On any given weekend morning, you’re likely to fine evidence of MAMILs in your neighbourhood. They generally travel in packs, focused and intent on results. They can be an alarming sight to the layman, but these strange creatures are actually expressing primal urges and doing their mental health a favour, according to a psychologist.
MAMILs (Middle-Aged Men In Lycra) have a “weekend warrior” mind-set, says psychologist Campbell Thompson.
He says these mid-life male cyclists riding at high speed on suburban roads may be “sublimating primitive urges to mate and fight.”
Mr Thompson, specialises in the psychology of sport and says that one of the characteristics of the MAMIL is that he approaches recreational cycling in an intense and focused way. Those who have a MAMIL in their lives will agree – it starts as, “Honey I’m going to get a bike and get fit,” and quickly progresses to an infatuation with times, gadgets and ever-more technical (and often expensive) equipment. For bike-widows, it can almost seem like an obsession, but it has far more positive points than negative.
“The MAMILs I know are often highly motivated people used to succeeding in different areas of life, who are now putting that energy and focus into a sport. The archetypal MAMIL is someone who’s channelling his ‘weekend warrior’, developing an almost professional level of competitiveness about what is essentially a social activity,” says Mr Thompson.
“An international athlete I know says that he’s seen club cyclists putting almost as much time into training for the B-grade club race as he is putting into his Olympic training.
“Some would say that at a deep, dark psychological level, middle-aged men still do have this animalistic drive to mate and fight, but they might not get much opportunity to do either of those things. So to throw yourself into a competitive physical endeavour, battling others on the bike to go faster, could be a healthy channel for those energies.”
Mr Thompson also says that weekends spent in Lycra is good for men’s mental health. Research shows that men relax and share emotional talk the most when they are socialising and drinking with other men. “But take away the beer in that face-to-face situation, and for many men it gets a bit weird.”
Enter bicycles: men seem better able to talk about what’s important to them while in motion: “On bikes, it might be easier for men to talk because you’re not facing each other, and you’re already both part of the same tribe. Maybe that’s why you talk about life, the universe and everything on a long ride, which is good for mental health,” he says.
So, encourage a bit of healthy competition, boy time and even (gulp) lycra at the weekend – the benefits are not limited to physical health!