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Film Review: MAMIL – Middle Aged Men in Lycra

20 Sep 2018
Verdict:

No MAMILS were ridiculed in the making of this film

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
From £11
For 
Eloquent characters, variety of stories
Against 
Lack of dramatic cycling footage

The term MAMIL is not one cycling purists like to use very often. 'Middle Aged Man In Lycra' – a marketing term coined by Mintel analyst Michael Oliver in 2010 – conjures up less than flattering images of riders 'with all the gear but no idea.'

Which is slightly unfair when you consider that the biggest spenders on bikes at the top end of the market are indeed middle-aged and predominantly male.

As a spokesman for one of the 700 brands represented at the Inter Bike expo in Las Vegas tells the filmmakers: 'We are definitely a very white, middle-aged industry.'

You can forgive him his slight air of smugness, as the bike market in the US alone is worth an annual six billion dollars. You certainly won’t hear anyone from Pinarello or Cervelo disparaging MAMILs.

To the wives and partners of MAMILs, the term has more complex connotations: 'They’re not out hunting, they aren’t doing that primeval thing any more, so this is their way of being a man,' says one.

'They’re trying to get their career going and look after their families, then they look down and see they’ve got a belly,' says another.

This Australian documentary is an affectionate look at what drives these middle-aged men – let’s call them athletes or weekend warriors, they much prefer that – to become so obsessive about riding their bikes.

It occasionally verges on the saccharine – when Melbourne barrister Doug Shirrefs bids his partner an emotional farewell, you’d think he was going off to war in Afghanistan rather than a 10-day cycling holiday in Spain – but never resorts to ridicule.

The closest it comes to that is when it interviews a couple of British riders wearing helmet cams.

The amount of recording and lighting gizmos strapped to Lewis Dediare’s helmet and bike frame make him look more like RoboCop than a cyclist on his daily commute (an image only slightly dashed by his brandishing of a red card rather than a retractable semi-automatic weapon to drivers who pass by too close).

MAMIL - Official Trailer from Demand Film on Vimeo.

Inevitably, none of the cycling footage lives up to the drama of a professional race, so the filmmakers have to rely on some compelling stories from their protagonists.

We meet a gay couple in New York City – 'It’s shocking to me that they’re aren’t more gay guys involved in cycling just because of the clothing' – a Latino cycling club in Los Angeles that tows a ghetto blaster on a trailer for its regular 'party rides', and an Australian called 'Thommo' Thomson whose life on the bike has been one unending series of crashes and accidents to such an extent that he now rides against doctors’ orders wearing a neck brace.

There’s also Jim Turner, president of Adelaide’s Fat Boys cycling club, who says: 'We’re not just a bike group. At our age, we’re going through some interesting times in our lives and we support each other through them.'

It becomes clear what dark subject he is referring to later in the film.

Another eloquent character is Jayman Prestidge, President of Warragul CC in Australia whose attempts to push through a new club kit design are met with indifference verging on hostility.

After his first club ride in the new kit, he doesn’t mince his words: 'That was a fucking disaster for me, I feel mentally destroyed.'

He ends up resigning from his post, and you can’t help thinking it’s the club’s loss.

In Britain, we meet three fascinating characters, each trying to balance their work and family lives with hours on the bike.

Richard Price’s wife tells him: 'I wish I could go out for four hours doing something that makes me feel great, but I’m with the kids.'

Price’s justification is hardly reassuring: 'The bond I feel with the guys I’m cycling with [Fiasco CC in Godalming] is the strongest I’ve felt since I was at school.'

Rupert Englander in Farnham prefers riding on his own. His defence to the charge of being a MAMIL is that he could have bought a fast car and 'looked a bit ridiculous' but instead bought a bike and 'it replaced everything I loved about cycling as a kid.'

At 43, Andy Critchlow just about scrapes into the MAMIL demographic but declares himself 'a card-carrying member.'

A former GB junior racer, he has recently returned to competitive cycling, juggling its demands around 'working 60 hours a week and paying the mortgage.'

But he comes up with probably the most articulate justification for what he does when he says: 'Cycling’s a bit like how a caveman must have felt when he was hunting deer.

'The finish line is the quarry after you haven’t eaten for three weeks and you’ll starve if you don’t cross the line first.

'You’re racing to catch this deer. How do you replace that feeling of the chase?'

MAMIL will be screened at cinemas throughout the UK from 21st February. Full list of screenings and how to book at: uk.demand.film/mamil

Tickets MUST be reserved in advance, and screenings are subject to a minimum number of tickets being sold (you won’t be charged if this threshold isn’t met).

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