On Saturday morning at 10:07, I shaved from my legs the winter’s growth of hair, kitted up, and became a bike racer again.
There are all sorts of explanations for why bike racers shave their legs:
- Crash wound care: Abrasions are more easily cleaned without hair holding in the dirt. Hair can also tear the skin out in chunks when dragged across unfriendly tarmac. Frankly, if you’re crashing this much, you’re in the wrong sport.
- Aerodynamics: This is total BS. It may mean something for swimmers moving through water but the wind tunnel calculations I’ve seen show an infinitesimal impact.
- Massage: There is truth to this, not just for the regular massages pro cyclists get but also for all the waterproofing oils, hot creams and liniments used in foul weather. Try putting lanolin on your legs through a forest of hair before a rainy race. It ain’t pretty.
- Aesthetics: Shaved legs look better, fitter, faster. Especially with a nice sheen of Sixtufit START. Increased muscle definition and vein visibility won’t directly contribute to improved performance, but it does bring a psychological edge. Plus, your fans won’t see all those hard-earned tattoos through your swarthiness. Just ask Adam Myerson.
- Culture & Tradition: Everyone else is doing it and has always done so. Near as I can tell, leg shaving goes all the way to the origins of the sport in the 1800’s. (And men shaving off body hair and oiling up dates back to Greek and Roman times.) Just imagine some guy with a fancy mustache, like Louis Trousselier, Tour de France winner in 1905, shaving his legs with a straight razor.
- Conformity: Since everybody else is shaving their legs, the hirsute newcomer will likely suffer slings and insults until they, too, cave in to the razor. Once, I watched a teammate who had let his legs “go wild” ride off the front of a race and onto victory. Nobody on the front of the race believed for an instant that a guy with hairy legs could stay clear.
- Equipment: Getting long leg hair caught in cable guides, seat post bolts, zippers and grippers from leg and knee warmers, warm-ups and tights creates, at a minimum, inconvenience, but also the briefest moments of searing pain. Best to be avoided as there will be plenty of that to follow.
I was 12 years old when I first shaved my legs, probably ahead of my female classmates at the time. I can only surmise; I never would have had the confidence to discuss it openly with them at the time.
For the 28 years since, with rare exception, I’ve conducted the leg shaving rituals of the bicycle racer:
There is the transition from winter to warm weather season. Some guys would let it grow in over those months; others would maintain at a decreased pace.
There is the night before a race. Shower. Lather. Shave. Rinse. Repeat for any missed spots. Go to bed with the cool feeling of the hotel room sheets on your legs and try to sleep.
Finally, there is the endless explanation to friends, family, co-workers, prospective girlfriends, etcetera, for why you shave your legs. I went through all of the above and finished with, “Plus, it looks better in a skirt.”