The arrogant MAMIL (Middle-Aged Men in Lycra)

Or my encounters with road cycling assholes who seem to have ‘roid (not road) rage?
(Or maybe… too much espresso and energy supplements)

What is it that elevates one human to feel more important, deserving, or above another — in any fashion — at any moment? Even in times of one’s greatest successes, there certainly is another being on the planet with better reasons for feeling entitled or superior to others. The question of inflated egos or the need to dominate others (often blamed on our animal nature) has persisted throughout our history. At a time when there is such polarized debate and heightened awareness over social structures, mores, acceptance of others, and the elimination of discrimination, it would seem that most would proceed with improved behavior. Not the MAMILs.

To set the stage for this baffling series of human nature observations, me:

  • Road cyclist (before it was fashionable)
  • Cycling enthusiast (genre non-discriminating)
  • Late 50s
  • Lycra-wearing
  • Helmeted
  • Lots of lights
  • Chubby
  • Slow
  • Too many electronics
  • Solo rider
  • 90k plus road miles
  • Male

One of my core beliefs is that defensive engagement is paramount in the operation of any vehicle anywhere — whether around others or alone.

As a former absolute asshole of a young motorized vehicle driver, I feel I have some insight into the aggressive operation of vehicles by an invincible youth. Add to this my personal experience with the errant and unaware actions by a multitude of other operators — observed along a million-plus miles of driving, riding, or pedaling of US roads, tracks, and trails. That said, I think my opinion can be valued; it (my opinion) and $8 might buy you a coffee. Let’s face it, all but a few of us are guilty of overly aggressive or completely oblivious behavior on the roads or trails.

Proving myself a reformed often middle finger jerk of the byways, I’ll relate this quote I used to make — “every trip you take is a race — as someone will get there first.”

As I aged, I went through the following ideologies of the road:

  • Every man for themselves
  • No substances
  • Protect myself
  • Protect others
  • Don’t get upset by the actions or inactions of the old, young, or oblivious — they are all someone’s friend or relative
  • This shit is generally dangerous, be vigilant at all times

Now for the story of the lycra-wearing, 10k bike-riding, middle-aged, faster than you’ll ever be, hypocritical, espresso-infused, draft-show expert trio.

It’s a beautiful summer morning at the shore, fair winds, low 70s as I head out for a slow but steady (almost no elevation change) 100 miles along the NJ coast. The entire scene is filled with endless relaxing eye candy — glorious old shore homes mixed in with modern, seemingly solid glass wonder homes, cars both classic and exotic, people of all sorts, surfers, skaters, swimmers, sunbathers, walkers, cyclists, runners — all of these colorful signs of mankind bordered by the endless kraft-paper-like sands disappearing into the aquamarine Atlantic and bathed in brilliant rays of sun interspersed only by an occasional marshmallow cloud. Alright, you get the picture — a damn nice day. All that’s left to do is smile, wave at the others, and be in your happy place. So I was, until…

From a diagonally intersecting, stop sign-controlled intersection to my right, enter the MAMILs. They’ve formed together as a slip-stream inducing, wheel-on-wheel, draft-craft road cycling trio. As I watched from my periphery, the trio in what might be seen as a graceful synchronized motion skirted to the left of an auto stopping at the marked intersection. Fluidly, without any loss of speed, they merged onto the road, right of heavy tourist traffic. Sadly for all, they ended up behind me.

In this environment of many care-free souls, anyone traversing this setting must, for their safety and that of others, be hyper-aware. Besides sharing cheer with others, one has to dedicate a portion of their mental energy to everyone’s safety.

A few things always go through my mind when sharing a shoulder with the fast guys. First, be predictable. Second, stay as far right as possible, all the while watching for darting pedestrians and swinging car doors. Third, hope they pass me quickly. The latter didn’t occur. Looking back, I see they have splintered apart. My worst fear realized, I could only see two; my whole body tenses with the reality that one of them has attached himself to my rear wheel, so close I can’t see him.

I ride with a heart monitor and a power meter (I said, I like my electronics). For a century day, I am very conscious of keeping a steady power output and heart rate — lest I not make it home. In other words, I’m a consistent, reliable, pylon moving in a straight line, to be easily overtaken by others.

Beautiful ride — interrupted. After a nervous (for me) half mile, the lead dog goes to make his move to pass. Just at that moment, a pedestrian enters the shoulder from between parked cars. Making eye contact with the then deer-like would-be crosser, I sit upright, throw out a hand to alert the pro behind me, and we both swerve to miss the startled pedestrian. Sadly though, the fast guy is still behind me. I can feel his pull at my wheel. The road finally opens up enough, and he commandingly slings past me. But where are the other two-thirds? Almost a mile later, they aggressively pass, join, and proceed to recreate the flying arrow. It should be noted that not one wave or good morning was offered or muttered by the fast MAMILs. They were on a mission. Oh well, so much for cordialities; at least I can relax now.

Beautiful ride — interrupted again. Not 1,000 feet later, the trio has slowed almost to a crawl in front of me. Assuming they are about to stop or turn, I pass them and issue an ignored wave and morning’ to them. Not a minute later, the subtle ticking of multiple chains is in my left ear — the trio passes again. The straightaway is soon to end; with no change in pace, I am at the wheels of the trio. Okay, I say to myself, just keep some distance. They will soon be gone. After a sharp right turn follows a 400-foot straight, then a stop sign at a 4-way intersection, at which most traffic will turn left. Three cars are waiting at the stop sign, two with left turn signals flashing. I signal my left and settle in behind the cars. Not the MAMIL trio. They go alongside the right of the waiting autos. As the lead car begins its left, without stopping, they proceed to the side of the lead car and make their left alongside it. The first two of the trio were through the intersection, and the second car (without a flashing turn signal, let’s assume straight intent) accelerates to cross the road. Just at what could have been an inevitable crash, the third MAMIL appears from out of his blind spot. Heavy on the brakes, the driver narrowly misses striking the third cyclist. A fast MAMIL attempting a left alongside and then in front of a 2,500-pound auto with no intentions of turning. I watched in horror but empathized that the overly aggressive cyclists might be acting in ways they feel best protect themselves by maintaining control over the situation.

Why is it that cyclists with clipless pedals are too lazy to stop and unclip their pedals at intersections? If they’re out for exercise, a full stop when needed expends more energy/builds strength, right? If you can safely slow and proceed, that might be an argument for self-preservation, but if maintaining the “clip” creates erratic motions and then endangers your safety and the safety of others — what’s the point?

Aggressive cycling for self-preservation is sometimes necessary. The old “Harley” rider adage that “loud straight pipes save lives” has some merit. Making oneself highly visible or leaving an intersection in front of auto traffic can aid in being seen and safe. But aggressive tactics such as impeding traffic or insisting on a right-of-way are often not worth the risk — always think in chess terms, accounting for most every conceivable variable.

The trio was almost a duo (I wondered how long it would have taken the two to realize they had a fallen comrade), but alas, number three proceeded around the front of the car now stopped mid-intersection. He shook his head at its driver in annoyance.

Just another day in “Jersey.”

For myself, still waiting to complete my turn, I was relieved my now nemesis trio would be long gone. Short-lived was my peace as once again the trio slowed to a crawl in front of me — “just stay back and wait,” I murmured to myself. Ahead was a gradual right turn with two stop streets intersecting the opposite side of the radius of the upcoming curve. Oh no, high alert, the MAMIL trio were up in their saddles, yelling and shaking fists.

So what’s the fuss, you ask? An opposing car was making a left, after a “milkman stop,” and didn’t wait for the trio to pass through first. Even though he had arrived at the intersection first, he was older and failed to properly judge the speed of the trio (if he even saw them). They were approaching the intersection riding a narrow shoulder alongside a left-turning car in their travel lane. From the offending driver’s vantage point, they could have been completely obscured.

Now the trio is almost at a halt, yelling at the auto driver, fingers flying in “Italian” (no offense meant). I was going to stay back, but now they were almost completely stopped. As I proceeded around the last rider, he yelled to me, “Did you see that? That guy ran the stop sign!” Expecting that I would join in outrage, I was unable to bite my tongue. I responded to him in an admonishing tone, “You guys have just run two stops, one of those almost causing you to be struck by a car.” His cohorts looked back at me in dismay, how dare I (a fellow MAMIL) not join in their outrage. Once I started talking, I couldn’t resist a few more words, “Cycling is supposed to be enjoyable, relax, have fun, it’s a beautiful day.” Then with all the sarcasm I could muster for my parting comment… “But wait, I don’t understand, why aren’t you guys in Europe training for one of the Grand Tours?”

Sadly, the interaction wouldn’t end, as I realized my great miscalculation, the trio was once again behind me. I rode ahead using as much caution as possible, waiting for the inevitable passing of the uber-fast MAMILs. We approached a signaled intersection and, stunningly, there was no passing to my right. We all proceeded behind left-turning cars in an orderly fashion. Reform maybe? No, just the timing of the light wasn’t conducive to illegal passing maneuvers. Forging forward, I waited for the trio to overtake me. Looking back, there were now only two biting at my wheel; they’d lost a cylinder.

This time, in a safer fashion, the now duo passed, only to slow again in front of me. I just don’t understand, is this their interval training executed on crowded roads? Or is it just a lack of care for others? Wait, maybe I’m just the broken mechanical rabbit at the greyhound race? Regardless, the road ahead merged into a state highway followed by a drawbridge. I needed to be aware. The duo in front puffed out their feathers and made themselves large while signaling their intentions to traffic (so they do respect large fast-moving bodies of greater mass). I happily hung behind in the space they clearly defined.

End of the MAMIL duo for the day, right? No, not for me yet. Climbing the long but shallow ascent of the drawbridge, the duo riding side by side occupied the highway’s entire debris-filled shoulder. Alongside 50 mph traffic, they slowed to an almost pedestrian pace, trapping me behind them. WHY, WHY, WHY? Strava’s flyby feature would provide the answer that evening — the duo was done for the day and coasting home. But who gives a shit about anyone else, not them. I waited for traffic to clear and passed them for the last time in the travel lane of the highway. So much for “Share the Road,” I think I may have just witnessed people having angry relaxation.

The rest of my ride was full of interactions with others who quickly restored my faith in the genuine kindness or at least the courtesy of others.

What drives middle-aged men to be so aggressive? Aren’t we all supposed to be testosterone deficient?

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share the Post:

Some Random Reading

Oval Chainrings

This isn’t really cheating, is it? My original skip-tooth chainrings and sprockets were pretty knackered. Having been able to acquire

Read More