Style it like a Mamil

(aka a mid­dle-aged man in Lycra).

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Contents - By Alan Ty­ers

Aweek­day af­ter­noon in a Lon­don pho­tog­ra­phy studio, and four mid­dle-aged blokes are hap­pily dis­cussing shav­ing their legs. There’s earnest de­bate about aerodynami­cs, aes­thet­ics, and not get­ting gravel stuck in your pores if you fall off. But most of all, there is agree­ment that smooth, silky calves are a badge of hon­our for the se­ri­ous ama­teur cy­clist.

Mid­dle-aged men in Lycra (aka MAMILS) have be­come an easy tar­get, and not just for irate cab­bies and lorry driv­ers. The stereo­type was once a portly busi­ness­man prov­ing he still had it, squeezed into ill-fit­ting sports­wear, and wav­ing it in your face when he got into the of­fice.

But no more. The story of to­day’s mid­dleaged cy­clist is about ca­ma­raderie, about feel­ing part of some­thing while still ex­press­ing your own in­di­vid­u­al­ity, about do­ing some­thing be­cause you love it and be­cause it’s good for you. It’s about male men­tal health, about push­ing your­self. And for the four guys pic­tured here, it’s about style, fash­ion, and get­ting things just right.

They and a lot of oth­ers like them have money in their pock­ets, and are pre­pared to spend it on look­ing sharp while they ride. With the UK cy­cling mar­ket worth around £1.5 bil­lion an­nu­ally, and a bike sold ev­ery 10 sec­onds, brands want a piece of these

men – and the big­ger spenders do tend to be men. La­bels like Rapha, Castelli and Café du Cy­cliste are as fa­mil­iar to this au­di­ence as Paul Smith, Drake’s and Sun­spel. In fact, they tend to ex­per­i­ment with, and spend money on, cy­cling style in a way they might be re­luc­tant to when it comes to non­wheeled looks.

‘Cy­cling is about pro­pel­ling a bike, but the aes­thetic is of equal im­por­tance,’ says the tele­vi­sion news­reader and pre­sen­ter Matt Bar­bet. ‘Some peo­ple just look great on a bike: it’s about rid­ing well, about look­ing like the bike was made for you, and it is also about the kit. The kit has to match. I love to hunt out lim­ited-edi­tion pieces by brands such as MAAP; I’ll get stuff they do for shops in Ja­pan that peo­ple here are most likely not go­ing to have. I don’t want to dress like every­one else. I might spend a cou­ple of hun­dred on a jer­sey if it was some­thing I re­ally loved, but it would have to per­form well too on a ride.’

Bar­bet, 43, who will present ITV cov­er­age of the Tour of Bri­tain, which starts to­day, says there is ‘a trib­al­ism’ to road cy­cling in Bri­tain, height­ened be­cause wider so­ci­ety is not al­ways pro-cy­clist. ‘So like any so­cial group, cy­clists like to show they know their tribe’s rules.’

And so to legs. ‘Shav­ing your legs shows that you take cy­cling se­ri­ously,’ says Bar­bet. ‘It is a non-per­ma­nent tat­too. And it looks bet­ter: who wants tight Lycra with hairy legs sprout­ing out? You show off your physique, the hard work that goes into the mus­cles, and why not? I am not em­bar­rassed; it feels cleaner. And there are all sorts of de­bates: should you shave up to the shorts or not? The socks, they should start two fin­gers be­low the bottom of the calf mus­cle… Any­body who shaves their legs to ride a bike un­der­stands that it is not about phys­i­cal per­for­mance or aerodynami­cs.’

Emeka Okaro, a con­sul­tant ob­ste­tri­cian and gy­nae­col­o­gist, likes that cy­cling pro­vides him with headspace, a way to be ac­tive, and an ex­cuse to stock­pile enough wear­able tex­tiles to make a Victorian mill owner blush.

‘I got an old bike out of the shed five years ago,’ says Okaro, 51. ‘I did 1.8 miles and I prac­ti­cally col­lapsed. But I kept with it, and four miles be­came five miles, and 10 be­came 20. Ob­vi­ously there are the keep-fit ben­e­fits, less stress on the joints and all that, and I want to be ac­tive into my 60s, my 70s.

‘But also I like to look good and feel good

about my rid­ing. I have three bikes – my wife would say I have four, but I don’t count one of them be­cause it is a hy­brid. I have 25 or so shirts: I like the brand Café du Cy­cliste. When I first took it up, I didn’t re­ally bother about what I wore, but I wouldn’t go out now with­out look­ing the part. I’ll se­lect some­thing de­pend­ing on my mood and how I want to ex­press my­self. I’ve spent a small for­tune over the years.

‘It’s about in­di­vid­u­al­ity, and also the ca­ma­raderie. I ride with my friends, up to about 12 of us, peo­ple I have known for years. I would say that we are com­pet­i­tive with each other, but pos­i­tively. We see im­prove­ment as a group and we cel­e­brate that. And my style is an im­por­tant fac­tor for me in that.’

Bri­tain be­ing Bri­tain, bond­ing ac­tiv­i­ties that don’t in­volve sev­eral pints of tem­po­rary hap­pi­ness fa­cil­i­ta­tor can be hard to find for many men. For Jamie Dor­mon, a fash­ion colum­nist who has bipo­lar dis­or­der, cy­cling is a hobby, a means of ex­pres­sion, and a vi­tal men­tal-health tool.

‘Cy­cling shuts my mind up,’ says Dor­mon, 43. ‘I used to shut it up with drink and what­ever, but now I ride. This bike I have to­day, a fixed-gear, I com­pletely stripped it down. You pedal. To brake, pedal back. I value the sim­plic­ity of it; you don’t over­think. It’s all black, apart from the gold chain – that adds a bit of in­di­vid­u­al­ity. And I’ll wear a lot of bright colours, pinks or or­anges, al­ways co­or­di­nated though. Black Sheep and At­ta­quer I like, and [the range for] Vélo­bici by a photograph­er called Scott Mitchell, who worked with Team Sky.

‘I def­i­nitely feel faster in Lycra. I love the de­tail of cy­cling kit, I think it ap­peals to the math­e­mat­i­cal part of our brains. I am set­ting up a char­ity that I’m go­ing to call Manic Bikes, teach­ing peo­ple with bipo­lar and other men­tal-health is­sues to repair bikes. Cy­cling is great for men­tal health, be­cause of the qui­eten­ing ef­fect but also be­cause in a group, if some­one hasn’t come for a ride for a cou­ple of weeks, you’d check in with them.’

Jon Evans, 45, who works in mar­ket­ing, also started five years ago. ‘No un­der­pants,’ he says. ‘That was the big shock. When I first went out, I was with a mate who was an ex­pe­ri­enced rider. He asked me if I was wear­ing pants, and then he was like, “Oooh. You are in for some chaf­ing.” The shorts have a pad in, so you don’t want any other fab­ric. Learnt that quickly.

‘I agree that when I feel my best I ride my best; there’s a mix­ture of re­al­ity and placebo ef­fect. I started off with a bike that cost about £1,000, but your first bike is not your last bike. A £1,000 bike be­comes a £3,000 bike and then a £7,000 bike and, well… You see other peo­ple with a bet­ter one and you think they are at an un­fair ad­van­tage.’

To Evans, it’s all about the bike. ‘As for the kit, the bet­ter I get, the more un­der­stated I get. I mostly wear Castelli, low-key. My ideal look would be ninja, re­ally. You should never buy team kit: any­one you see go­ing around dressed in Team Sky is a no-no. You can al­most guar­an­tee they can­not ride. And every­thing has to be tight. Skintight. No sag­ging, no bag­ging, be­cause that slows you down. I would have miles

‘Every­thing has to be tight. Skintight. No sag­ging, no bag­ging’

more re­spect for a guy, even if he’s car­ry­ing a lot of tim­ber, in tight Lycra, than some­one flap­ping around.’

Like the oth­ers, Evans has no prob­lem with spend­ing on the style. ‘I’ve got an ac­count with one on­line re­tailer, and they make you a “platinum” mem­ber if you spend £500 a year. Oc­ca­sion­ally they send a state­ment, and it was about £1,500 last year on kit. Oh dear!’

All four agree that they dress for them­selves, or to be part of a sub­cul­ture to vary­ing de­grees. Bar­bet ad­mits that there is an el­e­ment of ‘pea­cock­ing’, but none of them feels that they are look­ing to im­press women. Maybe cy­cling blokes are miss­ing a trick. Lau­ren Steven­son, 38, who runs Aisle 8 com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­sul­tancy, says, ‘I met my boyfriend when he cy­cled be­side me go­ing up a hill in Ibiza. Cy­cling is a great way to meet peo­ple: you’re out­doors in beau­ti­ful scenery, re­laxed, you’ve got a shared in­ter­est. And it tends to be an af­flu­ent sport; guys who will spend five grand on a bike of­ten have in­ter­est­ing jobs or lives.

‘Cy­cling guys do maybe tend to be a bit older. And I’ve no­ticed there’s a bit of a pro­gres­sion through the brands they wear: they get into it and get Rapha, and then Castelli, and then the re­ally cool French ones like Cha­peau!.’

Lisa Tubbs, 39, a photograph­er, agrees that cy­cling is an at­trac­tive pas­time; she met her hus­band on a ride with Rich­mond Park Rouleurs and they are ex­pect­ing a baby next month. ‘There is def­i­nitely some­thing ap­peal­ing about chas­ing boys up hills on a bike,’ she jokes. ‘I like that it’s an op­por­tu­nity for guys to wear bright colours; lots of men seem to love pink on a bike. And while cer­tain physiques might be more aes­thet­i­cally ap­peal­ing, I like that guys in all shapes and sizes go for it in the Lycra.’

We live in an era when ac­cept­able and un­ac­cept­able ex­pres­sions of mas­culin­ity are de­bated as never be­fore. Where once the 40or 50-year-old man might have blown off steam with golf and locker-room chat, or buy­ing a pre­pos­ter­ous gas-guz­zling ve­hi­cle, the switched-on mid­dle-aged man of to­day wants to spend his cash on an en­vi­ron­men­tally and so­cially con­scious pursuit; one that is men­tal­health-pos­i­tive, phys­i­cally ben­e­fi­cial, and al­lows him to ex­press him­self. Surely it is time for a hunt­ing ban on MAMILS.

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