CYCLING lures the sane and sensible like a seductive temptress.
What starts with a brief encounter behind the bike shed quickly descends into an intoxicating, illicit liaison.
It’s a passionate, all-consuming love affair that necessitates new habits, new routines – and a new look.
I speak from experience.
Six years ago, I was a 40-something nobody. Now I am labelled along with my co-afflicted.
We are even a demographic: we are Mamils – Middle-aged Men In Lycra.
As mid-life crises go, pretending to be a Tour de France champion is a relatively harmless if pathetic delusion. Yet it would be irresponsible not to offer some words of caution.
Once smitten, separation from the bike is inconceivable; there will be tiffs but never divorce.
Sufferers of compulsive cycling disorder soon exhibit disturbing symptoms, too.
On Saturday, there’s a strong urge to gather cycling gear – kit, nutrition bars, gels, and related paraphernalia – and lay it out on the sofa in readiness.
Industrial quantities of pasta are consumed that evening before the excited Mamil heads for an early night to ensure peak performance on Sunday morning.
The bleary-eyed Mamil duly awakes at 6am, force-feeds himself once more and collects his sofa items before heading to the garage for an emotional re-union with his trusty steed.
Outside, the brooding hills beckon and fellow Mamils emerge from the drizzle to join him en route.
A Mamil peloton is a sight to behold. It’s a blur of clashing colour schemes, wobbling flesh and receding hairlines, the sound of whirring cranks punctuated with wicked banter, expletives and the last croaks of those suffering severe oxygen deficiency.
In other words, it’s a lot of fun.
Particularly the obligatory stop at a coffee shop, a traditional place of Sunday worship for Mamils where homage is paid to cake and anecdotes shared.
A personal favourite is the one about a Mamil who kept his beloved machine in the bedroom until his despairing wife screamed: “Either that bloody bike goes or I do!” The Mamil casually peered over the top of his Cycling Weekly and replied: “You know where the door is.”
When the all-conquering Mamil eventually returns home, he typically dumps his smouldering kit near the washing machine in the hope it will be attended to by his long-suffering partner.
The Mamil tells himself her stony face is nothing to do with him before entering the post-ride phase of the Mamil routine: a three-hour recovery slumber, which regrettably (but conveniently) postpones any hope of DIY/gardening/domestic chores.
The above is repeated the following weekend – and mid-week if the cunning Mamil can get away with it.
So how do you enter this madness?
Firstly Lycra – and particularly a padded short – is essential. Wind will simply inflate looser clothing and further confirm the neighbour’s suspicion that Pillsbury Doughboy lives next door. Further, decorum prevents me from detailing what a road saddle can do to a gentleman’s unprotected undercarriage.
However, there’s no pressing need to adopt team colours and squeeze into the replica Sky skin suit which adorns Mamil Godfather, Sir Wiggo.
Think of it this way: should a portly Sunday footballer unable to hit a barn door from five yards really be wearing Messi’s Barcelona top?
The shirt should be earned. Indeed, to minimise the risk of embarrassment I only wear my King of the Mountains top when the terrain is flat – or it’s dark.
The uninitiated may also be tempted to re-mortgage the house and purchase the latest, lightest carbon machine.
Yet bitter experience taught me the real weight issue was spilling uncontrollably over my waistband. Hence a sub £1,000 entry model – or a second-hand equivalent – is perfectly suitable for the novice Mamil.
Metamorphosis into a fully-fledged Mamil occurs the day you realise a thinner and happier version of your old, miserable self has magically materialised.
You have been reborn. You are one of us.