Dave Moulton

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« Bike lanes may disappear on Coleman Blvd. | Main | Helmets: Now you can vote »

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.

Reader Comments (65)

Serious cycling is all about the little things. Shaved legs are just one of those things that make long rides more enjoyable, whether you're racing or not. They definitely make you feel more aero and it's obviously part of the culture. It's like what Louis Armstrong said when asked to define jazz. "If you have to ask, then you don't get it."

May 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRob Mustard

and all this time I thought it was to reduce the drag coefficient!

September 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTim

I guess I need to buck up and shave the legs. It may make the wife crazy, but she'll get over it.

November 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBill

Traditional-best reason I've encountered so far. I used to think that its for aerodynamics but nah. Anyway, I don't shave my legs when I bike to work but I sure have to do it when I ride with my cycling pals.

November 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPedals Cycling

Getiing dropped may not have been just psychological. The other riders may well have turned up the speed hoping to drop the "Mastodon." When I did my first club rides, thirty years ago. There was noticeable agitation in the groups when I could keep up with my hairy legs. Eventually more and more riders would get burnt off, in the rolling terrain until I was finally dropped by a handful of top level riders. No one wanted to ride in a pace line with a hairy-legged-rookie. The hairiness of my legs marked me out as a rookie, squirrel, inexperienced in group riding techniques even more than my occasional riding faux pas.
Later, in collegiate races, I participated in "Hairy burn offs", where the USCF regulars would ride at manic speeds, on tight criterium courses, using all their brawn and skill until the lead group was just the "serious cyclists" and then we could relax and just race each other.
At The Death Ride, I was tapering out of shape, and got passed going up hill by a coed tandem. I looked over at the guy...."I don't mind that you are on a tandem and passing me uphill, or that your stoker is a girl....but your hairy legs are ffffing killing me!! He sprinted off as his stoker and I laughed, hers fading in the distance. Having an alien in the bunch will make it go faster.

January 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

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

I polished my rocket once, does that count?

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlan

Tradition? A Statement? Wanting to fit in? Hmmm, sounds like a tattoo, except you can grow it back. A tattoo is permanent, never understood that concept. I know, it shows you are a rebel, a counter culture type...just like most everyone else below 45.
Anyways, shaved when riding in clubs and such, quit when the new wife indicated her preferance for hairy legs. Asian women seem to find bushy tree stumps attractive?!? Go figure....

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

Hahaha fascinating! Thank you, I have really been curious about this one. I'm a new (BRAND NEW) road biker (I mean, literally as of last week) so I'd appreciate any advice you have to give! 188miles.blogspot.com

April 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMcCrae T. Harrison

An interesting insight into cycling :-)

August 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichael McMulllan

hey dave thats a good explanation

December 15, 2012 | Unregistered Commenternissy

"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."

This reminds me of an "Inspirational" screensaver I saw a while back:


February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGL

I seriously think a man shaving their legs is self emasculation. A friend of mine who I got into cycling has started shaving his legs. Fair play with tradition and being a cyclist but things evolve. If there is no gain why do it?. I'm a casual cyclist and will go out 2 or 3 times a week in the summer months and then it's weather permitting October to March. I have never shaved my legs and wouldn't even contemplate this; i'm far too masculine for that nonsense. Through the summer I always wear shorts and have muscular moderately hairy legs. If I shaved them I'd probably look like I just had ponce legs. And if any other cyclist ever made comment on my hairy legs I'd remind them that I'm a man, like them and I'm supposed to have hairy legs.

Only ladies should shave their legs. Not men.

April 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher M

I never shaved my legs until 1995 when I began training for the Little 500 as a student at Indiana University. For those unfamiliar, it is a 1/4 mile cinder track that is very unforgiving to the unfortunate cyclist who lays out a bike. I only ignored the warning to shave once before experiencing the marriage of cinder and fur...I have been shaving for 18 years now...

May 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSam

After 15 years of racing, of trying my best to "fit in", of conforming to "tradition," I have made a conscious decision this season NOT to shave my legs. My counter-arguments are thus:

Practical reasons: Massages? Can't afford 'em anyway. Cleaning wounds after crashing? The hair is added incentive not to take risks that would leave me on the tarmac.

"It looks better": Of course it does, but I think I've stop caring about image.

Psychological advantage: I've become confident enough in my abilities that I would actually rather have a competitor UNDER-estimate my ability, as they might after viewing my hairy legs.

Emulating the "greats"/tradition: At this point, I'd like to do everything I can to distance myself, in image, morals, and otherwise, from those (both past and present) at the upper echelon of cycling. My favorite heroes are the "average Joes" who toe the line with me at the local Tuesday Night Crit, bleeding out the eyes to hang on and maybe eke out a top-5 result, toiling in obscurity but "riding with honor", as we say.

Shave away, if you so desire. To each his own.

Happy trails,

May 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick

is the shaving of the legs also applicable to MTB riders, or can we get away with it. i am an endurance cyclist and i ride a city MTB over long distances and i wear standard road cycling clothing..

July 9, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterparry
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