Professional and amateur bicyclists are known for regularly maintaining smooth, shaved legs. Doing so is a mix of both function and aesthetics. Here we discuss why professional cyclists shave and the proper technique(s) for shaving your legs in preparation for your next ride. We also include some high-profile insights from professional cyclists as to why they shave their legs. We hope you enjoy.
Why Do Cyclists Shave Their Legs?
I have heard a number of oft-repeated reasons why the most active road cyclists shave their legs. It helps road rash heal faster, feels better when you have that post-ride massage, helps wick away sweat and regulate the body’s core temp, makes the rider more aerodynamic, makes you distinguishable from the mountain biker crowd and ultimately just makes your legs look more muscular in your ride suit.
Chris Boardman–Olympic gold medallist, Tour de France prologue winner and world-record breaker– cites several reasons for shaving his legs:
You can shave in a certain way so that you leave your legs rough down the front edge but smooth at the side, creating an aerodynamic effect. Aerodynamics is really important. Human beings are a really crappy shape – a collection of tubes ostensibly – and 90% of the energy you produce on a bike goes towards pushing the air out of the way, so anything you can do to reduce drag has got to be a good thing. Having said all that, shaving your legs is mostly governed by vanity and tradition. Plus I used to get a massage every day, and with hairy legs that’s rather unpleasant if the hairs get pulled…If you’ve got a little bit of hair on your legs it will turbulate [sic] the air so you get a better flow. Now this in itself creates friction, so you don’t want all your leg hairy you just want two thin strips, each about 10mm wide, just before the sides of your legs – though you will look really stupid…
…You need the turbulent boundary layer – provided by these strips of hair – to get the air around the corner, and you need a smooth layer for it to flow over. But the leg is such a rubbish shape that ideally you want an aerofoil on the back of it.
When professionals are looking for every marginal benefit they can to achieve optimal performance, shaving the legs makes some sense. Cyclists like Chris spend time in wind tunnels, testing the most minute details of their gear and ride. Shaving is certainly one of a handful.
If you’re not a cycling pro, shaving your legs is at least one a good way to mimick those who are. If that is the only way you can aspire toward professional athleticism, more power to you.
Certainly not all professional road cyclists shave their legs, but a vast majority seemed to have jumped in the leg shaving bandwagon. Thankfully, that wagon has become more socially-acceptable in the last couple of decades as more men work at fully manscaping their body hair.
Here are some additional insights from cycling pros as to why they shave their legs. The reasons might just surprise you.
There are some good and simple reasons for us doing it. By shaving, you avoid the uncomfortable hair root infections that can be caused by our daily massages. Also, wounds simply heal faster after crashes and don’t get infected as easily. Not to mention that it just looks better.
—Gerald Ciolek, world renown cycling professional
I do it because cycling’s tied to its history and, good or bad, leg shaving is part of that history. It’s a cliché to say that it makes you feel slightly more serious about your sport, but the fact is that it does…The best thing is that getting into bed feels pretty good! It’s women’s best-kept secret: shaved legs and cotton bed sheets! But only up to my hips. I heard a nasty story about an ingrowing hair on a club mate’s perineum so I daren’t go any further!
—Sam Shaw, Scottish cycling pro
Considerations When Shaving Your Legs for Cycling
But before jumping right in, there are a number of considerations you should consider before doing so.
First, how frequently will you want to engage in the deforestation process? Once you start, the regrowth prickle may have you second guessing against fully doing it again. Furthermore, the regrowth prickle may actually be the incentive to cause you to be a once or twice weekly leg shaver. In short, it may be wise to delay a complete commitment into shaving one’s legs unless you want to repeat that process to infinity on a weekly (or perhaps more frequent) basis.
Second, how much of your legs will you be intent on shaving? Cyclists who shave their entire legs may see in-grown hairs or razor bumps occur in areas where their cycling shorts rub against the legs. Many leg-shaving cyclists have complained of in-grown hairs at the bottom of the thigh just above the knee where the shorts rub up and down with the frequent movement of the cycling. As such, many cyclists actual opt for the “knee and below” shave and the trim up to the crotch area.
How Best to Shave Your Legs for Cycling
Unlike manscaping all the other manly parts on your body, shaving your legs for cycling has some individual based decisions that should be taken into consideration before taking the plunge and going all the way. Here is a decent step-by-step guide for the art of shaving your legs for cyclists (and non-cyclists alike).
1. Use a Hedge Trimmer
For the particularly hairy cyclist, using an electric hair trimmer to take the hairs down as much as possible BEFORE coming in with the razor is deal. If you fail to do so, your razor is more likely to become clogged in the shaving process. This problem will be particularly acute if you are using a multi-blade cartridge razor. Shaving your legs with a safety razor may be somewhat easier with full growth, but you are still advised to remove some of the length first. It will make cutting through the hedge that much easier.
2. Exfoliate the Skin
The closest shave possible starts with a proper exfoliation. Exfoliation helps to remove excess dander and dead skin on the legs and feet, but it also assists in the avoidance of future in-grown hairs occurring as the hair starts to grow back.
3. Build a Leg Lather
The best method for exfoliating is using a high quality shave brush combined with a good shave cream or lathering shave soap. In doing so, apply lathered-up shave soap or cream liberally to the entire surface of the legs. It is wise to do this in a convenient place that will not make a mess like the shower. The discerning cyclist will want a shave cream or a shave soap that includes both great moisturizing properties as well as a good aroma.
4. Use a New Razor Blade
We recommend using a brand new razor blade when shaving your legs. There is a lot of foliage and having a brand new blade allows you to really have the sharpness necessary to get through the much larger surface area. Whether you use a cartridge razor with multiple blades or a standard double edge safety razor, it’s up to you. However, we recommend against shaving your legs with a straight razor unless you are getting it done professionally or are highly experienced with a straight razor. Shaving your legs with a straight razor can also be much more time consuming, even for the experienced.
5. Use Proper Technique
The leg shaving technique between using a safety razor vs. a cartridge razor can vary widely. If you have already trimmed your legs shaving with the grain (downward)–while ultimately more awkward in practice–will help you better prevent in-grown hairs. When using a safety razor you will want to be a bit more cautious when shaving ankle, knee and especially pubic-region hair. For the avid sweaty cyclist, shave nicks and cuts and come back to sting when sweat salt inevitable aggravates the wound.
Once complete, rinse-off any excess shaving cream and liberally apply some good unscented post-shave lotion across the surface area of your legs.
What about waxing, Nair or epilators for leg hair removal?
While we will not completely delve into these options here, there are other methods for leg hair removal including hair removal cream (e.g. Nair), epilators (which is waxing-like hair follicle rip-out) and waxing.
These methods are likely not the best for discussing here. They are best reserved for having someone else assist in the removal of the hair. For those removing their hair solo a good classic razor and cream is your best method.
Pro bicyclist Johan van Zyl claims he would shave even if the cycling benefits weren’t there:
My girlfriend likes it because my skin feels better when brushing against her skin, and I like it because it looks cool, feels cool, makes me feel faster and even makes my legs look muscular. Any recreational rider should cut off that leg hair, or avoid Lycra – the two do not mix well.
So, whether you’re shaving your legs for vanity, for tradition or for simple function, be sure to take into consideration all the potential ways the hair can be removed and how that might impact your ride.
Happy cycling and happier shaving!