On water as smooth as glass surrounded by rolling hills and tall, verdant trees, I sat on a WaveRunner ready to take the next few kids on a stroll around the lake. I handed my son to one of his friends’ mothers and she handed up to me her two sons. As I was situating the two boys so they wouldn’t fall off on the first turn, she asked me, “Do you shave your legs?” with a rising and questioning pitch to her voice. I simply replied, “Yes.” and proceeded to drive off around the lake.
Before the first turn on the WaveRunner, I realized that perhaps that answer needed a little more clarification or explanation. So, here it goes. We’ll explore a few of the theories, realities and the riding pro’s reasons for some.
1. It improves aerodynamics
The Theory: With all the seamless skinsuits, aero frames and ultralight deep-rim carbon wheels, it’s hard to ignore the slight but real advantage of having bare legs. It’s estimated that shaven legs has an aerodynamic benefit of roughly .6 percent which could result in a savings of around 5 seconds in a 40km time trial ridden at 37kph.
The Reality: “It depends on how hairy you are.” – Levy Leipheimer. “In terms of actual aerodynamics, not much. But I know that if I ever looked down while I was on the bike and saw hairy legs I immediately felt slower.” -Davis Phinney
2.It improves benefits of massage
Personally, I can’t speak to that as I seldom, if ever have the availability for a post-ride massage. Ok, it’s never happened. But, we should all be prepared
The Theory: Getting hair pulled during a massage hurts.
The Reality: “It’s why I shave. It would hurt too much if I didn’t.” -Leipheimer. “You need more oil if you have a lot of hair. You don’t want to feel like an oiled pig.” -Andy Hampsten. “It probably feels better shaved, but on a deeper muscular level there’s no difference. You can accomplish the exact same thing shave or unshaved. I work on cyclists all year-round and even the pros go hairy in the winter.” -massage therapist Chris Grauch
3. It makes wound care easier
The Theory: Cleaning and caring for road rash is simpler, hurts less and yields speedier healing when there’s no leg hair present to impede the removal of dirt and grime, host bacteria, or complicate bandage changes.
The Reality: “I always thought crashing was the biggest reason. When you slide out on your bike, you take out big swaths of skin. Hair just collects dirt and is no fun to bandage.” -Phinney
4. It just looks better – and that makes you faster
The Theory: Every cut and line of toned muscles pop when not obscured by a thicket of hair, and the snazzier you look the sharper you ride.
The Reality: “Absolutely. In your mind, having shaved legs makes you feel faster. I always shave before a time trial. You feel the wind flowing over your legs.” -Chris Horner
5. Women like smooth-legged men
Personally, my wife just calls me strange and hasn’t commented positively or negatively, except when it’s been about a week and she mentions the stubble when she pats my leg.
The Theory: Really, we just think our spouses have been humoring us all this time.
The Reality: Well, the “reality” is in the eye of the beholder…
6. It’s tradition
The Theory: Losing the leg pelt is a sign that you’re committed to living your life with the noble aim of honoring what it means to be a true racing cyclist – plus, showing up hairy to a serious group ride is akin to wearing jorts to church.
The Reality: “Tradition is why everyone shaves the first time. If you’re a bike racer, that’s just what you do.” -Horner. “Leg shaving is an expression of being a cyclist.” -Horgan-Kobelski. “It always seemed stupid to me.” -Dave Weins. “It was the fashion when I raced. It’s the fashion now. Real bike riders shave their legs.” -Phinney
So, what is it for me? Numbers, 3, 4 and 6.
(On a side note, I did not interview these riders or professionals. I pulled their quotes from Bicycling Magazine.)