It’s been 10 years since my last sanctioned race, and while life’s been nothing short of organized chaos since that point, I’ve had little more than one constant in my existence equation — shaving my legs. There’re a number of reasons that I could say as to why I do it, but honestly, most of those reasons would be complete and utter bullshit. In all honesty, the rationale is equal parts expressing a commitment to cycling and sheer vanity. And for 95% of cyclists, this sentiment rings true, regardless of if we admit it to ourselves or not. Really, though, there isn’t a faster way to get on my nerves than for a non-pro to spout off about road rash and massages — let’s just call it what it is. So, to try and inject a little honesty into the Cat 3 and up crowd, let’s dismantle the go-to responses to the outsider’s question of, “Why do you shave your legs?”
Seriously? Race conditions are one thing, but if your riding objectives are limited to, well, just riding, you can go as fast or as slowly as you want. In other words, crashing is relegated to either a lack of skills or acts of god. And even with the latter, I’ve never been hit by a car and said, “Well that sucked, but at least my legs are shaved.” Approaching every day with a crash in the back of your mind also sounds like the saddest glass-is-half-empty existence that I could ever imagine. Cheer up, man.
Again, are you serious? The pros have earned the right to a massage after every stage, but they’re pros and we’re mere humans. And to compound this, they actually have masseuses under their employ, making this line of thought a total joke for nearly any non-pro. I mean, really, can you imagine anything creepier than a guy who goes to a massage parlor after every bike ride? Would you honestly want to be the local at a massage parlor, especially if you’re “the guy” who’s real specific about his legs? Weird.
I don’t really want to dignify this with a response, but if I were compelled to, I’d say that Contador would rip your legs off with hairy legs or not. I don’t put much confidence in the Kyle study, either. Scientific conclusions need to account for variables, and I’ve never seen a graph that correlates millimeters of hair length with drag coefficients. Sorry, I’m just not buying it.
There’s a hint of truth behind all of the aforementioned reasoning, but sadly, they don’t really apply to very many of us. There are, however, smaller reasons that would make sense to other cyclists, like applying embrocation and sunscreen, or eliminating chafing from grippers over hairy legs, but no cyclist would really ever ask you about shaving your legs in the first place.
The real reasoning requires confidence in your rationale — I’m a cyclist and this is just what cyclists do. It’s a tradition that acts as the division line between the committed and the recreational. Indeed, it is a jumping off point, and after a short while, the act becomes second nature.
Now, while the tradition aspect is certainly true, the tradition of vanity has an even longer running precedent. When you shave, you discover muscles whose definition was previously shrouded in fur. You look stronger, and to an extent, you feel stronger as a result. In a way, it’s kind of like detailing a sports car — the outside looks clean, so the inside feels faster. There’s no shame in it, and the vanity of the shave is all part of the heritage of road cycling anyhow. Historically, we’re a contingent of bizarre, skinny outsiders, and much like the hidden placements and secret meanings of a Russian prison tattoo, our shaved legs are an instant identifier, worthy of a head nod, for those in the know.
You see, if you feel compelled to defend the logic behind shaving your legs, you’re feeling some undeserved indignity towards your own culture. All that I ask is that you own it, accept that it’s a little weird by society’s standards, and admit that it just sort of looks cool and feels good. No one is going to really understand, but who has time for that when there are bikes to ride?