Forget golf widows, it's cyclists' wives you should feel sorry for

Are your weekends hostage to a middle-aged man in Lycra? Join the club, writes Andrea Nagel

04 March 2018 - 00:00 By Andrea Nagel
Cycling can be expensive - both in time and money.
Cycling can be expensive - both in time and money.
Image: iStock

What is a Mamil? Ask any of the thousands of women who have been widowed by their husband's devotion to cycling. It's an acronym, recently added to the Oxford English Dictionary and stands for ''middle-aged man in Lycra". It refers to someone who rides an expensive racing bicycle for leisure, wearing professional body-hugging jerseys and shorts - padded, of course, for protection and comfort.

And they're everywhere - in herds crossing city parks or solo in the early grey of morning, getting in their weekly quota of training hours in preparation for the annual big event of South African Cycling, the Cape Town Cycle Tour.

Off the road, their natural habitat is the coffee shop. They waddle in, en masse, to discuss the relative merits of softail versus hardtail, or the 28-inch wheel vs the 29er, as if they were debating the best return on investment for the education funds of their first-born kids.


And their numbers are swelling at an alarming rate. Want to ameliorate some of the current budget deficit? Forget a percentage point increase on VAT and add bigger taxes to cycling gear. Most women don't spend half as much on their clothes as Mamils do on their bib shorts (think a mankini with padding around the nether regions) or cycling gilets (must be from Italy for top quality).

Most women don't spend half as much on their clothes as Mamils do on their bib shorts (think a mankini with padding around the nether regions)

Then add hats, gloves (summer, autumn, winter and spring versions), shoes (waterproof for the winter, lightweight for the summer), overshoes, arm warmers, leg warmers, a helmet or two (one for training and a ''faster" one for racing), waterproof jersey, knitted, vintage top - for good measure - tools, inner tubes, wheels (and faster wheels), lights, pumps, pedals and saddles.

Mamils also need nutritional supplements, cycling computers, rollers (a treadmill for bikes) for when it rains, extra razors for their leg hair and sometimes even professional trainers.

And that's before the bikes are taken into account. Most Mamils need a mountain bike for starters. They also need a light titanium-frame road or racing bike, a day-to-day workhorse for training, a vintage bike for the Eroika (a race in the Cape specifically for vintage bikes), a cyclocross, a commuting bike for training on the way to work, and a Brompton fold-up - for that time he needs to catch a bus home after his ride. The money drains from the joint bank account like the blood from Mark Cavendish's face when he sees Peter Sagan in his rearview mirror.

Just kidding, bicycles don't really have rearview mirrors.

While all of this is expensive enough, the greatest expense of the entire (midlife crisis) project is the time. Weekends overtaken by cycling, school runs dropped in favour of hours in the saddle, the alarm ringing at ridiculous hours of the morning for a "quick four-hour" ride. Yes, Mamils may be around the bend, but they don't just go around the block. Rides last for up to six hours and if they involve travel to a specific location, you can say goodbye to entire Sundays.


Unlike the morning-after emotions one feels after a night out with the girls, the Mamil has no shame. He'll tell you it's healthy, meditative, social and spiritual, if not a little obsessive.

So as Mamils across South Africa pack their overpriced bikes into overpriced cardboard boxes and load them onto trucks that will traverse the country to arrive in Cape Town ahead of the Cape Cycle Tour next Sunday, let's spare a thought for the cycle widows who have to explain to their friends why their husbands are dressed up like gimps.

And if you're in Cape Town next Sunday, cheering the riders on as they pedal their extra girth painfully up Suikerbossie and Chapman's Peak, take a look around for the cycle  widows in your midst - and offer them this profound advice: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. I sure did!