Get up at dawn on the weekend in any big town and, before long, the tranquillity will be shattered by a curious anthropological display. Cue the hushed tones of David Attenborough: ‘Observe as they approach, in all their many shapes and sizes, heads bowed and moving at great speed. Note the alpha male out in front, warning his followers of the next looming urban peril. Resplendent in their shiny, colourful plumage, these are... MAMILs, and they travel neither in flock nor herd, but in a highly structured group called a peloton.’ This new species, the Middle-Aged Man in Lycra, has become the somewhat tongue-in- cheek poster boy for the new boom in cycling in Australia. So whether you’ll be a MAMIL or a MAWIL (that’s you, ladies!), check out why you should take a leap into the saddle.
It’s good for you
Yes, so is jogging and tennis and football, but the difference is cycling is a low-impact sport. In cycling, your weight is supported by the saddle – when your bike position has been properly adjusted by your friendly local bike shop – and the pedalling action actually strengthens the muscles that support those all-important joints.
Cycling also offers comparable cardio benefits to other mainstream aerobic exercises such as swimming, running and rowing. Two to three moderate rides (at an intensity where you can still conduct a conversation) a week and your heart and waistline will thank you. Of course, as well as the physical benefits, cycling is good for your head. In our always-on, fewer-people-doing-more, accessible-all-hours digital age, stress is omnipresent. Like all exercise, cycling is a natural stress-buster. Better still, a ride typically ends at a cafe, with a relaxing debrief over a restorative flat white.
It’s good for the environment
Without getting up on a soapbox about it, it’s obvious our roads are clogged and our commutes are long. Yet every person who cycles to work is one less car (and its emissions) on the road. As for pollution, when exercising, a human being emits negligible CO2 and only needs food and water for fuel. Compare that to your car next time you drive off to work!
Finding the right ride
The first step when searching for the perfect two-wheeled steed is to be honest about your basic fitness and flexibility, as well as where you want to ride.
• Suffering from gardener’s back? Commuter bikes and cruisers allow you to sit more upright and are better on flat or rolling terrain. They have straight handlebars, a softer saddle and flat pedals that will accommodate running shoes.
• Can you touch your toes? Or at least reach past your knees? Road bikes come in a variety of styles at various pricepoints. The latest types of endurane road bikes have a slightly more upright riding position and are more comfortable over long distances. The faster road models demand better lower back and hip mobility (actually touching your toes... or the ground) and are for intermediate to advanced riders. Road bikes have handlebars that curl underneath and pedals that clip onto cleats on the bottom of special cycling shoes. This allows the rider to add power throughout the entire pedal stroke, rather than just on the downstroke. Road bike saddles are also firmer, so cushion your ride by investing in cycling shorts with built-in padding for comfort.
• Don’t like roads or riding near cars? Mountain bikes are designed to be ridden on tracks and trails (or, should you be feeling energetic, mountains). They have suspension that allows the front or back (or both) wheels to absorb bumps, and a more upright riding position. Flat pedals are acceptable for beginners, after which, clip-in pedals are the way to go.