So you’re getting serious about cycling and started questioning yourself if you should shave your legs. If the question pops into your head, your legs will soon be shaven. Trust me on this one.
Cyclists shave their legs to gain an aerodynamic advantage, as the air flows better around shaven legs, reducing the drag. The massage is also easier and less painful with shaven legs, as is the treatment of road rashes after the crash. Lastly, it’s a tradition, so you just stick with it.
While professional riders need to shave legs for all of the reasons listed above, amateurs can keep their legs full of hair. Rarely will an amateur get a post-ride massage or need to heal a wound in a couple of days. So is shaving legs really necessary?
How much quicker are shaven legs?
Let’s get the most obvious reason out of the way first.
Shaven legs are more aerodynamic than legs with a fully grown forest on them. The air flows better around them, so drag is reduced, resulting in faster riding at the same power.
If you think that shaven legs can’t make a big difference, then think again. American bicycle manufacturer Specialized did a test in a wind tunnel to find a difference that smooth legs will make. The results were quite surprising.
Based on the results of tests carried out on six athletes, riding with shaved legs will give you a 70-second advantage over a 40-kilometer (25 miles) distance. The difference depends on the hairiness of the legs and the power produced by a cyclist.
It makes sense for professional cyclists to shave their legs as the advantage is enormous. The winner of a race is usually decided by seconds, which means that keeping your legs hair-free can be one of the key factors for success.
But then again, cyclists could reduce air resistance even further by shaving arms, but you will rarely see one doing it. Even more, many pros have a massive beard attached to their face, which also can’t be good for aerodynamics, right?
It just shows that aerodynamics is not the only thing on the mind of cyclists while they swing a razor over their beautifully carved legs.
As for amateurs, the time advantage that shaven legs produce is not really that important. It doesn’t matter if you get home a few minutes early from your ride. You will most likely spend that extra time in a coffee shop anyway.
Is massage with shaven legs better?
There is no denying that massage with shaven legs is much more comfortable for you as-is for a masseur.
When professional masseurs do their magic, they almost always use oils and other creams to make sure their hands glide smoothly across the surface.
You probably have some experience with combining body hairs and oils. If you don’t, I’ll give you a hint – it’s not the most pleasing experience.
Hairs stick together when mixed with oils, so massaging over them will cause a lot of displeasure. The last thing the tired legs need after the ride is a painful massage.
Legs need to be clean-shaven on the day of the massage. Prickly hairs are masseur’s nightmare, and while they will still do it, they will suffer. How would you like massaging a cactus?
Not many amateurs can say they have the pleasure of getting a proper massage after every ride. Most of us will never get it. I know I am still waiting for my first one.
Instead of a massage, you can use a foam roller. The effect is similar, but the process is much cheaper. You can find one on Amazon for a few bucks.
Shaved legs prevent wound infection after an accident
One of the worst things that can happen to a cyclist is a crash. Nobody wants it, but if you’re going to be in the game long enough, you’ll most likely experience it.
It’s not a pleasant experience. Everything hurts, your pride likely the most, but if you are lucky, nothing is broken. But from almost every crash, you will get memorabilia in the form of a road rash.
If you come away from a crash with only a road rash, you can be pretty happy. However, the danger is not over yet. Road rashes have a bad habit of getting infected quite easily and therefore cause many problems for their owner.
Hairs are not the cleanest part of the body, especially those on the legs after a few kilometers of riding a bike. If you have even a small bloody wound, the dirt from the hair can cause an infection. While this is not the end of the world, it’s certainly not pleasant either.
With shaven legs, it will be less likely for dirt to enter the wound and therefore infect it. Of course, shaven legs will not magically save you from infection every time, but it certainly helps reduce the number of times you will have to deal with it.
As said, infection is not the worst cycling partner, but it will still give you a few problems. After one day, you will start to feel increased pain, the area around the wound will swell, anything touching it will feel unpleasant, and in some cases, you might even get a fever.
You can imagine that riding a bike in a condition like that is not optimal. While amateur riders can take a few days off, professional cyclists can’t. So shaven legs can indirectly save them a lot of unpleasant kilometers.
Furthermore, professionals usually cover road rashes with bandages to prevent infection. But after every race, they need to tear it off. If the dressing is stuck on a hair, removal could be excruciating.
Leg shaving has been a cycling tradition for a long time
Shaving legs is not something new in cycling.
There isn’t an official record of who was the first cyclist to shave his legs, but it’s known that cyclists have been doing it for over 100 years. They supposedly started doing it to follow the Greco-Roman ideal, as their athletes also shaved.
At first, it was limited only to pros, but with amateurs wanting to be more and more like their heroes, it didn’t take long for shaving tradition to enter the amateur ranks.
Nowadays, every pro shave legs, while amateurs are still divided.
Those taking cycling a bit more seriously shave their legs regularly. That shows to a random passer-by that they are a real deal and that you better not try to race them.
On the opposite side, we have cyclists that just want to cycle and don’t really care what is defined in cycling rulebooks, so their legs will remain hairy forever.
While I have never shaved my legs, I have a few friends who did. When talking with them about why they are doing it, it’s always the same at first – aerodynamics and road rashes. But the longer the debate goes on, the more their reasons turn towards tradition.
There is nothing wrong with following traditions, we all do it in certain areas of our lives.
So if you are laughed at for shaving your legs, don’t sweat it. You will soon find some cyclists that will approve your decision.
In the end, cycling is a tribal sport, and anyone that wants to fit in will sooner or later have to accept its rules and traditions.
Cyclists will know if you have ridden hundreds or tens of thousands of kilometers just by looking at you. So if you want to fit in, just shave your legs, and they might see through you a bit later.