Forget the fairway. Say ta-ta to the ocean. Baby boomers entering retirement and Gen Xers discovering middle age are increasingly abandoning golf meccas and beach resorts for their corporate outings and buddy trips.
They’re hitting the road instead, taking to the highways and byways.
And they’re doing it on bicycles.
“I see people looking for more strenuous exercise, getting out in nature and disconnecting (from devices),” says Kelly Pasco, co-owner of The MOB Shop, which rents and sells bicycles in the resort town of Ojai, Calif., about 90 minutes northwest of Los Angeles. The company also leads tours for groups of friends, families and company employees.
“I think our generation is more athletic and wants to stay younger and more fit,” says Pasco, who is 50. “My riding friend is 67 and we do 70-mile rides.”
The trend has not been lost on the travel business. Industry experts have coined a catchphrase for this coveted, well-heeled demographic:
They call them “MAMILs” – Middle Aged Men In Lycra.
“They bring the Lycra and we rent them the carbon fiber bikes,” Pasco says. While the MOB Shop rents bicycles in all price ranges, serious cyclists are willing to fork over $70 or $80 per day for a $3,000 bike.
Visitors to picturesque Ojai will see dozens of MAMILs in their natural habitat — think Paul Rudd’s character in “This is 40.”
Pasco says male – and female – snowbirds from the East Coast and Canada visit the lush valley for its warm climate; the bicycle trails along the old Ventura and Ojai Valley Railroad; and the terrain that varies from challenging mountain climbs to Pacific Coast Highway cruises. Plus there’s the proximity to Santa Barbara, as well as the wine country made famous in the movie “Sideways.”
The historic Ojai Valley Inn and Spa has contracted The MOB Shop to rent bicycles to guests through an onsite kiosk. Many of the weekenders opt for the trendy Linus Bike, but other models are available.
“We’ve seen a substantial increase and interest in bicycle tourism,” says Heather Dillon, the Inn’s PR director. She says more companies are arranging retreats and custom trips in addition to MAMILs and couples looking for recreational trips.
“People are more active these days … I’m not surprised that demographic is taking up cycling. It’s great for your health and this is a great destination for it.”
Ben Adams, 42, chuckles at the term “MAMIL.” The Santa Monica resident says cycling can be as expensive as golf or other hobbies, but it’s a lifestyle choice.
“I feel way better after that long aerobic exercise,” Adams says. “I can’t compare it to anything else. I’m in way better spirits after I ride, and feel like it will keep me alive longer than golfing will.”
The Gluskin Townley Group, a cycling research firm, says the number of cycling enthusiasts grew by 10 percent to 3.8 million from 2012 to 2013. The number of Americans cycling at least six times per year slipped slightly from 2003, but it’s holding at around 35 million, according to the National Sporting Goods Association.
Dillon recently attended a regional tourism conference that focused on tapping into the growing number of affluent cyclists, something the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa is preparing for. “We’re working with The MOB Shop to create packages, and they’ll provide tour guides,” she said.
Following a Different Path?
While some observers say cycling is taking golfers off the course, Dillon says the Inn’s guests often enjoy both activities, thanks to the property’s location near Ojai’s extensive bike trails and its golf course, which was designed by the legendary George C. Thomas. It’s rated among the best resort layouts in North America.
“On our property, golf is still number one,” Dillon says. “But cycling is catching up. It’s the ‘new golf,’ it’s reaching a new demographic.”
And while the MAMILs get the headlines, some of the guys bring along their wives or girlfriends.
Hans and Kathy Krail, both 53, own a tandem bike in San Diego, but they often rent when they go on riding vacations. “Biking has exploded in popularity, but I’m not wearing Lycra,” Hans says, laughing. “A lot of times the husband and wife are different skill levels, but the tour operators accommodate that.”
Adds Kathy, “I’m not going to ride 70 miles, so I can bike fewer miles or hang out at the hotel.”
And she’s the one who selects the destinations and routes. “We pick ones with wine tastings,” she says with a smile, noting they rode downhill for 16 miles from Ojai to Ventura, and then caught a ride from The MOB Shop van driver to a vineyard for a tasting. The driver waited and drove them back to the shop.
This story is becoming more familiar, according to Mark Thomsen of Trek Travel in Madison, Wis. “Most of our guests bring their spouse,” he says. “The couple often has different ability levels, so we really cater to that. We offer a lot of options on our trips for ride lengths and can even accommodate non-riders.”
So how much will a cycling trip set you back these days? It obviously varies by destination, but Thomsen says, “Our average North American trip is about $2,500, while our average European trip is $3,500, not including airfare.”
Thomsen says Trek Travel customers who rent or own high-end carbon fiber bikes likely own nice golf clubs, but he asserts cycling is increasingly appealing to MAPILs – Middle Aged People in Lycra – because “you get that sort of ‘endurance high’ after a ride, whereas in golf that’s not the case.
“Plus you are traveling through some amazing regions, taking in sites, and cultural activities … You truly get to be engrossed in a place, not shut off behind glass like on a bus tour, to take in the five senses of what’s happening around you.”