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Britain's 'MAMILs' trade in Ferraris for pricey bikes

LONDON -- Once a niche sport, cycling has become so popular in Britain that it has spawned a new breed of fans who would rather buy a bike than a Ferrari and who confront their expanding waistlines by taking to the open road.

These “middle-aged men in lycra” or MAMILs, as the tribe has unflatteringly been dubbed, will be out in force this weekend as the Tour de France begins in the northern English country of Yorkshire, many of them wearing day-glo outfits and tight shorts.

The typical MAMIL is over the age of 35 and paid enough to afford the expensive brands favored by their tribe, such as stylish cycle clothing maker Rapha, as well as pilgrimages to sites such as the mythical Mont Ventoux in the Provence region of southern France.

“Twenty-five years ago they might have gone out to buy a Porsche, or a supersport motorbike, now its a 3,000-pound (US$5,100) carbon fiber bike,” said Michael Oliver, a marketing specialist who claims to have come up with the term “MAMIL,” which has now entered the dictionary.

The hobby often starts as a way of saving money and getting fit by cycling to work, moving leisurely to weekend jaunts in the country.

Then, during the summer months, it means taking the family on stages of the Tour or even training in the Spanish Mediterranean island of Majorca, where they follow the path of British champions Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome.

MAMILs shave their legs to reduce wind resistance and are always working on their bikes, sharing an obsessive interest in their equipment, whether it is new handlebars, GPS device or brakes.

“Cyclists tend to be like geeks when it comes to equipment, they are very aware of the latest developments,” Oliver told AFP.

It is an expensive hobby but as such is self-selecting and for many is a good opportunity for networking.

“They talk of cycling as the new golf, where business people do business,” said Richard Moore, who has written numerous books on the Tour de France.

“The demographic of the sport here in Britain is different to France, Belgium, Italy, Spain or other traditional cycling countries where cycling is more a working-class sport.”

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