The rise of a new species, the Australian Mamil (middle aged man in lyrca)

Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images
  • Middle-aged men in Lycra (Mamils) are often described in the media, but little is known about the extent of the phenomenon.
  • Now University of Sydney scientists say they have evidence of middle-aged men who cycle at least weekly.
  • But they say regular cycling and commuting to work by bicycle have not increased.

Science says the number of middle-aged men who cycle on weekends, now considered by many to be a new sub-species of urban Australian dwellers, has doubled in recent years.

But the rise of Mamils (middle aged men in lyrca) is confined to more affluent suburbs, according to research published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

University of Sydney authors who led the research say the Mamil study was prompted by media attention given to depicting and satirising this group and the importance of physical activity for preventing lifestyle diseases such as cardiovascular disease.

The findings of the research are reported in the Christmas edition of the Medical Journal of Australia, traditionally an edition devoted to humour and satire. The journal publisher says this article on Mamils uses serious data with a non-serious twist.

Media tracking data shows a marked increase in reporting on Mamils since 2010, with a peak in 2014.

Overall, there were about 150 references to Mamils each year in major print media, mostly in the UK (60% of mentions) or Australia (31%).

“We found that cycling by middle-aged men has increased since 2002-04, supporting reports of the growth of the Mamil species,” says lead author Professor Adrian Bauman at the University of Sydney.

“However, most are weekend superheroes who don’t cycle to work during the week.

“The habitats of Mamils are affluent urban environments, often near the water, where Mamils meet in groups to channel their inner (Australian former professional racing cyclist) Cadel Evans.”

Among the findings of the research:

  • The number of men aged 45-65 years who cycled at least once in the previous year nearly doubled to 20.8% in 2016 from 11% in 2002-04.
  • Those who cycled at least once a week more than doubled to 13.2% in 2016 from 6.2% in 2002-04.
  • The number of men aged 40-59 years who cycle to work hasn’t changed between 2006 (1.1%) and 2016 (1.3%)
  • Previously published data show the proportion of middle-aged men from high income suburbs who cycled at least weekly more than doubled over a 14-year study period to 17.4% (2016) from 7.5% (2002-04)

The researchers describe middle-aged man in Lycra, or Mamil, as an emergent species.

“He parades along promenades in his weekend peloton (indoor cycling) plumage, having rediscovered the bicycle,” they write.

Usually seen in urban environments, these creatures are particularly notable in Australia and England.

“They have recently become the subject of much media hype, featuring in several books, documentaries, and even a movie, and have become woven into the contemporary social fabric,” say the researchers.

“Much is made of their re-engagement with exercise, and their male bonding and mutual support, as well as their tribalism and talismanic Lycra.

“The origins of the Mamil species are unclear, but the first descriptions, from around 2010, were characterised by middle aged men wishing to break free from midlife crises and to obtain a new lease on life by purchasing an extravagant, slick, highly accessorised bicycle with a design fit for the Champs-Élysées.

“The Mamil prefers expensive carbon fibre velocipedes — Bianchi, Colnago, Pinarello, Cervélo — and likes to feel holistically integrated, at one with their cadence technology and GPS devices.

“In Australia, middle-aged cycling is considered “the new golf”, an identity symbol and language in the corporate world.”

The term Mamil entered the Oxford English Dictionary in mid-2015: A “middle-aged man (esp. an avid road cyclist) who takes exercise very seriously and wears the type of clothing (made of Lycra) associated with professional sportspeople.”

In the same year, the Oxford dictionary listed several other new words that resonated with the Mamil species, including eating “arancini” (stuffed rice balls) and “al desko”, as well as economic terms such as “flash crash” and “network marketing”.

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