There appears to be a new breed of outdoor types stalking the highways and byways of Strathspey and Badenoch. I believe they go under the curious acronym of MAMILs - Middle-Aged Mountaineers In Lycra and they hammer round the streets on lightweight road bikes risking coronary seizures by trying to emulate the likes of Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins.
No-one is no more aware than I am of the systematic breakdown of joints as age takes its hold. Knees that once would have supported the QE2 now creak and groan as you descend a flight of steps, never mind a mountainside, and hips that once whirled hula-hoops are now stiff and sore. But something miraculous happens when you jump on a lightweight road bike. It’s like losing twenty years. Without the pounding that walking or running brings you can pedal your way to fitness without having to swallow a handful of ibobrufin at the end of the workout. And that’s apparently good news for a whole peleton of middle-aged mountaineers who are suffering from years of misusing their body on Scotland’s mountains and crags.
This summer I infiltrated their ranks by joining the local gang, the Cairngorm Cycling Club, and discovered half the membership consists of current, or past, mountaineering instructors. No longer happy, (or capable) of climbing at the hardest levels they try and burn each other off on the roads around Aviemore, or, as I discovered, escape on occasional boys-only trips to the Alps where they cycle the likes of the Col du Tourmalet or Mont Ventoux then whoop into an eye-watering descent before collapsing into the nearest bar.
In order to try and compete with them I thought I would buy an all carbon frame road bike but local bike retailer, keen road cyclist and mountain rescue man Mike Devlin, cautioned me.
“You don’t want to get mixed up with that lot,” he suggested. “They’re all into their toys,” he added. I had already discovered that road cycling is a very easy way to lose money. You think all you need is a new bike but then you’ve got to have the clip-on pedals and the clip-on shoes, the shirts that are covered with French or Italian adverts and the thigh-hugging lycra shorts. Add to that the energy drinks, bars and gels, the ultra lightweight wheels and tyres and those little computers that tell you how far you’ve ridden and how many calories you’ve burned up. And that last point is important, because I’ve also discovered that the MAMILs have found that road biking is a great way to lose weight, fast! And without going on the latest diet fad.
I must admit this was the attraction for me. I told Mike Devlin I wanted a carbon framed bike. “Why”, he asked?
“Because it’s lighter than an aluminium frame,” I answered to which he replied very diplomatically, “With all due respect, Cameron, if you simply lost a few pounds from round your waist you could save yourself five hundred quid!”
He was right, so I bought a bike with carbon forks and an aluminium frame instead, and it’s serving me very well. I enjoy riding it, it’s responsive enough for me and most importantly, I’ve lost a stone in weight. I’m even thinking of riding from Land’s End to John O’ Groats next year, but I might need an all carbon touring bike for that, with special panniers and handlebars and a more comfortable saddle and a thingy at the front that will take my iPhone and let me answer emails as I ride.
I got that last idea from Sir Alan Sugar. He’s apparently a very enthusiastic MAMIL who cycles 60 miles three or four times a week. He answers emails whenever he stops at a set of traffic lights. We don’t have as many sets of traffic lights here in the Strath as he does in London so I’ll probably never get through the same amount of work. That’s maybe why he’s a multi-millionaire and I’m not. But we’re both enjoying our bikes….