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cycling enthusiasts

Meet the MAMILS

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PEDAL POWER: Biking is a good way to fraternise with like-minded souls

In July last year, Raman Deep Juneja, 41, took a flight to Leh with his bicycle in the cargo hold. After reaching Leh, he set off on a 160-km bicycle ride to Pangong Lake, covering the distance in three days on his Kona mountain bike. The route to Pangong went through Changla Pass, one of the highest motorable roads in the world. A year before his Pangong trip, the Delhi-based exporter rode from Manali to Leh, covering a distance of 450 km in nine days. Then, in January 2011, he rode through the deserts of Rajasthan passing Barmer, Munnabao and Jaisalmer.

Parvinder Singh, head of IT services and operations at Max New York Life in Delhi, has biked from Delhi to Chandigarh and Chennai to Pondicherry. The 41-year-old is now planning a bike trip to Amritsar. "I'm looking for a time when the weather is good, " he says. When he is in Delhi, Singh also goes offroading on his Cannondale mountain bike every weekend, riding to areas on the city's outskirts like Mangar and Bhati mines.

Meet the Indian Mamils - the Middle-Aged Men in Lycra. Aged between 35 and 45, these are cycling enthusiasts who ride at least once a week, kitted out in cycling Ts, shorts, gloves and helmets, with cyclocomputers (devices which measure a range of things from speed and altitude to heart rate) and GPS devices. Well-to-do, they are addicted to cycling and prefer spending money on their bicycles than on a new car or motorbike.

The term Mamils originated in Britain when the UK-based market research firm Mintel observed the existence of a group of well-off cyclists in a 2010 report on the bicycle industry. As Michael Oliver, the author of the report, explained, "Thirty or 40 years ago, people would ride a bike for economic reasons, but our research suggests that nowadays a bicycle is more a lifestyle addition, a way of demonstrating how affluent you are. "

The reasons Mamils prefer cycling to other activities range from fitness and thrill to environmental concerns. "I find myself stiffening up if I don't ride for long, " says Anand Sinha, a 42-year-old senior programme officer with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. "After a point of time, cycling becomes a physical need. " So why not hit the gym instead? Sinha believes there is a charm to cycling that is hard to resist. "You miss the feeling of speed and the wind in your hair, " he smiles.

Biking also gives one a chance to fraternise with like-minded people. "As an activity, cycling attracts a certain kind of people who are outdoor-oriented, care for fitness, the environment, and like discovering new places. It is easy for one cyclist to relate to other cyclists, " Sinha says.

The owner of a Trek mountain bike and a Cube road bike, Sinha is one of the founders of Pedal Yatri, a Gurgaon-based biking group set up in 2009. Their members head out every morning, planning rides using Google Earth and GPS, covering 35-40 km on weekdays and 50-110 km (depending on the terrain) on weekends. It isn't unusual to see nilgais, jackals, hare and camels on these trips - another reason, a member points out, why they love these trips.

But Mamils can be Mawils too. Mumbai based Firoza S, 40, runs an advertising and event management firm called Aria Mediuz. Passionate about cycling in school and college, she gave up riding for a few years after marriage but returned to it three years ago. Now, she is a regular on the Mumbai biking circuit and organises rides to places like the Sewri mudflats to spot flamingos and participates in the Mumbai Critical Mass. "I also take my bike when I have to travel short distances, " she says.

Bindu Krishnan, 43, has a similar story. A senior director at an American multinational company, Krishnan was a keen cyclist as a youngster and returned to it after 20 years in 2009. She is now an active member of Pedal Yatri, setting out on rides almost everyday with the group. "Riding a bike also sends out an environmental message, " Krishnan says.

But like every addiction, cycling has its cons. "I know of people who spend hours trawling the internet drooling over cycling accessories to soup up their bikes. We call this bike porn, " says Sinha, before adding, "They buy stuff worth Rs 4, 000-6, 000 every week. "

Then there is the danger of a conflict between biking and family life. "Just as there are golf widows, there are cycling widows too. It isn't unusual to hear people say they have to return home by a fixed time because their families are waiting, " Sinha quips.

CUSTOM MADE

It wasn't so difficult to choose a bike in the old days when you walked into a showroom and picked the model that caught your fancy. But the availability of high-end imported bikes like Trek, Cannondale, Bianchi and Schwinn in India - and the growth of retail outlets - like Track and Trail and Firefox - has changed the way people approach bike buying.

Experts recommend you choose a bike depending on the purpose (mountain biking, city biking or road biking) and your height. When you buy a high-end bike, retailers customise it according to your specs. The distance between the handlebar and seat is adjusted, for example, to ensure the spine is straight when you are on the bike. The height of the seat is modified so that your knees are slightly bent when your foot is on the pedal at its lowermost position. Your inseam length - the distance between the groin and bottom of your leg - is also taken into account.

"The objectives are to ensure a comfortable ride, maximise performance and ensure riding does not damage the body, " explains Ajit Gandhi, deputy GM, Firefox India.

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