A new study, published in the journal Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, examines the reasons for many middle-aged men’s enthusiasm for cycling. The researchers believe that far from being tied to some kind of mid-life crisis there are in fact complex motivations for riding a bike recreationally, tied to the desire for good mental as well as physical health.
The University of East London study sought to understand the ‘green exercise’ (GE) experience of a group of male recreational road cyclists aged between their mid-30s and early 50s who routinely rode in the countryside.
GE refers to physical activity conducted in the natural environment. According to the study: “A substantial body of literature has now been accumulated that establishes that carrying out exercise in this way has significantly greater psychological wellbeing benefits than the non-GE equivalent.”
The researchers conducted in-depth interviews with men who considered themselves to be serious recreational cyclists with more than two years’ experience of cycling for a minimum of an hour a week in the countryside.
As for how ‘in-depth’ these interviews were, they only actually spoke to 11 blokes, so we’re imagining they were pretty comprehensive.
The researchers concluded that the 11 men’s cycling experiences could be summarised in three main ways, which they labelled: mastery and uncomplicated joys; my place to escape and rejuvenate; and alone but connected.
‘Mastery and uncomplicated joys’ related to the challenges of steep hills and long distances. Writing at The Conversation, study authors James Beale and Oliver Glackin say that there is a double reward in both a sense of achievement and also a growing confidence to explore nature further.
They also refer to, “the frisson of riding a bike at speed on country lanes, especially down steep hills where the sense of risk was amplified. Doing so was invigorating and seemed to gratify an inherent human need for excitement.”
‘My place to escape and rejuvenate’ described how changing scenery and a natural environment felt restorative. “Green-cycling represented an opportunity to get away from the concerns and worries of their lives back at home,” they write, likening the effects to mindfulness.
‘Alone but connected’ referenced cycling in groups, where there was no pressure to converse but also to online social networks where it is possible to interact with other cyclists.
Beale and Glackin also said that although participants tracked their performance via these networks, the sense of competition was typically secondary to other concerns, such as exploring other people’s routes or sharing photos.
They conclude: “Our findings contradict the popular view of a Mamil as someone going through a mid-life crisis, with riding substituting the roar of a sports car or other interests associated with men of a certain age feeling life is passing them by.
“The research also contrasts with the idea that cycling is a way for men to compete in a new activity that the ageing process will not take away so quickly as the sports they grew up playing.”