There are a number of issues with the term ‘MAMIL’. It’s a little bit ageist. It’s a little bit sexist. It’s very patronising. And it’s much too clever — I can imagine that whoever thought of it did a celebratory lap of the office demanding adulation from all their colleagues.
But what bothers me most about it is that Lycra isn’t really the defining characteristic of the sort of person we’re trying to pin down. Anyone and everyone wears Lycra from time to time — you don’t have to be a freak or a show-off. No, it’s not the Lycra that defines us. It’s the shoes.
I remember going to a shop to buy my first pair of cycling shoes. It was a grubby shop, down a back alley in Cambridge. I bought the first pair I tried on, because I was so embarrassed at being unable to undo the fastening system and having to be released by the shop assistant that I didn’t dare try another pair.
Incidentally, the same assistant was still there a few years later when I arrived looking for a pair of high-tech shoes I’d seen, which attempted to reduce aerodynamic drag by removing all the fastenings from the top, having you put your foot in from the back instead, then lacing up the back of the heel.
“Do you have any rear-entry shoes?” I asked.
“I didn’t know you needed special shoes for that,” she replied.
I feel that over the years I’ve been guilty of letting the stupidity of what cycling shoes look like blind me to the stupidity of what they are.
I have mocked myself before for owning and (worse) wearing a pair of mirror-finish Northwaves with my name embroidered on them that made me look like an Italian pimp preparing for a quick getaway. (Mario Cipollini once had an almost identical pair, just to give older readers some context.)
But then I remember our wooden floor at home. When we first moved in, I totally failed to notice that as I walked across the hallway I left a series of dents, each of which was a perfect imprint of the pedal cleat.
When Mrs Doc pointed out the damage I immediately found myself imagining a paleontologist one day trying to work out what sort of animal had perfectly square hooves held on with cross-head screws. As Mrs Doc got down on hands and knees to examine the ruined floor, I would have done well to keep this incredibly hilarious thought to myself.
The design of road shoes is utterly delusional. Yes, they’re fine once you’re riding, but I don’t know what sort of cycling lives we think we lead that we’ll never need to put them to the ground. Are we supposed to have servants to carry us into the cafe in a sedan chair?
I have slipped over in race HQs, cafes, public toilets and bike shops. I have ravaged floors across the world. I have sat on verges on three continents and picked mud out of my cleats. I have given myself tendonitis by spending a day up a mountain clomping about in bike shoes to watch a race. And like almost everyone I know I have ruined expensive shoes trying to drill out cleat-bolts that have been worn away from too much walking.
And we put up with this. If you wear mountain bike shoes, you’ll be drummed out of road cycling. Let alone the wellies and gaffer tape solution that would have been appropriate for most of last winter.
Cycling isn’t a fellowship of the unembarrassable in Lycra, it’s a fellowship of the dementedly impractical in carbon shoes. Or DICS for short.