Triathletes and cyclists, I’m looking at you.
Or you could say I’m looking at myself as well.
Cyclists begin as liars. They don’t know it at the time, but they are. You get a bike for exercise and you say “I have a bike, but I’ll never wear all that tight lycra clothing.” A month later, you’re in full lycra kits. Then you say “Well, okay, I’m wearing Lycra, but I’ll never shave my legs.” Then, between 6 months and 2 years later, you’re standing in a shower trying to make sure you don’t slice open your leg. I really think it’s inevitable. It’s something that no one really thinks about, but I bet you can’t think of ever seeing a pro cyclist with hair on their legs. And go to any amateur race, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone without shaved legs.
It’s been like this for a long time. Cyclists have been shaving their legs for over 140 years in fact! I find this quite ironic in today’s American society since women are expected to shave their legs while me and my fellow smooth-legged two-wheeled pedal pushers are given a hard time about it. It wasn’t til about 1915 when most women started shaving their armpits. However, during this time and into the early ’20s, ladies didn’t often shave their legs, rather they wore flesh colored stockings. In 1927 though marketers started targeting the legs in female fashion and hair removal ads. As a result, this is when american women began shaving their legs in earnest. So women, while it is much more common for you to shave your legs in modern society, we have you beat on tradition.
Ask a cyclist why they shave their legs and you’ll most likely receive a myriad of answers which really aren’t completely truthful. You see, professional cyclists have a legitimate reason for shaving their legs. In order to ride about a hundred miles a day for three weeks straight, nightly intense massage is basically a necessary. Hair just gets in the way of these massages, so for the sake of the masseur and cyclist, the legs are kept smooth. In the winter, smooth legs is extremely helpful for embrocation application. (In fact, this is why the All Seasons Cyclist started shaving) For the rest of the reasons, I’l go in order of least to greatest credibility.
So pros have a real reason for shaving their legs (and any serious cyclist using embrocation regularly). But what about everyone else? I think my favorite response to hear is “Shaving my legs makes me more aerodynamic.” Now, scientifically speaking, there is a measurable effect on aerodynamics. The best estimate I’ve seen is a difference of 2 seconds over a 40k time trial. However, unless said cyclist always wears skin suits, has the most aero helmet possible, and no extra fat on their body, this reasoning is BS. Plain and simple.
Now one reason I use when really pressed, so I give it a little more credence than aerodynamics, is ease of changing bandages. When you spend a lot of time on a bike, it’s really not a question of if you’re going to crash, it’s when. Pulling a large bandage off of hairy legs one or two times a day would not be fun at all. However, the easy way to pick apart this reasoning is the fact we don’t shave our arms which will also most likely have road rash on them.
Next up is ease of cleaning your legs. If you’re on roads which are quite dirty (for instance if you have tar on your legs after rides) or you do a lot of mountain biking, this is completely a good reason. I wouldn’t want to have to regularly pull out hair in the process of cleaning my legs after a ride. However, I really can’t use this.
That brings me to the last reason, and I believe the main reason: tradition. Amateur cyclists shave their legs because professionals shave their legs. Have you ever seen a picture of a decent cyclist with hairy legs? I bet not. We shave our legs because that’s what the guys at the top of our sport do. It’s a tradition that goes back almost a century and a half. It’s become a part of our culture. Hairy legs are the mark of a new guy or even a sign of weakness.
Shaved legs feel faster. Keeping the outside of a sports car clean has almost no effect on the performance of the car, but people still keep the bodies spotless. Why? Because it looks faster. It looks cooler. Guess what? My muscles are my engine and keeping my legs smooth is like polishing a sports car. No one wants to be that guy in the pack with hairy legs.
I’ve learned saying it’s tradition is also one of the easiest ways to justify basically anything to someone. “Why pine tree that’s been cut down into your house in December?” “It’s tradition.” “Why do you put on crazy costumes and go around collecting candy as a child on the last day of October?” “It’s tradition.”
So, there you have it. The real reason why cyclists and triathletes shave their legs. Well at least us amateurs anyway. Oh, and I suppose I should mention that vanity probably has something to do with it too. When you spend hours a week running and cycling, your calves get some definition to them.
Anyway, if you’re wondering this post is actually first of several which will pertain to shaving. I have a couple product reviews and hopefully a guide for anyone thinking about trying it out.