Fifty shades of grey: older men go the Mamil way

By Andy Pickering

What is happening to middle-aged males? More and more of them are getting with the programme, be it biking, boxing, running or cooking.

Middle-aged cyclist Jeremy Turner took up riding after his wife began entering Ironman competitions. He's now fitter than he's ever been. Photo / Doug Sherring
Middle-aged cyclist Jeremy Turner took up riding after his wife began entering Ironman competitions. He's now fitter than he's ever been. Photo / Doug Sherring

If you live near a main road, you can hear them. Early on weekend mornings, long before anyone dares fire up the lawnmower, there's the distinctive sound of whizzing wheels, crunching gear changes and the chatter of men on bikes. They meet in parks and travel in packs. They're weekend warriors: middle-aged men, clad in chafing-resistant Lycra, on $5000 bikes. After a solid ride and a good workout, they retire to their favourite cafe for coffee and breakfast.

A growing number of this breed of males has emerged from their caves determined to reinvent themselves through exercise and a newly discovered appreciation for fine food, craft beer and the joys of the perfectly brewed home espresso.

The term "Mamil" was coined two years ago by Mintel, a market research company in London.

Mintel defined Mamil as men in their 40s, who have a family, a decent income and use their purchasing power to buy top-of-the-line bicycles. They ride two or three times a week, in specialist gear: high-visibility fluoro spandex (Lycra is a brand of spandex).

Auckland restaurant and cafe owner Jeremy Turner gets on his bike five or six times a week, clocking up around 350km in the process. Turner says he was moved to take up cycling after his wife, Christina, started entering Ironman competitions. It is not an idle pursuit; nor is it cheap.

"I enjoy the freedom of it, and I enjoy training to race hard," says Turner, 43.

The owner of famed Cibo restaurant; also the Domain and Ayr Cafe, both in Parnell, Turner is gearing up to take part in the annual Club Nationals road race event in May. He'll be competing in the Masters' division, which kicks in at 35. He talks of his love of the rules of racing, and the etiquette that goes with the beauty of the sport. "It has its own unspoken code."

Turner is clearly happy to put money into this pursuit: his bike alone is worth more than $10,000. "But I don't have a boat and I don't have a seaside apartment," he says of his spending on bike business.

Since starting cycling, Turner has become something of a role model in his restaurant. "Lots of guys I work with at Cibo have taken up a sport. Three or four have also stopped smoking - and some have stopped smoking and drinking as well. I do encourage this."

If cycling doesn't appeal, there's always the boxing ring. Corporate fight nights are on the rise - including a growing number of smaller local community events that happen out of the media spotlight.

Forty-six-year-old Steve Noyer is a changed man after putting on a pair of gloves. Two years ago, the owner of Moselle Panelbeaters in Henderson, West Auckland, helped organise - and fought in - a corporate charity fight night that pitted panel shop owners against insurance assessors. The event raised $240,000 for the Breast Cancer Research Trust.

There's another bout in April.

"It's the 100-year anniversary of the Collision Repair Association, which all panelbeaters belong to. We're having a conference in Auckland and we're having another fight night, this time for Monty Betham's charity, Steps for Life."

Noyer began training with Betham three months out from his first fight. He enjoyed it so much, he hasn't stopped since. The intensive training in the lead-up to a fight is a baptism of fire, says Noyer.

"We'd train by boxing three times a week here at Boxing Alley and do running and gym work in addition ... You have to give up alcohol and cigarettes and eat cleanly. It's a life-changing experience. Among the panelbeaters, the average guy lost 12kg.

"The training is the hardest thing you'll ever do ... Once you get in the ring you just go for it. The training is all about preparing you for that moment. When that bell rings, it becomes all about survival. Hit or be hit."

The results are not lost on his wife, a registered nurse. "My wife has a blood pressure machine and she can't believe how fit I am."

Sit down and die - or get out there and live longer: exercise is good for you in more than just the physical sense.

Dr Tom Mulholland says the medical benefits of biking are great - 10 minutes biking improves blood flow to the heart.

But it's more than that, says Mulholland - an emergency department doctor, motivational speaker and honorary lecturer in psychological medicine.

"Men exercising and biking in groups is like women going shopping; it's socialisation, it's bonding."

Mulholland surfs. He also cycles to work at Auckland Hospital. Men don't want to retire at 60 and die at 70 anymore, he says.

Peter Restall, a 58-year-old sales consultant with Harcourts on Auckland's North Shore, started doing triathlons in the 80s. A few years ago he bought a carbon fibre bike and has ridden ever since.

"I ride for fitness. Cycling uses every part of the body, and it's easier on the knee joints than running."

Restall has noticed more and more fellow riders and he says the appeal of cycling is simple. "It's exhilarating in terms of the sheer fun of it. If you're on a nice smooth road, early in the morning before the traffic, it's the best feeling in the world. I can't recommend it enough."


Men do love their toys. Want to drop $5000 on a bike? Any number of Auckland bike shops will be happy to help, and that's not even top of the line.

Scott MacDonnell, one of the owners of AvantiPlus Albany bike shop, says he has heard of the Mamil phenomenon. Middle aged men buying bikes is definitely a growing market, he says but a lot of women buy new bikes as well.

"The men who come in are buying the entry level carbon fibre bikes for between $3000 and $5000; the top line bikes go for $14,000. Men tend to buy the bike first, and a helmet, then as they get more into riding they come back for the Lycra gear. It's not an image thing; the Lycra clothing is specifically designed for riding comfort in the same way a wetsuit is designed for diving."

If you can't afford a decent bike, what about a pair of $300 running shoes? Marathon running and triathlons are increasingly popular with middle-aged man.

Larry Bradley, 54, a vehicle fleet manager, is president of the Auckland YMCA Marathon club. "I was a runner at school, and I carried on with sports after that."

After a break, he returned to running, and now hits the street four or five times a week. He can run a marathon in three hours and 30 minutes, but, even at 54, believes he is capable of running a sub-three hour marathon.

"I believe age has no bearing on running. As long as you keep your strength up, there's no reason you can't keep improving your times. My stamina is good. I can run for a long time. I'd still like to be fitter still so I can run a wee bit faster." Larry says his GP is very happy with his health.

Adrienne Kohler has encountered this new breed of middle-aged men in one of their natural habitats, out on the boats on Auckland's picturesque harbour.

"I'm part of a crew that races every Wednesday night in summer out of Westhaven," says Kohler. "We're staunch sailors, us girls; we take our sailing seriously. But recently we've found ourselves laughing at the boat talk among the men. They'll be swapping recipes, talking about their new coffee machines and debating the merits of shortcrust versus flaky pastry. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, it's just like, 'what's happening to our menfolk'?"

Men love gadgets, and the market for these has exploded over the past decade. TV chefs such as Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver pioneered the home chef movement, which has since gained pace through top rating shows like MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules.

Kohler says, "I've cooked for years, and I've got some good standard recipes that I cook for the kids, but what I've noticed about men is not just any old thing will do. They have to go to the posh shops to get the buffalo mozzarella and quality organic meat, and the pepper has to be hand-grown by virgins from the Nepalese hills. That's the mentality. It's not just cooking, but raising cooking to a fine art to impress others. They want it to be competitive." Then they want to work all that food off.

It's important to note that if you start a new exercise programme and are overweight or over the age of 30, the best advice is to get a thorough check-up first and seek professional advice., Sports physician Mark Fulcher's view is anything that gets people off the couch is a positive thing.

"It's the 21st-century lifestyle. Too many of us sit in a chair all day. If you look at our fathers' and especially our grandfathers' lifestyles, they lived far more physically active lives.

"The human body is designed for movement. You don't even have to exercise to get some cardiovascular benefits. People think they have to go to the gym or for a run but, from a general wellbeing point of view, just not sitting as much, standing, going for a walk, using the stairs, those things help immensely."

- Herald on Sunday

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