At last! We’ve finally gotten around to sitting down and watching MAMIL: Middle Aged Men in Lycra. It’s been on the list of movies to check out for a while and we quickly realised that we should have watched it far sooner!
Growing up I watched four cycling documentaries on repeat through my teenage years as I dreamed of life on two wheels being for me. I had a documentary on 100 years of the Tour de France, the story of arguably Ireland’s greatest ever cyclist in Sean Kelly, and the highlights of the 1991 and 1998 Tours de France. I probably drove my family mad watching them over and over again; gradually wearing out the life in our VHS player as I watched the already-well-memorised images of everyone from Merckx to Indurain, Kelly to Roche, Pantani to Cipollini and more. They were my cycling video collection, my stories that I knew so well; and the one thread that they all had in common was the narratorial input of Phil Liggett.
Having provided some of the most iconic commentary in professional cycling, it seems appropriate that Phil, the voice of cycling for so many of the MAMIL generation; should be narrating the stories of arguably some of the most serious cyclists outside of the professional peloton.
MAMIL is the everyman’s cycling story. Over a little under an hour and three quarters the film pieces together the stories of riders and clubs from America to Australia and the UK, weaving between the tales that make up real life for the non-professionals of all shapes, sizes, ages, ambition-levels. These are not riders who possess Froome-like physiques, who shoot up cycling’s biggest and steepest climbs with comparative ease, who can sprint at speeds touching 70kph, none of that.
These are the stories of overweight men who just want to keep fit enough. Lonely men who enjoy the camaraderie of riding very slowly with a bunch of mates. Cancer survivors and MS sufferers who found two wheels and in doing so found an avenue to forget that there is anything separating them from anyone else. Club riders whose happiness over the week is less dictated by the money in the bank at week’s end than whether they won the club C grade event at the weekend.
These are the stories of fat people, old people, injured people, working people, gay people, busy people. All these stories are thrown together extremely well, constantly moving from story to story and back again; although never feeling like you’re getting confused trying to keep up. The movie shows that to be a MAMIL is to be part of a diverse global community but it is also to share common experiences and the desire to simply get out on the bike in whatever form that may take. The movie tells, with raw honesty, of the obsessiveness of the MAMIL, whose cycling ability doesn’t come from lucrative sponsorship deals, but from their own back pockets; with or without the knowledge of their respective other halves!
What I found most touching and heart warming in this documentary is that it did something that no amount of professional cycling watching could do. At a few points during MAMIL: Middle Aged Men in Lycra, I was able to say to myself ‘that’s me! That’s my story! I’m that rider!’ And this is possibly the biggest salute I can give to the movie, that it not only tells their stories, but it also tells mine, and (I dare say) yours. It identifies with the cycling world in a way that no other cycling movie I have seen has been able to do.