The Perfect Hobby for Middle-Aged Males: Cycling

This is a loose English translation of my latest post in Turkish about cycling. I’m curious which one will prove to be more popular. 

The number of sports one can properly perform decreases with age. I can no longer play football without getting some minor injury, if I stop training for a few weeks I get sore all over when I start running again. Perhaps most depressing is that I have lower back pain if I don’t regularly stretch or practice yoga; maintenance of the body becomes an uphill battle after 45. 

There aren’t too many options, swimming is terribly dull unless it’s at sea with a view underwater, how long can one look at tiles on the pool floor and how many turns can be counted? Do you sweat while golfing? And walking is an anti-sport, a way of getting to places or an excuse to take a call or listen to a podcast.

So that for me leaves running and cycling. I’ve written a lot about running before so this one’s on cycling. 

London is flat, the cycle is at the same time a vehicle to get places in a healthy way. There are no parking problems, it’s faster than a car in 20 mph traffic, it’s good for the environment and healthier than taking the tube.

Some other reasons why cycling is the ideal mid-life sport:

  • It is hard to get injured unless there’s a fall or a collision (very rare),
  • It’s a perfect zone 2 heart rate sport, an hour of constant zone 2 is possible without too much effort,
  • Cycling is a good reason to be outdoors in the fresh air,
  • It’s convenient to cycle to learn a new place because one can cover a lot more per hour and see things at the same time

As I get older, my muscles are weaker, my hormones are out of synch, I gain weight and I don’t sleep as well. Cycling is an antidote to all these too.

My Cycling Journey

About a year ago, my friend Hansgrohe who my Turkish readers will remember as “the passive organiser” from my London pub crawl series, took out his rusting bike from his garden and helped me rent a Boris Bike. We started touring the neighbourhood.

After a few short trips, we decided to venture further and decided to go visit our friend Grumpy who lives in Wimbledon. Grumpy joined us with his then bike, Hank the Tank. On the way back, I slipped on the icy pavement while stopping and fell on my elbow, getting bursitis of the elbow as a result. NHS during Covid meant it healed in 6 weeks – but I wasn’t going to give up so easily.

In the Covid world, there was a shortage of bikes. I was able to procure a Pinnacle Hybrid that no one wanted and named it Jarvis1. Grumpy thought he needed another bike for commuting to work (we were obviously all working from home) and bought Isabelle, a nice black hybrid Pearson. As one can deduce from the name, Isabelle is more elegant than Hank the Tank, and faster. So it was Hansgrohe’s turn, he decided to give his old bike to his wife (who hadn’t asked for it and who has never used it so far) and bought Miles, another hybrid.

Jarvis, In the Innocent Putney Days
Jarvis, In the Innocent Putney Days

We all had new bikes, we had to ride… 

Male Hobbies

My friend Dr Bunsen thinks an ideal male hobby should promote consumerism. Men do not like shopping, with the exception of hobbies. Someone who only has 8 pairs of socks, 7 boxer briefs and 3 shoes decides to spend days on online shopping sites, reads blogs, watches YouTubelooking for ideal gears, chainsets, brakes, combinations of biking shoes and pedals… The shopping male learns to buy 5 jerseys online and to return them if necessary, gets coupons and shares with friends and asks strangers in red lights where they got their cool helmets from.

But everything in moderation! Erkut taught us that one can spend an equal number of pounds on cycling against miles ridden. Grumpy (who has 2 shoes, the newer one was bought 17 years ago) liked this adage and began to ride like crazy to be able to shop more2.

Jiminy Cricket, who actually does love to shop regardless of his hobbies joined us and we began to meet by Putney Bridge every Sunday and started riding to places.

Jiminy came to the first meeting on a bike that reminds one of the old maids mentioned in George Orwell’s short book, England Your England 3. We obviously made fun of him. He hastily ordered Noir, a slick black bike that went well with his tight, shiny and black clothing. But after a few months, he realised the thicker hybrid tyres of Noir prevented him from breaking records in Richmond Park, so he ordered the turquoise Blanc with thin tyres and 300 grams less weight. This meant that he had to order a new set of clothing, helmet, shades, and an AppleWatch band that matched Blanc’s turquoise.

Now’s a good time to introduce the word MAMIL to those who are not used to making fun of cyclists. MAMIL is short for “Middle-Aged Man in Lycra”. But to be fair, there is a reason for it! Lycra does not parachute when riding, dries quickly and is comfortable for 4 hours. But I agree, it does no favours to the belly fat of a middle-aged man.

I hope he's unaware of the fact that his picture comes up when one googles MAMIL (Picture Source)
I hope he’s unaware of the fact that his picture comes up when one googles MAMIL (Picture Source)

Needless to say, non-MAMILs are not allowed in Richmond Park on Sundays. I wonder if the Martians decided to visit earth on a Sunday morning and landed on Richmond Park, what would they think of this species that has long limbs, a colossal head, moves on 2 tyres and circumnavigates the park around the lazy grazing deer for hours?

Garmin or Wahoo? 

Unfortunately, the shopping does not end with the bike, helmet, lights, locks, water bottle and clothing… When there’s no longer anything to buy, one has to buy a bike computer. A bike computer looks like an old mobile phone and is used to help with navigation to start with, but offers a lot more.

Once the group of cyclists create a route using Komoot or Strava after a long debate, this route is loaded to the bike computer which shows the way to the coffee shop used to rest and refuel along with the good views to see along the way. The bike computer also shows the cyclist her speed, the distance left to go, the length and grade of the climb, the heart rate (if there is a heart rate strap), and if you still want to buy more and get a power meter, this too is there on the small screen. The world biking community at the moment is divided into 2 camps: Garmin vs Wahoo.

In our case, it was easy. Grumpy likes to think before he acts, so he researched for weeks and concluded that it’s Garmin because he happens to have a Garmin swimming watch already. He argued for Garmin saying we could see each other on the device if we all had it and we would not lose each other along the route. So according to male code, we accepted his arguments with the caveat that anything that goes wrong with Garmin would be his fault.

During this debate, I rooted for a much simpler, much cheaper device that works as a navigation guide (Beeline) but I was crowded out. So we ended up with a clunky piece of Bladerunner age tech, a terrible user interface, a device incapable of fast synchronisation and that makes it impossible to enter an address on a whim and get going4. Buy a Wahoo.

Another friend of mine mentioned in the pub crawl series (The Father) stayed quite passive during the biking craze. We wanted to motivate him by choosing Boris Bike locations and riding along the river trying to navigate between runners, dogs, strollers and pensioners on a stroll. Grumpy got impatient during such slow routes so The Father had to up his game and bought himself a white helmet that looks like those WW2 nazi helmets. He still has a long way to go regarding the clothing: bell-bottom trousers that can get caught in the chain, long thick coats, horn-rimmed London financier glasses etc. We gave him his first warning and we pretend not to know him in the presence of other cyclists.

With time, our tribe of cyclists grew and we began to take a different route out of London every weekend. We collected miles by meeting in Putney at 8:00 on Sundays, having espresso at Donna’s and riding between 40 to 100 kilometres (my record).

By February, it had become obvious that Grumpy would not be satisfied with our 100k 4-5 hour-long rides. He began to organise a tour to Mallorca, the Mecca of cycling. We set a long weekend for it and booked flights. But why did we go there? What new challenges were ahead? Who the hell is No Parallel? 

All roads lead to Mallorca
All roads lead to Mallorca

Reader, you hear more from me In the next episode… 

  1. Obviously after the venerable Jarvis Cocker. I was able to tell him this when I went to his exhibition in June 2022 and he asked me if the bike works.
  2. We are thankful to Grumpy for pushing us to ride longer and also for his excellent routes meticulously planned in the office during early mornings after coffee. ↩︎
  3. “Old maids biking to holy communion through the mists of the autumn mornings” – England Your England, 1941 ↩︎
  4. This Reddit thread makes the point and reassures me that I’m not crazy:↩︎

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