That whole leg shaving thing

If there’s one question that appears to fascinate and confuse non-cyclists, it’s the leg shaving thing. Take, for example, this clip from the most excellent QI

Why Do Racing Cyclists Shave Their Legs? – QI… by TotalBBC

Yep. Aerodynamics ain’t it. There’s no discernable aerodynamic advantage, and if there was we’d not be leaving the chin stubble intact either. Or the arms, come to that.

In fact, there are a large number of reasons cited, some of which are listed on the wikipedia article “Leg Shaving”. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

Firstly we must mention: it is not a uniform practice, by any means. Cycling has subcultures and each subculture tends towards a position on all manner of things, including shaving. For a road racer, it is de rigeur to shave or wax the guns. For a downhill or freeride mountain biker, it is decidedly not. XC mountain bikers differ in opinions, and in any case many XCers are also regular road riders – if only for training – so will often go smooth anyway. Commuter and leisure riders will look askance if asked whether they shave, of course. Unless they’re of the lady kind.

The reasons cited are manifold. Easier and less painful massages. That’s an explanation which has a degree of utility. Aesthetics, of course – the look of the thing and the better display of muscle definition is another explanation that rings somewhat true. And it’s very much a truism that tight-fitting lycra can look bloody awful with hairy legs protruding from the bottom, as well as being occasionally painful when your leg-grippers grip more than just your legs. Keeping wounds clean, slightly less convincing, since very few people actually plan ahead for road rash and of course road rash happens on the upper body too. As mentioned before we don’t shave our arms and if injuries were the main reason, we probably ought to. I can also attest, from experience, that it is possible, with care, to quickly shave the area around a wound before applying sticky tape and thus avoid the whole ‘ripping the hairs out hilariously’ thing.

There’s some truth to the idea that it makes cold, wet and windy rides slightly more pleasant – which slightly surprised me at first. You don’t get rain beading on your leg hairs. It just disperses. It’s a little counter-intuitive. The naive mind would expect hair to insulate but at speed in bad weather it just doesn’t do the trick. Riding bare feels different and it feels nicer. There’s also this reason.

But all of this neglects what I think is the real reason behind the leg shaving thing, And that’s this:

It’s a badge of membership.

When we shave the guns we are saying, in effect “I’m taking this shit seriously. I am a bike rider and I’m willing to put in the time to remove those annoying leg hairs, whatever the nebulous excuse offered up to non-cyclists happens to be. If I join your bunch, I know about doing my turns on the front. I can explain to you the difference between Strade Bianchi and Paris-Roubaix. I have an opinion on Di2, and I’m willing to share it with you over a specific variety of coffee – the choice of which I can defend with data. I have more carbon in my garage than Al Gore has in his powerpoint presentations. I know what double-tap is, I can true a wheel and I’m fully-versed in saddle sores and chamois cream. I’m a cyclist, dammit, and you can tell that from a mere glance at my legs.”

And that’s a fact.

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