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Middle-aged men in Lycra are riding more and riding harder

A growing number of consumers are spending more and more on high- tech bikes and accessories, writes Sarah Shannon

Move over Yuppies and Dinkys, here come the Mamils. Middle-aged men in Lycra are a growing group of sought-after consumers who rely on spandex for comfort, carbon fibre for strength and as many €2,000 bikes as they can smuggle past their partners.

Treasury Holdings's Johnny Ronan and Beacon developer Paddy Shovlin are two high- profile Irish businessmen with an interest in wheels. Shovlin recently took part in a charity bike ride from Paris to the Med.

"Like a woman needs a new handbag, men like to buy the latest gear," said Humphrey Cobbard, CEO of online cycling retailer Wiggle and curator of a growing personal collection of bikes worth more than €13,000. "We're really targeting the Mamils, it's a huge and growing market."

In Britain, the success of 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 €300 Rapha bib shorts -- think skintight overalls -- and €50 wool arm warmers. As more people start cycling than any other sport, the market for bike sales in Ireland and the UK will grow by more than 20 per cent to €1bn by 2016. The cycling market, including accessories, footwear and clothing, is valued at €2.2bn, 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 Yet. "The premium market is where all the growth is."

A Mamil is defined as a man between 35 and 45 with a family, who opts for a high-end bike instead of a sports car as he hits middle age. Cyclists in the UK who use their bike at least once a week are more likely to shop at posh supermarkets and have a household income in excess of €65,000 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 €1,200 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 per cent 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 €1,200 on the bike alone, €400 on clothing, more than €130 on shoes, and another €120 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. He cycles 30 miles every morning before work, kitted out in synthetic fibre on his 41,200 Condor pista bike and €200 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 UK the fastest- growing market for Campagnolo, the 79-year-old Italian manufacturer of cycling components. Mamils will fork out €1,700 for Super Record 11-speed groupsets and €2,400 Bora Ultra carbon wheel pairs, which helped UK revenue to surge 26 per cent last year, compared to growth of 9.7 per cent in the US and Canada.

That means that in a country where NPD's sport industry analyst Renaud Vaschalde says "football is king" the cycling market (at €2bn) is still worth twice as much as the €1bn soccer market.

Halfords Group, which is the biggest Irish and UK bike retailer, posted sales growth at its cycling division of 15 per cent in the second quarter, faster than any other unit, though the lucrative road bike market is the smallest part of its overall bike sales. Halfords has 24 stores in Ireland from Cork to Letterkenny.

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Morgan Stanley estimates the retailer generated about £20m from performance bikes last year, with another £100m from adult and children's bikes, and £85m from accessories. That's from a total retail turnover of £752.3m.

Halfords's growth came after a "summer where cycling became both the new national interest and the new rock 'n' roll", said Matt Piner, a consultant at researcher Conlumino. "The challenge for Halfords is 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 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".


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