There’s been a huge increase in cycling, and particularly road cycling, by men in the last few years and the ubiquitous MAMIL (middle aged man in lycra) has become a common sight on roads throughout the world, due to many benefits of biking.
Now you might think that stuffing your chicken legs into tight spandex and getting all hot, sweaty and breathless on a bike is a bit odd, but the story is very different from the other side of the handle bars.
Road cycling has been coined as a respectable way to have a midlife crisis, cycling clubs are thriving and cycle retailers and manufacturers reporting large increases in sales year upon year.
Cycling has also become a big part of my life, it was one of my salvations and, whilst it’s not a cure or solution for everything, it’s become a cornerstone of my mental and physical wellbeing and the same for millions of other men as well.
So what’s so magical about cycling for men? Obviously, cycling is great for women too but despite the fact that it just feels great and is loads of fun it ticks a number of important “man boxes” which possibly explains why us middle aged men in lycra are so common!
1) Live Longer, Eat More and Have Better Sex
Sounds good to me. In fact, at a very basic level, that’s all I really want to do with my life! Of course, I have a number of other more noble aspirations but longevity, food and sex are good starting points!
Cycling is great for your cardiovascular system and even a relatively gentle cycle to work on a daily basis reduces your chances of premature death by a whopping 40% and reduces the risk of developing cancer by 45%.
Similarly, there have been a number of studies that clearly link cycling to increased lifespan.
There are similar advantages in terms of weight loss and generally feeling good. I, like most men, love to eat and cycling has been the only way, in over 25 years of trying, that I have actually managed to get my weight under control.
For example, if I cycle for a couple of hours on a Sunday morning I can easily burn between 1000 and 1500 calories. That’s a lot of Sunday lunch or cake at the cafe stop! It also means that if I cycle regularly three times a week I can fairly much eat what I want without piling the weight on.
But that’s not all the good news.
In survey by The British Heart Foundation, it was discovered that not only does cycling make you feel fitter and sexier there is also a perception that cyclists are 13% more intelligent and cooler than non-cyclists and that 1 in 4 people would prefer a cyclist as an athlete blind date.
Similarly, in a study by the University of Arkansas, 80% of physically fit men and 66% of women rated themselves as being more desirable and as having an increased perception of sexual prowess too – typical!
But, there’s also scientific proof that having a strong cardiovascular response is great for the blood flow and for stamina. Both of these are linked to increased sexual performance and cycling has been said to contribute to improving erectile dysfunction and sexual stamina in middle-aged men.
“I thought of that whilst riding my bicycle”
Apparently, Einstein came up with the theory of relativity whilst riding his bike.
Whilst I’m certainly not capable of such groundbreaking thinking, one of the benefits of biking is great for clearing your head and putting things into perspective.
There’s something very special about the affinity between mind, body and machine on a ride and it affords a sort of mental attunement that I find hard to achieve anywhere else. Fairly much without trying I find that I can sort problems out and make decisions on bike rides. My judgement and thinking seem clearer and I have much more of a sense of peace.
There’s also something particularly enriching about setting aside time for doing something exclusively for my own wellbeing and I think that we can all find this extremely difficult. We generally aren’t great at looking after ourselves and cycling is a great way of doing something “manly” and nourishing at the same time.
The “feel good factor” during and after a ride is addictive and after a while, it spills over into other aspects of your life too.
My mental wellbeing, mood and thinking processes have all benefitted greatly from cycling and my cycling time is as much a “spiritual” nourishment as a physical activity.
I Just Love Tinkering With Nuts and Bolts
Most men love doing things with their hands. We are makers, fixers, mechanical explorers, DIYers and creators. Even if we aren’t all that great at practical things there’s something deeply satisfying about knowing how things work, tinkering in the shed and having a spanner in your hand.
In fact, the very act of owning a good tool kit can make you feel manly and competent!
However, have you recently had a look under the bonnet of a modern car or inside the complexities of a new washing machine? They are so electronic and high tech that we are, unfortunately, being denied the opportunity to exercise our need to maintain and mend.
Enter the bicycle! Modern road bikes can be relatively high tech but maintaining and repairing them is still well within the means of the home mechanic! We can still get the satisfaction of tuning and tweaking and satisfy our inner grease monkey.
There’s also something highly satisfying about riding a “well-oiled” machine, particularly if you have done the oiling yourself.
Benefits of Biking And Technology
“Beam me up Scotty”
Further to this, we can also get our technology fix from cycling as cycling apps and bike computers are becoming increasingly tech orientated. It’s now possible to not only monitor and record your speed and to plot your routes with on-bike GPS but also to monitor your heart rate, power output and cadence.
This can be fascinating post-ride as you pore through your performance stats, compare your figures to your previous ride or even to other riders who have done the same stretch of road as you. It’s even possible to see who other riders were that you met on your ride, see what their route was and their average speed and power output etc.
It’s amazing stuff and gadgety and geeky enough to satisfy most men’s lust for new technology! Let’s face it we love number crunching, fact grinding, charts and graphs and there’s something extremely gratifying about using such high tech out in the open and then re – living your ride from the comfort of the sofa with a cup of tea and a slab of well-deserved cake!
“Most men don’t have a life”
This is the rather dramatic opening to Steve Biddulph’s book “Manhood”. To a certain extent, this can be true, particularly as we get older, our lives can become rather insular and focussed on pleasing our partners, children and bosses. Men are also notoriously bad at asking for help, talking about their feelings, making friends and looking after themselves. Often we have little in the way of a social life or a support network and feel that it’s a sign of weakness to go out and look for one.
But, have you ever seen a “swarm” of cyclists out on a club ride on a Sunday morning? If you have you will see that they cycle in a close-knit formation and, above the hum of the cycling machinery there will be a buzz of chatter and banter.
This is priceless.
The social aspect of club cycling is unique. It’s a safe and acceptable environment to make new friends and to have a good chat.
Cycling is a feel good activity and so the quality of conversation is often high. Conversation is easy and feels very non-confrontational as there’s the distraction of the road and the fact that you have to be side by side rather than static and eye to eye.
The common purpose and interest is always a good starting point to talk about and you have time, without any distractions from phones, families or anything else, to just be in the moment and to connect with other people in an extremely positive and genuine manner.
For many men, this can be an absolute lifeline. The Sunday club ride is a fount of physical, mental and social goodness and an enriching and nurturing centre of the week. It’s an opportunity to chat about stuff, to make new friends, have a bit of a moan about things and indulge in some banter.
Hopefully, you can now start to see why cycling works so well for men on so many levels. Obviously, there’s the fact that it’s an enjoyable and highly beneficial form of exercise but, beyond that, it offers a unique experience in it’s ability to enhance your mood and clear your thinking.
Similarly, there’s the opportunity to indulge our deep desire to work with our hands and also “geek out” with the myriad of new cycling tech that’s on the market. But most importantly it can also offer a deep sense of camaraderie and belonging. A cycling group ride is a unique and powerful social experience where the common endeavor binds people together and encourages social interaction. You can’t beat a bit of positive male bonding to make you feel good about yourself.
To me, cycling is just pleasure.I don’t do it purely for it’s numerous benefits, I cycle regularly three or four times a week, I look forward to it, I always want to do more and I can’t wait to get on the bike. I don’t do it just for the exercise or to lose weight, I just do it because I love doing it – the sensation of propelling yourself along and cycling with increasing skill is addictive. It’s an activity that I love and the health and wellbeing benefits are a positive by-product.
That, I think, is the key.
Cycling may or may not be your thing but, if you can find a physical activity that you love doing, one that you do purely for the pleasure rather than to get in shape, get fitter or for any other reason, then that motivation of pleasure will drive you through. Weight loss, increased cardiovascular response, better mood, clearer thinking, more energy and a host of other benefits will naturally and effortlessly follow.
Go out and find your physical guilty pleasure. You really do deserve it!
Are you a cyclist or even a MAMIL? What do you find are the best benefits of cycling? Do you do another activity that has similar qualities? Let me know in the comments below – I would love to hear from you.
Andrew Hind is a Dad to three teenage daughters (!), a musician, photographer and blogger at Road Cyclist Guide.