom­e­non in their re­cent doc­u­men­tary MAMILS, a study of men’s cy­cling groups across three con­ti­nents. They set out to take a wry look at the male midlife ob­ses­sion with ex­pen­sive bikes but in­stead un­cov­ered touch­ing sto­ries of ca­ma­raderie, com­mu­nity and hope. Per­haps its most poignant case study was an Ade­laide man who cred­its his cy­cling group with lit­er­ally sav­ing his life, stay­ing his planned sui­cide with each ride.

Steve Holmes, of Main Beach, un­der­stands how cy­cling can keep you hang­ing in there. In Oc­to­ber 2016, he was di­ag­nosed with a rare form of bile duct can­cer, cholan­gio­car­ci­noma, the same one that had claimed his brother’s life only two years be­fore.

It was a blow he never saw com­ing. He felt like he’d played all his sur­vival cards when he re­cov­ered from a bro­ken neck he sus­tained in a crash of the lead pack dur­ing the Gold Coast 100 cy­cling event five years ear­lier. It was dur­ing his eight months lay-up, won­der­ing how much of his paral­ysed body would re­turn, that he con­ceived the idea of an on­line re­source fea­tur­ing ev­ery­thing you ever needed to know about cy­cling events in Aus­tralia and New Zea­land. He fol­lowed it up with a lo­cal site, Ride GC, en­com­pass­ing lo­cal clubs, recre­ational groups, reg­u­lar rides, events and re­tail­ers. An in­ter­net novice, he started build­ing the sites with his one func­tion­ing left hand.

“It was a pas­sion,” Steve says. “Cy­cling is huge on the Gold Coast. I didn’t know how big it was. I was just the per­son who was try­ing to pull it all to­gether. I could see where it could go.”

The sites were just be­gin­ning to gain trac­tion in cy­cling cir­cles, catch­ing the at­ten­tion of cy­cling tourists and cor­po­rates, when – bang – Steve was back off his bike. “I was on a ride one day when I thought I had a stom­ach virus and the next thing, I’ve got this can­cer where the sur­vival rate is nil – nil! What do you even say to that?”

Steve’s can­cer story is a long tale of op­er­a­tions; com­pli­ca­tions; un­sung doc­tors who ap­peared from nowhere to save him within min­utes of death and pure, sheer, bril­liant luck.

The tu­mours an 11-hour op­er­a­tion painstak­ingly re­moved came back with a vengeance and took hold on the out­side of his liver. He was in so much pain, he knew he couldn’t have long.

Then his on­col­o­gist un­earthed a trial for Keytruda, an im­munother­apy drug be­ing tested on rare can­cers, be­ing run out of Ham­burg, Ger­many.

“I was that sick, he vir­tu­ally had to move my hand on the page so I could sign the con­sent form,” Steve says. “It was a long shot that I even qual­i­fied for the trial.”

The next thing he was in Bris­bane hooked up to a Keytruda in­fu­sion. Four days later, he was on the floor, sicker than he’d ever been but with each dose, things im­proved. One day, he re­alised he couldn’t feel pain any more but thought he must be just get­ting used it.

His cy­cling sites lay un­touched but the peo­ple he had reached through them were send­ing their mes­sages.

“I spent a lot of time ly­ing on the couch,” he says. “And I would think about rid­ing and my cy­cling sites and how I was go­ing to make them bet­ter. I’ll tell you one thing, when you’re pre­par­ing to die, it re­ally helps to have a pas­sion.”

Steve still can’t speak about the mir­a­cle that hap­pened next with­out a few tears. It’s still too new and per­haps he doesn’t quite be­lieve it yet. Just a month ago, he got word he was in com­plete re­mis­sion, one of only two known peo­ple in the world to es­cape the clutches of cholan­gio­car­ci­noma.

“When you’re ready to die and it doesn’t hap­pen, it sounds ridicu­lous but you go through a ‘well, what do I do now’ phase,” he says. “But I knew what it was, it was get­ting go­ing with all the ideas that came to me while I was dy­ing.”

He’s cur­rently re­vamp­ing and re­launch­ing his cy­cling web­sites and news­let­ters, cre­at­ing a Buzz Feed style app with his cu­rated cy­cling in­for­ma­tion and an on­line mag­a­zine. The de­tails rush out of him, a man in a hurry, and it’s not hard to see why he feels like he needs to fit a lot into each day. He’s back on his bike too – just twice a week, find­ing his legs again, be­ing back out on the road with his old cy­cling mates.

He prob­a­bly won’t be in any lead pack again, al­though you wouldn’t bet against it, but he’s on his bike, a mir­a­cle in it­self.

Re­tired pae­di­a­tri­cian Dave McCrossin, of Burleigh, has his own tale of rid­ing for life.

Dave was an early adopter of cy­cling for fit­ness and mate­ship, cer­tainly well be­fore any­one had heard of a MAMIL. He started out on a sturdy hy­brid bike wear­ing shorts and a T-shirt more than 25 years ago.

He’s seen the roads get busier and the cy­cling packs

get big­ger. He made the switch to ly­cra when it was hard to go past its suit­abil­ity for the sport and, over the years, has rid­den in many of the coun­try’s ma­jor recre­ational cy­cling events.

The for­mer di­rec­tor of Pae­di­atric Ser­vices at the Mater Hos­pi­tal, Queen­land’s spe­cial­ist chil­dren’s hos­pi­tal, took an early re­tire­ment when Parkin­son’s dis­ease made it dif­fi­cult to keep up the de­mands of his work. He and his wife sold up in Bris­bane, bought an apart­ment on the Burleigh Es­planade and Dave joined an old mate’s lo­cal cy­cling group. He found a bunch of blokes who took him un­der their wing. Some­one would hang back with him if he was hav­ing a slow day but mostly they didn’t change too much on his ac­count, just as he liked it.

“When you get older, it’s not about rac­ing – that’s for the 20 and 30 year olds,” Dave reck­ons. “It’s more the so­cial side, the con­ver­sa­tion and just get­ting out there and get­ting some ex­er­cise.”

But Dave doesn’t move like he used to. Parkin­son’s symp­toms in­clude shak­ing, in­creas­ing rigid­ity and slow­ness of move­ment. Yet cy­cling, prefer­ably faster than you’re phys­i­cally able, is clin­i­cally proven to al­le­vi­ate Parkin­son’s symp­toms. Re­searchers be­lieve the ac­tion of cy­cling im­proves con­nec­tions in vi­tal ar­eas of the brain.

It was some­thing Dave was al­ready on to. Over a year ago, he switched to an e-bike, fit­ted with a small, silent elec­tric mo­tor, to help his legs keep pump­ing when he needed a boost. His mates par­tic­u­larly love it when he pow­ers past the A-lis­ters tak­ing on Spring­brook on a Sun­day morn­ing. “It’s kept me on the bike and that’s helped not only my phys­i­cal health but also my psy­cho­log­i­cal,” Dave says. “I’d rec­om­mend it to any­one who’s strug­gling a bit.”

Be warned, sales of e-bikes are boom­ing as recre­ational cy­clists age and want to keep rid­ing into their 70s, even 80s. Old MAMILS, it seems, never die … that’s why they do it.

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