In trying to cross the outer circle of Regents Park to go and do my slightly shabby walk/run around its perimeter (a first world life structure challenge certainly), the most dangerous occurrence to present itself at 6.30am is not that of early doors muggers, the confusion of hybrid arctic meets monsoon weather or even a distinct lack of appropriate clothing; but a cluster of MAMILs moving at high speed.
(I am uncertain of what the collective noun might be for a group of densely-packed middle aged men in black and fluorescent lycra on bikes – a ‘weave’ perhaps? Or a ‘knob’?).
Much like our captive creature cousins at the Zoo across the park, these middle aged men disported in their tightly brightly tailored costumes (there’s theatre in every fibre of them) seem trapped in some perimeter prowl, hawking and screeching, unable or incapable of breaking free of the infinite circular trajectory they have locked themselves into – for an hour or so at least.
Now given the circular nature of their journey, there is little to concentrate on other than the ‘track’ curvature, rendering itself relentlessly to the left (they have projected the spirit of the Olympic velodrome onto the roads of Camden), the choreography of their individual pieces of kit and their own performance pay grades.
But I can tell you this: they do like a chat.
I sense this is both part of the bonhomie of a shared passion and a way of humanizing what might as with all obsessions be a cause often fought alone.
There seem to be two shades to their conversations that I hear wafting across the park when it is empty enough of people and other noise to allow their conversations to carry, whipping past ones ears as they hurtle through their next pain thresh-hold. And both of these are played out against a very particular audio backdrop.
So I’d like to just take a slightly closer look at:
1. Kit & Attack 2. Shop talk 3. Sound design
1.KIT & ATTACK
KIT – Discussing the detail (and believe you me the devil is indeed in the detail) of this exceptional pastime is the foundation stone of the evolutionary laws of the MAMIL. And though one might find the creation of a cycling babel fish highly desirable to navigate the conversation that would belie the integrity of their attentions.
The conversational skip jump through the delicious details of custom-moulded high-modulus carbon frame, pro-level transmission, Schwalbe Ultremo ZX, tyres and wheelsets, Titanium rotor and shift bolts, carbon Shimano and Campagnolo brakes (or should I say derailleurs) and the concepts of vertical compliance and decreased road buzz – simply demonstrates that this is cyclng at the top of its game.
I am told that the sheer exhilaration fused with exceptional attention to detail and a geek like obsession with kit and detail creates an experience that speaks for itself: which is a good job; because from some of the commentary I came across it might be better that no one else is allowed to. For example:
“Formula R1 with 203 rotor, these pads have the grip to endo at 30mph with no fade! Lets be fair from a single pot that’s seriously impressive. By no means is this compromised on pad life, Uberbike no what Business is all about, make a decent product and let the product do the talking. Theses pads were fitted along with some standard rears, despite all the pain the front brake has gone through the rears are shot and the front only half worn!! Speaks for its self. ”.
Attack – the manner in which they attack the task of circling the park demands fine shadings of performance between steadily increasing pace riding, sprints, and practicing the invisible baton change strategies of team position shifting across the pack line.
The circular whole comes into perfect balance when the excellence and performance metrics and shadings of the ride itself fuse with the cod motivational woops and c’mON!s and let’s push it PEOPLE! cries that fire out of the middle of the pack every now and then. But more of that in 3.
2. SHOP TALK
The Day At The Office chat attacks are a little more difficult to bear. These are the equivalent of discussing staplers and A4 photocopier paper on the tour de france warm up stage. The nature of conversation is wholly at odds with the Rapha wrapped primaloft-insulated insects buzzing around the Regents Park velodrome
The most shocking aspect of some of the conversation is the ‘Office’– like banality of the content. It delivers all of the bleak ennui yet with neither the knowing nor the wit. It did cross my mind that perhaps this particular group that I encounter are a highly advanced cycling syndicate of data management programme software designers and logistics analysts with a distinct digital chip on their very slim shoulders, and far from representative.
But in retrospect I am certain they are in fact top of their game execs who drive their entrepreneurial and corporate businesses as hard as the super light weight framed pedal machines they sit atop: and I am probably just jealous of their camaraderie, observed from my lonely and slightly scruffy vantage point.
3. Sound Design
Sound Design seems quite an important part of the MAMIL cycling experience. The most emphatic aspect of this comes from the resonant motivational ‘call signs’ of the group carrying across the empty spaces or warping across your path as they pass. Most of the time these are indistinct, an aural fabric which they weave as they encircle the park. But these ‘caws’ ‘barks’ and screeches’ do become recognisable if one gets on the right side of them. When they become clear enough to be heard you realise that there is a healthy (or unhealthy some might say) use of highly Americanised Whoops, Yeahs! C,mons, DO IT people, Push ITs!!! and various other inspirational inducements to better shouted aloud (or should I say ejaculated, given our proximity to 221B Baker Street and the oral outbursts of Holmes & Watson).
This may be to do with the style of institution or the cultural provenance of the corporations they work for. Or they may just have attended too many motivational Leadership and Performance Excellence seminars at a Golf Club Manor House Hotel just outside Guildford. Bonding over the shared air of a whiteboard conference ‘suite’ exec team session, high burn team building exercises, comedy evening drinking, a full cooked breakfast buffet with compulsory hangover bravado and finally zip wiring through a wall of flaming underpants to the deafening roars of ‘Lets win this thing’ leaves its mark on a person. Perhaps the mark is so deep it simply compels the MAMILs to exclaim motivational speaker speak at deafening volume in some fit of Exec Ed tourettes.
But the most particular, unique semiotic ‘sound’ resonates only at the point at which this streamlined gathering finally pulls to a rare stop; usually at the far corner of the park closest to Gt Portland Street. And that sound is the clatter of magnetic shoes released from the pedals to touch tarmac. The clack of a mag ball cycling shoe puts down a marker of the highest order.
The catwalk cacophony of the magnetic cycle shoe, the Louboutin of the cycling world, is powered by more than just a functional and material truth. It is a signature of seriousness, a statement of intent. CLACK I mean it CLACK Look at my thighs CLACK I burn commitment like coal CLACK protein super hero drink CLACK eat my TITANIUM.
Only committed people clack happily around in the non-cycling universe, the intermittent percussive nature of their movement proof that they are not bluffing.
To be fair this group are it seems exceptionally fit and have little in common with the MAMIL of legend – the Family Guy sporting the equivalent of Elvis’s Hunk Of Burning Love Suit rendered in under sized spandex, webbing and lycra. The ones I see are a rarer creature.
But it is for that reason that I would flag a cautionary note.
I would suggest that perhaps, given their proximity to the zoo, their ‘matey’ calls, bright plumage and tendency to flocking, they might choose to be a little more discrete and less visible, less their rare species starts attracting the wrong kind of attention.
It would not surprise me to find, on my next visit to the Zoo with my children, a ‘weave’ of MAMILs circling a much smaller and far more contained enclosure; delighting the onlookers with their caws, calls and clack footed dance.