Friday, June 20, 2008

Why do cyclists shave their legs? The only explanation you will ever need

It’s hotter’n hell, 90 degrees (32 C.) and we are going out for the evening. My wife is wearing long pants.

“Aren’t you going to be hot?” I ask. “Why don’t you wear a dress or shorts?”

“I can’t, I haven’t shaved my legs.”

End of questioning, no further explanation needed.

My lovely wife doesn’t want to be the only one in a roomful of ladies with silky smooth legs, while she is sporting stubble. Even though I would have to get down on my knees with a magnifying glass to find a tiny emerging follicle.

This is exactly the same reason why cyclists shave their legs, No one wants to go out on a group ride and be the only wooly mammoth in the pack.

Even if I am riding alone, I still shave my legs; I never know who I might meet on the road. Shaved legs simply look better on a cyclist. Some call it vanity, frankly I find that an affront to my pride.

I started racing in 1952 and that’s when I started shaving my legs. The European professional riders shaved their legs because they were riding the big stage races like the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia.

Stages were long back then, sometimes in excess of 180 miles. (289.6 km.) They needed some serious massage therapy at the end of each day in order to have the leg muscles supple and relaxed ready to go again the next morning. It is neither comfortable for the cyclist or the masseuse to be massaging hairy legs.

The long, smooth legs in the picture at the top belonged to “Il Campionissimo” Fausto Coppi. I was no different from any other cyclist of the 1950s; we all wanted to emulate the great professional riders of that era. So we shaved our legs.

Shaved legs are faster; it is psychological. Like polishing the engine on a hot rod car; you can’t see inside the engine but you polish the outside. The cyclist is the “engine” of his bike; you can’t see the heart or the lungs inside, but by making the legs smooth and clean so you see every vein, sinew, and muscle, it is a definite psychological boost.

Professional cyclists today shave their legs for the same reason as their predecessors, and road cyclists of all levels, from amateur racers to weekend warriors follow suit. End of story, there should be no further explanation needed.

Fellow cyclists understand, but non-cyclists question this practice. We come up with all kinds of creative reasons for shaving our legs. We pretend that it is in case we fall and get road rash.

Sure with hair free legs it is easier to clean and dress wounds, but that is not why we shave our legs. A lady known only to me as “Jan” commented on a recent post. “If you fall and get road rash on your legs, wouldn’t you also scrape up your arms?” Good point, cyclists rarely shave their arms. (That would be weird.)

If someone asks me, “Why do you shave your legs?” I answer simply, “It’s traditional.” That is the only answer I need. No one questions it or doubts my word. After all, if something is traditional, who am I to break with tradition?

Professional racing cyclists have been shaving their legs for at least 100 years, that’s probably longer than ladies have been shaving their legs. So the practice definitely qualifies as a tradition.

Think of it like the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain; when someone asks, “Why would you run down the street in front of a herd of stampeding bulls?”

“It’s traditional.”

“Oh well, that explains it. No further explanation needed.”

Or, “Why are you taking that dead pine tree into your house at Christmas.”

“It’s traditional.”

You see how it works; it doesn’t matter how bizarre or irrational the act, just say, “It’s traditional,” and it is immediately accepted.

It is so easy. No more excuses, no more lies about road rash or guilt feelings over vanity. The answer is, “It’s traditional.”

No further explanation is needed.


Oli said...

Haha! Gold! I'm going to use that next time...

Anonymous said...

"It's traditional." Fantastic. It also provides an answer to (the otherwise unanswerable) "But if you shave your legs to help road rash heal, why don't you shave your arms?".

In his biography, Graham Obree refused to shave his legs so he wouldn't look ridiculous in his kilt, for his wedding. Although he did finally give in to "tradition".


Mark said...

That's the best (and simplest) explanation I've heard.

Anonymous said...

Very solid logic and impossible to argue against.....although I am still a woolly mammoth :-)

Anonymous said...

I wear the bloody helmet, I wear the lycra shorts, I wear the cycling shoes, I ride a nice, custom-made lugged steel road frame on hard, narrow tires (not a Recherche, but looks very similar), I've used clipless pedals... but I draw the line at my leg hair :-)

Cycled on the road just fine for decades shaving only my face. Now that I'm retired, I don't even bother with that anymore on most days :-)

Not that I mind anyone else doing it.

Dave Moulton said...


Looks like your leg hair is your last defiant stand. I salute you brother, you’re a braver man than me :)


Anonymous said...

Polishing the internals of an engine has a very quanitifiable affect on aspiration.

It's vanity. Same as putting stickers all over your car of various goods you have over paid for.

Anonymous said...

I have heard and experienced that having the hair on your legs when you fall tends to "grab" more skin instaed of "sliding" on the pavment
to lessen the road rash. Also, a friend of mine who is a former track sprint champion told me it's a hygeine/massage thing.

inkyfingers said...

You make many valid points, not the least of which is the hygiene argument, but shaved legs on men (in my book) are still ridiculous unless you're a swimmer.

Grump said...

One thing that you left out.
It states that you are a "Serious" cyclist.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. People always ask if it's for crashes, or for massages, or whatever. I always answer that I shave my legs because I am a cyclist and cyclists shave their legs.

Jeremy said...

Definitely the best explanation I've heard....and still not enough to make me shave my legs. As it is, I can barely bring myself to shave my face on a regular basis, much less my legs.

mander said...

I don't think shaving your legs states that you are a serious cyclist, but it definitely separates out the serious roadies. My being a nonshaver marks me as a commuter/ cycle bum/ non-roadie.

Anonymous said...

The next question high do you save your legs? Is it just above your "line" or even further?

Anonymous said...

Okay, but how do you explain Fat Cyclist Elden Nelson's shaved head?

Anonymous said...


Harry from NYC

Unknown said...

Did it for a long time... but now I'm too slow and old and don't want to look like a poser. But I miss it.

Anonymous said...

cause furry legs would look weird with a shaved package.

Anonymous said...

i love the shaved legs on men discussions/debate.

Shave your legs or not. Just like you said I do it because it's a group identity thing. If I were a baseballer, I might habitually pull on my crotch and chew tobacco (ok that's a stretch.)

But more so, it is a covenant, where you commit to go against the cultural grain to brand yourself proudly. While the commitment is plain as day for all to see, it's a powerful motivator too. Can't be slow and shave your legs. Then you'd be "that" guy.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

Good run of interesting posts.

I've heard that Italian men wear gold chains around their necks so that they know where to stop shaving. What's the guideline for legs?

flahute said...

With regards to Jan's comment that "wouldn't you also scrape your arms?" ... whenever I've had a bad crash, what's always gotten scraped up is my legs/knee/hip and either my palm or my shoulder, depending on whether or not my hand got stuck out "to prevent my fall".

I have never scraped up my arms.

Although, I do shave them.

And as for Jack's question as to how high? For me, it's essentially all the way to the "bikini" line (not that I've ever worn a bikini), because even worse than hairy legs is hair "shorts".

Unfortunately, I've had to change clothes around enough cyclists post-ride/post-race to see WAY too many pairs of hair-shorts.

Unknown said...

"cause furry legs would look weird with a shaved package." ... Hahahahaha, now THAT is the best reason I've ever heard. That, along with "hair shorts" made me laugh all day. Thanks for another great post.

Still can't be bothered to shave even my face, let alone the legs. I definitely ain't no "lady" (but I'll forgive you for that this one time, Dave... I've been called much worse). ;)


Dave Moulton said...

Oops, sorry Jan. Just goes to show one should never ASSUME, otherwise we make an ASS out of U and ME. Especially ME.

Ron George said...

I've been slacking on the leg shaving. I dont find it slowing me down however.

Anonymous said...

Good article Dave.

I remember my old friend when he started racing. He must have been 17 then. He lasted for about 2 races before starting to shave his legs. I thought it was a brave move for a high school student to do so. I thought he had some perfectly legitimate reason as he was racing and there are accrued risks of falling down and getting road rash than if you just plod along.

I don't have any such reason and yet I have started shaving about 3 months ago. I don't do it for fitting in, to look like a pro, go faster, for the massages (I wish). I tried and I like it. It feels just right. It also less of a nuisance than shaving a beard. I was surprised to find my wife likes it too :-)

Anonymous said...

Yes, gold indeed.

AMR said...

Many thanks Dave, it does save me a lot of time trying to make something up as I try to answer those questions.
"It's traditional", I love it!

Neil said...

Surely it is only cyclists who want to emulate, or think they are, race cyclists that think shaving is normal.

The vast majority of cycling is utility cycling, where no special equipment (other than the bicycle) or preparation is expected or required.

Grizzly Adam said...

Great post!

Anonymous said...

As a younger cyclist from Australia who shaves their legs, its good to hear some explanations why other than the old, to manage road rash.

And about the arm shaving stuff, i ride in bunches with pro continental team members who shave their elbows only (and legs of course). bit over the top really.