Cycling as a sport is defined by ‘eras’. The 90’s was defined by aluminium technology. The 2000’s and beyond has been marked by carbon everything – bicycles are getting lighter, faster and stronger.
So how would you describe the current era? It’s very simple really. There’s one phrase that embodies cycling in 2019 and it’s visible on any bike path in Sydney.
Modern cycling is the era of the ‘mamil’.
No longer do toothpicks on carbon bikes represent the sport. The defining image of cycling in Australia (and indeed around the world) is that of a middle aged man in lycra (mamil).
And quite frankly, it’s a beautiful thing! It’s a strange (albeit serendipitous) moment for many young men transitioning into their 30’s and 40’s. We’ve been bombarded with chiseled abs, bulging biceps and tanned bodies for the best part of our adolescent lives.
So you can already imagine my reaction when I get left for dead on a leisurely Sunday ride by a bunch of old codgers who are old enough to be my dad. Since when did awkward lumps and cycling bib tan lines become the definition of performance?
It’s been a growing change – think of the anxiety you might have felt when you used to enter your local gym. The pumping house music, the tight t-shirts and the orange tan in a can. Compare that to when you go on a local clubby ride, or a graded Crit race – you look around and see men and women who look exactly like you. You see ordinary people doing incredible things, who push their bodies on a Sunday and pay for it on the Monday. Luckily however, they’re usually all good to go again by 9am by the next Sunday.
When you think of the past heroes of the sport – the Merckx’s, the Lemond’s, the Armstrong’s: you’re left with idols who look like they could use a roast chook and chips. They look like a steady headwind could knock them flat on their back!
These days, the real heroes are the ones who let you cling onto their rear wheel while they break a strong northerly gust. The sceptics may query the aerodynamic efficiency of love handles and a beer gut, but who’s got the lungs to complain when the only thing standing between you and exhaustion is a 110-kilo angel pulling 330 watts?
It’s part of the reason why cycling has been termed the ‘golf’ of the 2010’s. While in the past savvy business professionals would have spent their Sunday mornings courting clients on a golf course (and forking out a couple of grand to get pissed on a golf course), it’s now more fashionable to be seen on a road bike during a recreational weekend outing.
I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s a comforting thing that no matter how my torso may look as I get grey and old, I know that I’m still an athlete as long as I’m on the bike.