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By: Zdenko Kahlina
Cyclists shave their legs. Did you even know this?
I think this is an interesting question. Why cyclists shave their legs? I’ve had many people tell me I should be shaving my legs, but no one has actually given me a solid reason to do so, and everyone gives me a different reason. Why are they doing it? Aerodynamic benefits? For massage? Road rash? Tradition?
Bycle racers ride in a pack, forming a group with a very distinct style and unmistakable presence. Fit, muscular, tan, marbled legs, and skin-tight lycra crying out in color combinations that make you want to run for cover. Neon-yellow, powder blue, florescent-pink, purple-fade-to-red, and everything in between; all at once. The rule is, “No rules.” Racers wear gray helmets, pink and green sunglasses, fire-engine-red jerseys sprayed with canary-yellow logos, black shorts that shriek the sponsor’s name in brilliant white lettering, leopard-striped socks, and shoes that casually combine white, blue, red, and lime-green. They sit on top of bicycles colored the same orange that invariably assaults us during road construction season. Each team has a mind of its own-calling it a mind is a bit of a stretch, or maybe dramatic license. It’s more like unfocused chaos. When teams combine in a racing pack, the result is a gruesome, high-tech, multicolored, rolling nightmare.
This horde of hard core “riding is better than sex” bicycle racers, proudly flaunt their psychedelic independence. Their deceitful display of individuality is only a facade. A common bond sneaks in, slithers about, and slyly rears its scaly head. Each and every rider has hairless legs! I’ve often wondered, “Why don’t bike racers have hair on their legs? Is it Mother Nature?” Not hardly, try “Mother BIC” – these guys shave their legs.
Being a 62 year old cycling veteran with (luckily) still some hair on my head and more body hair than a lowland gorilla – I took the plunge and shaved recently (much to the disbelief of my wife) basically because my legs looked bloody awful in lycra shorts – not to mention the vast pools of sweat trapped in the super-abundant undergrowth! I shall stop come the autumn as I tend to wear long tights in the cold… and frankly it’s a right pain to do as it re-grows so fast… However – I have a sneaking suspicion my better half actually likes to look now… and my legs have a nice even tan… and now children & animals don’t look so terrified as I spin down the road… J
So, no problem, I’ll admit it: shaved legs look and feel awesome. Especially during a very wet ride, when everything is smooth and slippery. Shaving the night before a big ride is part of the ritual, part of preparing the mind and body for the challenge to come. Food, bottles, kit prepared and ready for a groggy start to the day, having smooth legs makes me feel at ease; I am ready. With shaved legs I actually felt stronger. This isn’t everyday life, this is something more, something exciting, something HARD; this is cycling. It’s ok to embrace the weirdness of this sport in its full glory, wear obnoxious kit, and shave your legs. No pressure though.
I used to shave my legs regularly when I raced, some 35 years ago. At first probably because my brother, also a cyclist did it. Then I learnt everybody did it. It helped me fit in and somehow made me feel like I was taking it more seriously. I’d stop in the winter (extra insulation) and shaving my legs for the first race in the spring felt like part of the process of starting a season all over again. On the unfortunate occasions when I did crash having shaved legs certainly made life easier dealing with dressings etc. I had the misfortune to get some serious grazes on my arms & legs a few years ago, after I’d stopped racing & shaved around the wounds afterwards as I had to change the dressings a lot & again this just made it easier.
If someone asks me these days, “Why do you shave your legs?” I answer simply, “It’s traditional.” That is the only answer I need. No one questions it or doubts my word. After all, if something is traditional, who am I to break with tradition? Professional racing cyclists have been shaving their legs for at least 100 years, that’s probably longer than ladies have been shaving their legs. So the practice definitely qualifies as a tradition.
I sometimes shave the fuzz off now with a beard trimmer in the summer as I need to use sunscreen on sunny days and really, long hairs pasted to my white legs with a coating of sunblock is not a good look! Concur on the issue of coming home with 2 legs full of flies & clogging up the shower in the summer too.
Why do cyclists shave their legs?
So, what in the world could possibly possess a grown man to shave his legs? Well, I think I can shed a little first hand light on this question. There are several reasons why cyclists shave their legs, here are some of the most common:
Aerodynamic benefit: In an age of wind tunnel testing, skinsuits and aerodynamic rims every little helps when it comes to dialling out air resistance, studies have shown that slippery freshly shaven legs are faster than the natural hairy alternative.
It makes massage more comfortable: When taking advantage of the muscular relief a masseuse has to offer it pays to have less hair – less hair means less oil and potentially less pain.
It’s easier to treat road rash: Removing plasters and bandages from crash damaged legs is never going to be a pleasant experience, but one thing that can significantly improve this is having less hairs to pull out along the way.
Tradition / Because everyone else does: For over a century cyclists have been shaving their legs and as a result shaving your legs is seen by many as a sign of dedication and commitment to the sport, it’s a way of ensuring a rider is perceived as a “serious cyclist”. It’s the fashion, the tradition. How many hairy legs do you see poking out of lycra nowadays?
Some of the other reasons as to why cyclists shave their legs?
- Long hair can stick through lycra (especially lycra leg warmers from my experience). Not a good look!
- Another big reason is for not to collect thousands of mosquitoes or any other small flying bugs on the legs.
So… any valid reason why one SHOULD NOT shave its legs? Yes… all of the above, because unless you are a pro rider shaving legs it’s just a bunch of BS that doesn’t make any difference. Come on guys, admit it, you do it because it looks cool and it is a tradition in cycling! And that’s a perfectly good reason! Own it! Shave away! The only reason for 99.9% of cyclists is wanting to look like the pros and vanity. Admit it!
Finally, if you do it, no need to be defensive about it and if you don’t do it pay no attention to any “looks” from the self appointed club-run experts. In the end just enjoy riding your bike!
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