Move over Yuppies and Dinks, here come the Mamils. Britain’s middle-aged men in lycra are a growing group of sought-after consumers who rely on spandex for comfort, carbon fiber for strength and as many $2,000 bikes as they can smuggle past their partners.
“Like a woman needs a new handbag, men like to buy the latest gear,” said Humphrey Cobbard, the chief executive officer of online cycling retailer Wiggle and curator of a growing personal collection of bikes worth more than 10,000 pounds ($16,040). “We’re really targeting the Mamils, it’s a huge and growing market.”
The success of local hero Bradley Wiggins in the Tour de France and Olympics this summer has enticed a nation of males better known for pinstriped propriety to splash out on 200-pound Rapha bib shorts -- think skintight overalls -- and 40-pound wool arm warmers. As more Britons start cycling than any other sport, the market for bike sales will grow by more than 20 percent to 800 million pounds by 2016, according to Mintel. The cycling market including accessories, footwear and clothing is valued at $2.2 billion, according to NPD Group Inc.
“It’s not just having a flashy bike, it’s having all the gear,” said Michael Oliver, a Mintel analyst who coined the term Mamil in 2010, following in the tradition of acronyms like young urban professionals and double-income no kids. “The premium market is where all the growth is.”
A Mamil is defined as a man between 35 and 45 years with a family, who opts for a high-end bike instead of a sports car as he hits middle age, according to Mintel. Cyclists who use their bike at least once a week are more likely to shop at upmarket grocer Waitrose Ltd. and have a household income in excess of 50,000 pounds a year, according to Mintel.
While bike commuters are also helping expand Britain’s legions of cyclists, weekend sports enthusiasts provide a bigger opportunity for retailers. A commuter may spend up to 1,000 pounds on a bike, helmet and high-visibility jacket and consider themselves suitably clothed to avoid getting hit by a double-decker bus.
“Road cyclists want the best kit to be the faster ride, some want to be the most comfortable and some just want to look cool,” said Nancy Bicknell, a spokeswoman for the Cycle Surgery chain of 28 bike shops. Cycle Surgery had record sales growth of 20 percent in the four weeks after the Olympics. “These are people who are buying a brilliant bike and moving into the outfit, the shoes and all that comes at a higher price.”
A road biker will lay out “significantly more,” including at least 1,000 pounds on the bike alone, 300 pounds on clothing, more than 100 pounds on shoes, and another 100 pounds on the helmet and an endless array of accessories, Bicknell said.
“I’ve spent a small fortune on lycra,” said James McCarthy, a 41-year-old graphic designer in London. He cycles 30 miles every morning before work, kitted out in synthetic fiber on his 1,000-pound Condor pista bike and 150-pound Mavic lycra shorts. “I don’t really spend money on clothes. I spend mine on lycra and florescent tops.”
Cyclists like McCarthy have made the U.K. the fastest-growing market for Campagnolo, the 79-year-old Italian manufacturer of premium cycling components. Mamils will fork out 1,399 pounds for its Super Record 11-speed groupsets and 2,000-pound Bora Ultra carbon wheel pairs, which helped U.K. revenue to surge 26 percent last year, compared to growth of 9.7 percent in the U.S. and Canada.
That means that in a country where NPD’s sport industry analyst Renaud Vaschalde says “football is king,” the cycling market at $2.2 billion, is still worth twice as much as the $1.1 billion soccer market.
Halfords Group Plc, the biggest U.K. retailer of bikes, posted sales growth at its cycling division of 15 percent in the second quarter, faster than any other unit, though the lucrative road bike market is the smallest part of its overall bike sales.
Morgan Stanley estimates the retailer generated about 20 million pounds from the performance bikes sector last year, with another 100 million pounds from adult and children’s bikes, and 85 million pounds from accessories. That’s from a total retail turnover of 752.3 million pounds.
Halfords growth came after a “summer where cycling became both the new national interest and the new rock & roll,” said Matt Piner, a consultant at researcher Conlumino. “The challenge for Halfords is now to build on these successes and address the ongoing issues of concern” around the sustainability of its cycling growth and its car-service unit.
There is, of course, reason to wonder if the Mamils will go into hibernation as Wiggins-mania settles down and the onset of the British winter separates the hard-core from the casual cyclist.
“Performance bikes are definitely a growth market this year, but you wonder how sustainable it is given there won’t be an Olympics every year,” Bryan Roberts at Kantar Retail in London said. And while road bikes have seen a lot of growth, “the bulk is kids, commuters, Bromptons, hybrid bikes.”