When I was young I cycled everywhere. Then, as I grew up and learnt how to drive, those bike rides became fewer and fewer. I had a job which meant I travelled a lot. I lived in hotels, I ate out a lot and drank too much.
Then, in 2011, I hit the wall with exhaustion. Everything came crumbling down and it was as though I was standing on the edge of a cliff. I knew that whatever happened next I couldn’t return to my old life. As part of my recovery, I had to get healthier and that meant cutting down on alcohol and doing more exercise. That’s when I started to cycle.
At first all I could manage was a half-mile loop. Gradually the distances became longer, the times became quicker but the only thing that didn’t change was my kit.
I was wearing old shorts, a t-shirt and, when it rained, a big old jacket. But as I got a little fitter I decided to invest in the right sort of kit. No one thinks it odd that amateur golfers dress a certain way or those who go running won’t leave the house without their headphones and belt full of energy gels, but for some reason cyclists are treated differently.
I am 6ft 3ins tall and when I really began to take cycling seriously I was quite a lot bigger than I am now. When I tried to get into normal cycling gear I did look faintly ridiculous. It wasn’t designed for someone like me.
That’s where our company Fat Lad At the Back was born. It’s a celebration of those who ride for pleasure rather than the desire to set any records and I am proud not only to be a middle aged man in Lycra, but also that I am helping others to become MAMILs.
We do have a bad press. Sir Chris Hoy was one of the latest to put the boot in when he said that Lycra “generally looked awful” on anyone who weighs above eight stone. The six-time Olympic champion did some nifty back-pedalling when his comments caused something of a storm on Twitter and he later said anyone on a bike has his respect. And so they should.
Since we started our company, we have countless testimonies and case studies from those whose lives have been changed by cycling. They may never achieve the body of an Olympian, but going out there every weekend in their gear marks them feel good and it is something to be encouraged.
Take Emma. Eleven years ago, she was struggling with her mental health and was self-medicating with alcohol. She only got on a bike as a cheap way of getting to her new job, but the sense of achievement when she made it to the top of the big hill near her home was incredible. She was hooked. “I just kept going, cycling faster and getting fitter, but the biggest change was me,” she told us. “I was happy more than I was depressed. I don’t think I even noticed it at the time myself, but everything went right for a change and the cloud had lifted. I was smiling.”
There are a thousand other Emmas out there and one of the great things about cycling is that it is open to everyone. For as long as I can remember, I have been known as the Fat Lad at the Back, I always took it as a term of endearment and now we have a whole community of Fat Lads and Lasses who cycle because they enjoy it and who wear Lycra because it’s comfortable and practical. Cycling clubs are booming. Most involve a competitive element, but since I got back into cycling my main aim has been to promote the element of fun.
That’s why we started appointing Flambassadors who lead social rides in their local areas. These are rides where people will stop at the top of the hill, cycle at the pace of the slowest and end the ride at a cafe or a pub because cycling is about more than getting fit.
It really is about the journey rather than the destination and how quickly you got there. Cycling got me my mojo back and I am a much better person for being a MAMIL than I ever was before.