Many cyclists shave their legs for a variety of reasons, some of them vain others practical. There’s no doubt shaved legs are part of road cycling culture and an indication you take your riding pretty seriously. But beyond cycling and a few other aerobic sports, men shaving their legs isn’t particularly common.
With the weather across Canada slowly warming up, leg warmers are slowly being peeled off exposing the skin underneath. If you are riding with others and your legs haven’t yet been shaved, you may face some questions or become the butt of some hairy jokes. So if you are serious about cycling, you may be asking yourself, is it time to deforest your legs?
Reasons to shave your legs as a cyclist
One of the main reasons professional cyclists shave their legs is to make their frequent post-ride massages more comfortable. Getting a rub down with lotion with hairy legs is less effective than against smooth skin.
Another reason to shave is treating road rash or other injuries after a fall is easier without the hair in the way. Bandages can be applied directly to the skin. Hair won’t get into open wounds and cause infection. Perhaps most importantly, removing adhesive bandages is much less painful when you aren’t pulling out a patch of hair as well.
If you apply embrocation cream to race or ride when it’s cold, having smooth legs is also a huge benefit. Cream and hair don’t mix so well. If you are riding in messy conditions, hair will also attract and hold a lot more dirt compared to smooth legs which will also then be easier to clean.
Smooth legs have also been proven to be more aerodynamic saving precious seconds when you are trying to go fast. Specialized wind tunnels test showed that a rider could gain one minute or even as much as 90 seconds over 40 km with shaved compared to hairy legs.
Beyond the practical
Many cyclists shave their legs to fit in with the crowd. Go on any weekend group road ride and nearly everyone who takes their cycling seriously will have smooth legs. They also will generally follow a set of unsaid rules. Nobody will have visors on their helmets. Kits will generally be somewhat matching. Socks will be tall, not short. Mini-pumps won’t be attached to bike frames. Likewise, legs will be shaved. Cycling, perhaps especially road cycling, is a tribal sport. We follow the cues of the pros and of each other to fit in.
An underappreciated benefit of shaving is the great feeling of smooth bedsheets against your legs. Kit and tight jeans will also conform a bit more comfortably to the contours of your body without any hair in the way. Not particularly practical but if you notice the little things, this is nice. Aesthetically, leg muscles tend to look bigger and better without hair in the way.
If you are very committed to cycling, shaving your legs is also a sort of badge to prove to everyone it’s more than just a pass time. It doesn’t help you become a better rider though. You still need to develop the skills, fitness and etiquette to be a good cyclist.
Going against the grain
Just because you ride bikes doesn’t mean you have to shave and conform to the general norms of the sport. Plenty of people who enjoy riding and take it seriously don’t feel the need to remove their body hair to enjoy cycling. There is probably a rider or two who you know who can ride longer and harder than you who doesn’t feel the need to fit in. If you are into adventure riding, gravel, randonneuring, mountain biking or cyclocross, shaved legs are also a less prominent part of the culture.
Ultimately, the choice is up to you. Shaved legs or not, you can still get faster and have lots of fun on a bike.