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I’m Not A Serious Cyclist Since I Don’t Shave My Legs

Posted by sdrury on December 26, 2009

I am an amateur cyclist. Very amateur. I am mostly a weekend cyclist. Weather permitting I can get out a couple of times a week. My bike is about eight years old but it’s sturdy. I keep the seat, the tires and the brakes in good working condition. My bike is not quite a road bike, but it’s not a mountain bike either. In other words it’s just right. Now that I’ve moved to Greenville I can ride year round and the more I ride the more I’m becoming aware of the habits and practices of other, more accomplished bikers. There’s one phenomena in particular that has caught my attention. Well, calling it a phenomena is inaccurate, since that implies it’s a passing trend and it most certainly is not. It’s the practice of male cyclists shaving their legs.  Surely, I thought, there must be an aerodynamic benefit but that must only be felt by elite riders. Then I saw plenty of guys who probably aren’t elite cyclists, but they shaved their legs too. I didn’t dare ask another cyclist why he shaved his legs for it might reveal an ignorance on my part.oo. So, like any person with a computer, I Googled it.

My source here is I don’t know who Coach Levi is or what his qualifications are on such matters but he seems to be pretty knowledgeable about all things cycling. Here’s what he has to say about the leg shaving business:

Shaving Your Legs for All The Wrong Reasons

First, we’ll start with a few reasons people give for shaving their legs that are actually myths or just dumb reasons.

To ride faster (due to better aerodynamics.)

The first thing most people think of with smooth legs is better aerodynamics. Surely a smooth leg slices through the wind much, much faster than a leg covered in thin little hairs!

But guess what – this lack of leg hair does not make you more aerodynamic. While there are a variety of wind tunnel tests for time trial positioning, along with big studies about air turbulence for golf ball dimple designs, drag from leg hair has not been studied. Why? Because it is way too minimal to even matter.

If you are a triathlete or swimmer, though, you’re dealing with water, and that’s a different story. (One which doesn’t even matter these days, thanks to super fast suits that even smooth skin can’t compare to.)

For sheer joy and excitement.

You might be thinking “hey, that might be neat to shave my legs once.” Trust me, it’s not. Ask any cyclist (or any female, for that matter) that shaves their legs how fun and exciting it is, and you’ll get blank stares and confused looks.

The first time is alright, and smooth legs do make for a good conversation piece, but then you have to shave again at least twice a week. It’s a hassle, and if you don’t do it, well, the stubble is not fun. So then you are forced to keep shaving or deal with stubble for a couple weeks.

Good Reasons to Shave Your Legs

Now here are the real reasons to shave your legs that actually justify the time, expense, and possible ridicule you’ll experience once you begin shaving your legs.

Reason 1 – To look good.

This is what it’s all about right here. You can have a fancy kit, sleek helmet, and top-of-the-line bike, but if you pair hairy legs with tight spandex, the cycling fashion police will be forced to haul you away.

Best of all, hairless legs emphasize your muscles. With hair, your legs will still be big, but once they’re shaved, every little ripple in your muscles stands out for the world to see. 

Reason 2 – To feel like a pro.

All the pros shave their legs. Not once have I seen a professional racer (on the road, at least) that foregos shaving, and even the majority of recreational roadies and amateur racers shave their legs. If you shave yours, too, it makes you feel like part of the group.

You’ll feel faster, too, just like the pros. Heck, you might even get motivated enough that your mind is driven to ride faster. This is a placebo effect, not aerodynamics, but it could very well result in faster times!

And not only do you feel like a pro, you just feel good. That’s probably because hairless legs keep you cooler (think of hairy legs like wearing a cotton t-shirt.) Plus, you actually “feel” the air moving around your legs, which is very neat.

Reason 3 – To treat road rash easily.

The less you race or do group rides, the less you’ll have to worry about road rash, but it’s always a concern. But if you do a lot of group rides and races, there’s a good chance you’ll experience road rash first-hand.

The previous two reasons (looking good and feeling good) will help you on each ride, but the (hopefully) rare cases when you get road rash will be the most memorable “I’m so glad I shaved my legs!” moments. That’s because cleaning your raw skin is much easier if you don’t have hair in the way. Not to mention, the hair will likely trap more dust, dirt, bugs, and gravel in your wounds.

If you end up in the hospital to get your hairy road rash cleaned out, chances are a tired, unsympathetic nurse will bust out the wire brush to scrub your wounds. Ouch! So in this case, leg shaving is kind of like wearing a helmet – you hope you don’t need it, but it’s there just in case.

Smooth legs also come in handy if you’re a mountain biker and get scratched up or cut; then you can put a band-aid on your wounds without it pulling out your hair (which can sometimes be more painful than the cut itself!)

Reason 4 – For better massages.

Again, this probably doesn’t matter on a day-to-day basis (unless you’re a pro,) but getting a massage feels so much better if your legs are smooth. Part of the reason is that the hair gets sticky and creates friction, which makes it harder for the masseuse, which translates into a sub-par experience for you.

Try it yourself: rub some massage oil on a hairy leg, and then do a little self-massage. Then try the same thing on a smooth leg, and you’ll see a big difference. Your hands will glide easily, and it will feel oh so good!

Reason 5 – To deter ticks.

If you ride in the woods (or even on back roads,) ticks can jump off weeds and grab your leg hair, then make their way around your body until they decide to bite. Smooth legs don’t leave them much to grab onto, so it’s less likely that a tick will stay on your body.

It will also be easier to spot a tick if there isn’t a mass of hair obscuring your vision.

I’ve found five ticks on me so far this year, but with my smooth legs, most have been stuck hiding on my clothes. With hairy legs, I probably would have had at least twice as many ticks, some of which may have crawled through my leg hair and made a nice home somewhere on my upper thigh!

(One did stick itself into my hamstring, but that bugger got there one evening when I was sitting around in the grass. I don’t think he would have made it there had I been wearing lycra!)

So there you have it. Five solid reasons to shave your legs that have nothing to do with aerodynamics.


Alrighty.  So the best reason is to look good? I’m not pageant walking here, I’m riding a bike. None of the other reasons are particularly compelling either, as I think I’ve gotten two ticks in the entirety of my cycling experience. And I’ve never had road rash. And wouldn’t shaving just draw attention to the rash? And who wants to look at a rash? Massages? Please. I confess that I not only do I find the practice extremely time consuming (once you start shaving it never stops; remember that Seinfeld episode where Jerry shaves his chest?) it’s steeped in vanity. Basically, it’s for show, like a basketball player getting a tattoo. It just seems like an awful lot of trouble to through in order to make your commitment to a rather amorphous group. By comparison, the tattoo requires much less maintenance. You don’t have to re-colorize it every week or so. I’d much rather than have my commitment measured by my mileage rather than follicles. I don’t want to alienate myself and tell other weekend cyclists to get over themselves but…



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