Knowledge Level: Intermediate
Why do cyclists shave their legs and should you be doing it too? We take a look at the possible reasons, the methods and the pitfalls.
One of the most common reasons that cyclists’ give for shaving is that it makes massages easier, more effective, less painful and you are less likely to suffer a follicular infection. This is certainly true and, if you are lucky enough to have regular massages, well worth doing. However, if you are shaving down for massage, make sure you are clean shaven that day as we have been assured by massage therapists that rubbing down stubbly legs is like trying to massage a cactus. If regular massages aren’t part of your routine, you can still get plenty of benefits from using a foam roller and you don’t need to shave for it.
Next reason is that it makes treating road rash easier. If you have ever been unfortunate to take a spill on your bike, you will know how painful cleaning the grit and muck out of the wound is. This unpleasant but essential task is certainly made easier if your legs are hair free. It also makes dressings easier to apply and far less painful to remove. Be honest though, how often do you come off your bike? If your riding is limited to training, sportives, time trials or club runs, you are fairly unlikely to take a tumble.
Recent wind tunnel testing by a major bike manufacturer has finally shown that there is a quantifiable aerodynamic benefit to shaving your legs. Obviously the hairier you are, the more you stand to gain but, with six riders of varying pre-shave hairiness, the average saving over 40 kilometres was an impressive 70 seconds. They also tested shaved arms which only yielded a meagre 11 seconds of time saved and, good news if you are sporting a beard, no significant savings from removing facial hair.
If we are honest with ourselves though, we shave our legs because it is a badge of honour that marks us out as cyclists. After a hard training block and with a bit of a suntan, the muscles and surface veins that are the visible signs of your labours are much more visible without hairs to obscure them. That said, you definitely don’t have to shave your legs to be a cyclist.
If you are going for the shaven look for the first time, first step is to clipper the hair down with a beard trimmer. Then, run yourself a hot bath and add a couple of drops of baby oil. Soak for a while in the bath as this will soften the hairs and make the job far easier. Go for the best razor you can afford, ideally a multi bladed one with a lubricating strip. Don’t even consider using a cheap disposable razor. Lather up with plenty of soap or shaving cream, make smooth and positive strokes and rinse the blade off regularly.
How high you go is a controversial topic. From a purely aesthetic point of view on the bike, you only have to go as high as your short line. However you will be left with a pair of hairy under-shorts which can look a little bizarre. If you are sticking to your guns about massage and crash damage, you will need to go all the way up. Your hips are one of the prime road rash zones after a crash and a massage therapist will also work all the way up your legs.
Once you are done, pat them dry and apply plenty of moisturiser. Your legs will feel strange in your trousers at first. Once you have shaved, you are committed to it and it will need doing once or twice a week.
What about other hair removal options?
Not sure about wielding a razor, keep on cutting yourself or just can’t be bothered with the weekly ritual? What other options are there? We asked one of our smoothed legged experts about his experiences of alternative hair removal options.
“You might think that waxing is a good idea and many females will assure you it is painless. Believe me, they are lying! I was persuaded to give it a go, let my hairs grow to the necessary length and booked a slot at my local beauty salon. The pain was horrendous. Women reading this will say I must have a low pain threshold but men have got much thicker hairs and an awful lot more of them. I booked in for a second waxing and it was just as bad and, along with the pre-wax anxiety I suffered for about a week before, sent me rushing back to the bathroom and my razor.
A second option is hair removal cream. I went through a phase of using these after a couple of particularly bloody shaves. They do leave your legs smooth but aren’t the easy hassle free method the adverts portray. They smell really unpleasant, you have to stand around in the bathroom with your legs coated in the stuff while it works, I would always get some on my arm and end up with a bald patch and, when you rinse it off, it turns the shower tray into an ice rink.
There are other gadgets that pluck, scour or laser your legs hair free that you could try, but I don’t think I will be trying them anytime soon. I might occasionally take a chunk out of my shin with a razor but I have become more skilled in the art and I find there is definitely a therapeutic feel to the process. If you are thinking of going for the hair free look this summer, I would recommend sticking to the blade.”
Try out a few options and see what works best for you.