A new species of MAMILs hits the road
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  Posted June 6th, 2012 by Zdenko  in Cycling | 4 comments

Leasure cycling

By: Zdenko Kahlina

Why local roads are overrun by MAMILs
CALL them weekend warriors, middle-aged men (and women) in Lycra (aka MAMILs) or maybe it’s plain old bike bromance, but the number of corporate types taking to the roads on two wheels is exploding this year.

Weekend warriors take part in social group bike riding every weekend during the summer season.

Weekend cycling packs are growing along rural roads in Strathcona County and around the whole province of Alberta, from groups of a dozen a decade ago to pelotons of up to 100 whooshing by. Don’t believe it?? Just come to the Ardrossan hockey arena parking lot on any Saturday or Sunday mornings and you’ll see what I’m talking about. In addition to Ardrossan, other places like Tim Horton’s parking lot in Sherwood Park (on Fir Street), the ESSO gas station by Ardrossan on the Yellowhead highway eastbound, parking lot at Trinity Baptist Church on Baseline road by Highway 21… are also spots that are becoming popular gathering points for cyclists.

Doctors, lawyers, chief executives and other high flyers are trading their expensive golf clubs for tights and two-wheeled machines costing up to $15,000.

Participants in ‘2011 Roger’s Harvest’ ride in Ardrossan

Riding in the big group is fun.

Cyclists attribute the boom to several Canadian pro cyclists winning races all over the world (Svein Tuft, Ryder Hesjedal). Just recently, for the first time in cycling history, Canadian cyclist Ryder Hesjedal finished one of the Grand Tours wearing leader’s pink jersey at Giro d’ Italia – second biggest bike race in the world. Originally from Victoria in British Colombia, Hesjedal’s great result at Giro does bring positive things for Canadian cycling and motivates the next generation of Canadian cyclists. His own words were: “If my good placings makes more Canadians aware of cycling, and want to cycle, then it will have been worth it for that alone.”  Hesjedal, only the third non-Italian to win the Giro d’ Italia in 15 years, said that his win will do wonders for cycling in Victoria and hopefully inspires the next generation of Canadian cyclists. ‘I think Canadian cycling is at the highest level it’s ever been and I think this will continue that movement”, he said.

Then, there is also Svein Tuft, another great Canadian pro from Langley in B.C. This year in the Amgen Tour of California another Canadian, Guillaume Boivin took excellent 10th place in general classification at the end of the race. Great results for Canadians!!

Strathcona County rural roads are free of traffic and very safe.

But sociologists say it is more to do with male bonding and body image. University professor Murray Drummond has specialised in sport, masculinity and male body image for more than a decade. As a former professional triathlete, Drummond has watched cycling grow. He says there is little research on why middle-aged men take up cycling, but one of the reasons is weight loss.

“We do see we’re getting a lot more wrinkles and putting on weight,” Drummond says. It often gets bandied around about the midlife crisis and we know men suffer depression. If you get out and cycle with your mates you can stave off depression and get fitter.

Group of cyclists riding in Sherwood Park

EMCC begins their group rides from Tim Horton in Sherwood Park

MIDDLE-AGED men in Lycra, otherwise known as MAMILs, have become a common sight on Edmonton roads, the only outdoor cycling velodrome ‘Argyll Velodrome’ in south-central Edmonton, in local triathlon events and sipping lattes at Tim Horton’s or Starback’s caffes around town. More and more people of all ages are taking up cycling but particularly older men and women.

Exercise in Alberta is changing greatly since the 1970s, when it was basically hockey and football and there weren’t a lot of other mainstream activities. Now bike riding together with soccer is a mainstream. But soccer popularity is mostly with younger generation and kids.

Cycling is something you can continue to do as you get older, as it’s not too hard on the knees. I’m leaving proof of that. I have been riding my bicycle since 1964 when I was only 13 years old and still up to these days I cover more than 10,000 kilometers every year. Aside from the gentler nature of the sport, middle aged men and women often have more time on their hands (and more money to spend on expensive bikes!).

Typical group ride through the rural Alberta

Cruising along the prairies

We are also seeing a lot more of cycling on television these days. The world of cycling has historically been dominated by the Europeans. Belgium, France, Italy and Spain are countries that are most engrossed with cycling past. There are times in that history when new countries have broken into the fore, with their refreshing and often radical ideas. English speaking Cadel Evans from Australia, winning the Tour de France, Bradley Wiggins from England winning races etc. The ex. Canadian professional Steve Bauer is making 2012 a very exciting year for cycling. His team ‘SpiderTech’, in their fifth year as a professional team, have stepped up to the next level and registered as a Professional Continental Team – all that has increased the interest in this sport in Canada. I think all those things culminate in a good outlook for cycling.

Additionally, the activity was cheaper than had been in the past and an entry level good-quality bicycle could be purchased for under $2,500. Velocity Cycle bike shop owner Calvin Berube said he had seen an increase in sales to what he called the MAMIL market.

I think the reason we are seeing cycling become so popular with this market is guys, who have been in competitive contact sports when they were younger, find they can’t do that now. So cycling is a good alternative. I ride two or three days a week and I’m riding with guys who are at A-grade level as well as D-grade vets, we all ride together.

The social aspect of the sport is another reason it has become so popular. A lot of people from that age group, they might have put on a bit of middle aged spread and they’re not feeling that comfortable within themselves – this is something they can then do with their wives, with their kids. It’s a social thing… we stop at coffee shops…

The cappuchino boyz…

In Canada 90 per cent of households have at least one bike. There is no doubt more mamils are on the road, and much of it is health-related. The take-up from middle-aged men from our view is predicated more from a tap on the shoulder from the doctor and wanting to get away from the desk. We’re getting men in the 25 to 35-year age group, it’s again the corporate networking culture and it’s taking over from the corporate golfing mentality.

Men find cycling leads them back to their youth in ways other sports could not. Youths typically rode bikes until they were old enough to buy a car. Returning to two wheels later in life makes them feel youthful again. There is no shortage of men getting on their bikes.

Friend of mine, Tony Abbott has also been a keen cyclist since taking part in his first bike race in 1988. He rides most mornings and has been known to borrow bikes for early morning outings.

“The motivation for cycling is that it’s easier on your body than jogging and I started getting leg problems,” Abbott says. “It’s great competition, and it’s like a mobile men’s group.”

Abbott says his own health motivates him. “There’s a hunter-warrior instinct in most men and thank God we’re in a modern society. But we don’t have to be couch potatoes. It allows us to stay fit well into middle age. Some of the men who do bike riding and racing in Alberta are into their 70s.” The Edmonton Masters Cycling Club (EMCC) has several of its members in that category: Hainz Gathen, John Edmonds, Peter Bigg, to name the few…

You can read about the EMCC 25th anniversary on my other blog page.

But cycling has a more serious side, and Abbott says it is more than just a few hours of exercise alone or alongside a cycling buddy every week. Male bonding and relationship building is critical.

“There is absolutely no doubt that you get to talk at a deeper personal level and people probably disclose things that they wouldn’t normally share,” he says. “Support springs to mind — you share things that would normally sit there and eat you up.”

With a significant increase in mamils turning to the low-impact sport, Abbott says it also helps with networking, comparing it to doing business with China.

“On the first meeting in China they offer you a cup of tea, the second time a lunch and third time maybe a good dinner, and that’s where you make progress,” he says.

“You spend so much time together on a bike you start to build relationships with people.”

Fondos are poppin’ up everywhere

A sudden fondness for Fondos
Suddenly there’s Fondos a-poppin’ up everywhere in Canada. When the Whistler Gran Fondo was announced almost exactly two years ago, it was a first for Canada. It sold out in weeks.

At the time, the company staging the fondo said it would be organizing more across Canada. A few weeks ago they unveiled the Kelowna Gran Fondo, to be held July 16. That’s just a week after another venture just down the road in Penticton, the Axel Merckx Gran Fondo.

Axel is jumping on a North American trend started last year by Levi Leipheimer, who has his own Gran Fondo in northern California. European pros often lend their names and star power to Fondos in Europe. Next year there will also be new Gran Fondos in New York City and Philadelphia.

At the start of Fondo there are several thousands of participants

A little birdie told me that another Canadian ex. pro rider Alex Stieda is working on his idea to organize ‘Tour of Alberta’ – UCI cycling stage race for the world top riders.

What’s with all this Fondo love all of a sudden? They’re not cheap; registration for next year’s Whistler event runs $270 all in, and that’s not including the cost of a hotel room and meals if you decide to make a weekend of it. They’re not easy; at 120 kms, the Whistler Gran Fondo is actually one of the shorter events as most of the Fondos in the US are 100 miles. And there are only so many MAMILs to go around.

In case you missed it, a MAMIL is an acronym for Middle Aged Male In Lycra, a phenomenon coined last summer by the BBC for men treating their mid-life crisis by buying expensive carbon fiber bikes and taking up cycling. I’m quite proud to include myself in their ranks, although I’ve been cycling all my life, and currently own four bikes, two of them made of carbon fiber.

When I was shivering in the pre-dawn darkness in the starting corral before the Whistler Gran Fondo, I remember looking around at all the cyclists stretched up and down Georgia Street as far as the eye could see and thinking how I never realized there were so many roadies in the Vancouver area. Sure enough, most of them were just like me, men, and a good number of women (I guess they’d be MAWILs) in their 40s and beyond, aboard a dizzying array of impressive Treks, Cannondales, Specializeds, Cervelos, Litespeeds, Colnagos, Pinarellos, etc, all wearing lycra with varying degrees of panache.

Are there enough MAMILs and MAWILs to support all the Fondos that are being organized in North America?

But are there enough MAMILs in BC to sustain three Gran Fondos in a single year, including two in the same week? I’m skeptical. And this early in their North American evolution, a failed Fondo could be bad for the surviving Fondos.

As we saw with the first Whistler Gran Fondo, putting on such an event is a huge logistical undertaking. The organizers got a lot right, but there’s plenty of room for improvement. They’ve acknowledged that and vowed to make changes to further improve safety and the riding experience.

Food station during the fondo event

Fondos are expensive to participate but well organized events.

With all these newfound Fondos popping up, I’m treading carefully; I wouldn’t want to send in my registration fee only to see the event go up in smoke because the organizers bit off more than they could chew, or registration didn’t measure up to their financial obligations. I’m eyeing Levi Leipheimer’s Gran Fondo in Sonoma; it’s in its fourth year and it already has a great reputation. And it’s likely to be a heck of a lot warmer than Whistler in September.


So what are you waiting for? Get that bike out of your garage and join one of many Edmonton cycling groups. You won’t regret it… its lots of fun and a good exercise.

The best diet in the whole universe!!!




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4 comments to “A new species of MAMILs hits the road”

  1. Comment by Vera:

    Great blog Zdenko! You really walk or should I say ride your talk! Your life long passion and devotion for cycling is unmeasurable! Love you!

  2. Comment by Ironman:

    I love your post… it is amazing. I am in the beginning stages as a triathelete. I am practicing for my initial ironman triathlon…

  3. Comment by Janet from California:

    Greetings from California! I’m bored to tears at work so I decided to check out your site on my iphone during lunch break. I love the information you provide here and can’t wait to take a closer look when I get home. I ride my bike all the time… it’s strange that you live in Canada and ride your bike… I thought it’s always cold there!!! Anyways, good blog!

  4. Comment by Cindy:

    I have been reading out a few of your posts and it’s pretty nice stuff. I will make sure to bookmark your blog. This post is so interesting, when i find some free time i will read all the others…

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