Birth of a cyclist.
Being a 60’s child, I now very much fall into the “MAMIL” category of cyclist. For those of you who haven’t heard the term before, it stands for Middle Aged Man In Lycra”. Used as a generally derogatory term, MAMIL’s appear to be quite common nowadays. Since entering MAMIL territory, I have often considered how on earth I got here!
As a child, growing up in rural Devon, I could not wait to get my first bike. I had to wait until the age of seven before I achieved the dream. Those were, after all, the days before children had every wish turn into reality instantaneously. It was a significant event – probably more a rite of passage really. Said bike was a single speed (fixie to you), second hand bike but, to me it was the stuff of dreams. I can clearly remember getting onto it for the first time on our gravel driveway and promptly falling off grazing various limbs. I am fairly sure that I only fell off the once (within the first few rides) and that, after that, I was flying.
Opening up my world.
My bike became almost part of me. It was my freedom, my escape. And I loved it. Whilst I am aware that not all of today’s children spend all of their spare time glued to screens of one sort or another, I doubt that a very high percentage spend anywhere near as much time as I did in the great outdoors. There are many reasons for this, I am sure. But I am equally convinced that current generations of children are losing out as a result. The great outdoors was my playground. Roaming around on my bike either with friends or alone was just such amazing fun. My travels were only limited by the distance I could physically pedal (and get home again before dark).
Obviously, I had no “kit” of any description. No special cycling clothing, no clip-in pedals, in fact, nothing at all apart from the clothes I was wearing and the bike itself. I may have had a basic puncture repair kit that lived at home, I am not sure. But, I couldn’t have cared less. I was free. I seem to remember that I was completely reckless on my bike. Any type of terrain would be covered on it and speed was a definite attraction. Falling off the bike was just something you got used to. Through painful experience, I learned to fall off in ways that minimised injury as much as possible. Though, I recall a specific crash I had one summer (therefore wearing only shorts and a summer top). Losing control near the bottom of a hill, I somersaulted into a large patch of stinging nettles. I was sore and itching from head to toe but, it didn’t put me off for a second (well, maybe just the one second!).
That first bike lasted me for several years. It was eventually inherited by my younger brother who also used it for some years. I moved on to better things (mainly girls!) but, still got around on bikes a fair bit until my mid to late teens. After that, I learned to drive – and cycling got forgotten for some considerable time. Around 2000, a colleague at the time offered me the chance to buy a Scott “Vail” mountain bike at a real bargain price. I had been thinking about buying a bike for a while. This one had only been ridden once and was available to me at little more than 10% of its new price so, I leapt at the opportunity. I still have my trusty Scott and still ride it. It is the bike that re-kindled my love of cycling and re-awoke the cyclist within.
Times have changed.
Move on to the present and I currently have three bikes. The trusty Scott MTB was joined by a Cube “Peloton” road bike in 2015 and by a Cube “Attain” GTC Disc (mainly to be used for commuting?) at the beginning of 2017. Oh, and a couple of barn finds that are currently awaiting a decision as to what happens to them. I now have plenty of kit to go with my bikes. Lycra shorts and leggings, cycle-specific shirts, jackets, gloves and shoes. I use clip-in pedals, wear a bike helmet and carry spare inner tubes, water bottles, energy bars, and have powerful lights too. I read bike magazines and peer at bike websites and blogs. Oh, and, as a modern cyclist, of course, I digitally record my rides on “Strava”. All-in-all, I guess I have come a long way. Or have I?
Ultimately, cycling has become something of a passion again for the very same reasons that I enjoyed it so much in the first place. Riding off on some tour of the local countryside is just as much fun now as it was then. If I am honest with myself, I don’t really need all the kit. I just need a bike and the time to enjoy going places. That is probably why there are so many MAMIL’s to be found around the place. Most of us are of a generation. Cycling around the countryside, attempting to re-capture that feeling of youth and freedom. Getting too hung up on beating “Strava” times and having the perfect kit is a temptation I actively try to resist. Hopefully, us MAMIL’s can also inspire others to go and experience the unique pleasure that cycling brings. Get on your bike and ride!
After all, the world could be a better place if everyone was a cyclist.