Why Do Cyclists Shave Their Legs?

Roadie: The Misunderstood World of a Bike Racer by Jamie Smith with illustrations by Jef Mallett

Roadie: The Misunderstood World of a Bike Racer by Jamie Smith with illustrations by Jef MallettOnce and for all, here’s the skinny about shaved legs, a major source of ridicule for male Roadies. I’m not sure which of the following reasons is the most important, so I list them in random order. Feel free to pick the one you like best because they’re all valid:

Post-ride massages. Massage helps the flow of blood, which helps move lactic acid and other toxins out of the muscles, which in turn aids in the rider’s recovery. When we massage our legs, we use massage oil and topical lotions that penetrate into the muscles to provide relief. It is much easier to massage a shaved leg than a hairy leg. Plus, if the oils are absorbed into the hair, they aren’t reaching the muscles.

Road rash. A common injury sustained in a crash is a huge abrasion on the leg. The wound will heal much faster if there’s no hair to hold in dirt and debris.

Aerodynamics. A rough surface area creates more drag than a smooth area the same size. How much this actually plays into a rider’s speed is up for debate.

Rite of passage. In any group of cyclists, a serious Roadie can instantly spot the not-so-serious Roadies. The telltale sign: hairy legs. A cyclist makes a strong statement about his dedication to the sport when he goes against the societal norm and shaves all the hair off his legs.

Cool tan lines. Nothing screams dedication more than odd tan lines, and none are odder than those of a Roadie. These lines are well defined due to the amount of time Roadies spend riding in sunshine wearing their clothing in the same exact place on their body each time. These lines are more defined on shaved legs. By the way, any Roadie who claims he’s never lain out in the sun wearing his cycling shorts for the sole purpose of intensifying the odd tan lines is probably lying.

Those are the most popular reasons a man might give for shaving his legs. I’ve been riding for twenty-five years, and I’ve had hair on my legs for only six months out of that twenty-five-year period. As you might expect, I’ve had to answer a lot of the same questions over and over again.

And that brings me to a question people ask me when they discover my shaved legs: How often do you shave them? The answer is, about once a week. Most Roadies shave up, not down. And we never, ever use our facial razor on our legs or vice versa. How far up the leg we shave varies from one Roadie to another, so I’ll leave that to your imagination.

Feels like the first time

Ask any Roadie to tell the story of his first shaving experience. This is mine: I was home from college for a weekend and decided to have a go at it, so I bought a package of those cheap plastic disposable razors and locked myself in the bathroom. Two hours later, the bathtub looked as though an ape had been hit with a weed whacker. It was late September, and my legs were freezing. When I got back to Northern Michigan University’s campus, I felt naked. I thought everyone was staring, but nobody was. Then a girl in my physical geography class said she thought it was cool, and I instantly knew that I’d never go back.

Roadie: The Misunderstood World of a Bike Racer by Jamie Smith with illustrations by Jef Mallett is a light-hearted exploration of the world of road cycling, bike racing, and the people who love it.