Most of you probably know that competitive road cyclists shave their legs. While the idea might sound crazy to you, there is in fact reasoning behind it. You’re probably used to legs being shaved for aesthetic purposes, but there are many other important reasons for a cyclists to make this decision. Professional cyclists have been shaving their legs for at least 100 years, even before it was the norm for women, so it actually has quite a tradition in the sport. Let’s look at the practical benefits:
Reason#1: Massage therapy during recovery.
After long rides, especially during multi-stage races where a single days route can be in excess of 150 miles, cyclists require massage therapy to prepare their leg muscles to go again the next day. Those muscles need to be supple and relaxed for them to have a chance, and in the 21 stage Tour de France for example, any advantage helps. Hair free legs allows the therapist to massage more efficiently, and apply creams smoothly which can be easily absorbed by the skin. Besides, getting a massage with shaved legs just feels better without all that scratching.
Reason#2: To prevent infections
It can’t be denied that cycle racing is a dangerous sport. You’d be hard pressed to watch a multi-stage race without seeing a few riders go down, and there’s nothing between them and the road except a helmet and some Lycra. If you crash, hairy legs make cleaning road rash that much more difficult and painful. That can increase the chance of infection by impeding cleaning and complicating bandage changes. Shaved legs are easier to treat and generally heal quicker from grazes sustained in falls.
Reason # 3: To improve the Aerodynamics
This is what most people think of when they consider cyclists shaving their legs. How much difference can it really make, you ask? Studies have shown that shaven legs are faster than the natural hairy alternative since body hair does create measurable wind resistance. The truth is, evidence shows shaved legs could potentially save valuable seconds over a long time trial at an elite level. According to Bicycle Magazine, “a 1987 study conducted by Chester Kyle for this magazine concluded that the aerodynamic improvement is roughly 0.6 percent, which could result in a savings of around 5 seconds in a 40km time trial ridden at 37kph”. The current design and materials used in modern time trial skinsuits would probably negate most disadvantage, but very hairy legs under that suit could still make a difference. That’s the origin, and the tradition of it brings us to reason 4.
Reason #4: It’s all in your head.
For many pro racers, it’s admittedly a mental advantage. Toned leg muscles pop more when shaved, and the faster you look, the faster you ride… right? Chris Horner from Team Radioshack fame on the subject: “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.” We’ve all noticed that we can perform most tasks better if we’re in the right mindset. Having confidence on the bike, feeling like you have that slight advantage from freshly shaved legs, can give you a real mental advantage.
“I know that if I ever looked down while I was on the bike and saw hairy legs I immediately felt slower.” —Tour de France stage winner Davis Phinney
If you don’t plan to take a razor to your legs before your next ride, don’t sweat it. With hairy or shaved legs, what really matters is that you get out there and ride your bike. On your commute, in races, in winter or summer, on road or mountain… the result is always positive. Never stop pedaling, because riding a bike is always sexy.