To Shave or not To Shave
Many of those who’ve attended a bicycle race or triathlon consistently ask, or are reluctant to ask, “Why don’t any of the guys have hair on their legs?” No, hours spent at high heart rate does not cause leg hair to miraculously fall out, it’s instead a process many men swear by, while knowing little reason why. The razor has met my legs since the age of 8 years old and I can’t recall ever having post-pubescent hairy legs as I’ve always done some kind of racing. Over the last 30 years, I’ve heard many good reasons as to why this is part of cycling, triathlon, and swim culture, but no great reasons! Here we dive deeper and explore the most prevalent ideas and likely purposes.
Reason No. 1 is simply that it hairless legs look better. We love to show the results of our hard work and to intimidate the competition, all the while looking “serious.” This is why most athletes shave. The fact that it only takes a few minutes to complete the process allows for most racers to get on board with the smooth leg look.
A second reason is that the tight fitting spandex often worn in endurance sports is far more comfortable with smooth skin. There’s no hair-pulling while getting tights or compression gear on and off, and far less chafing and itching.
Lately, a timelier reason to shave is the common use of physio tape many swear by to address injuries, as it happens to be incredibly sticky. This tape has far better cohesion to non-hairy skin, and is more comfortable to take off after training or racing events without pulling your hair out.
An age-old reason was that during the post-crash-nursing of wounds, having preshaved skin made dealing with the road rash exponentially easier, and much
less likely to become infected. Though few thankfully have encountered this regularly, this was one way to make a very “unmanly” activity, seem significantly more masculine.
Lastly, shaved skin is proven to be faster, at least on the bicycle. Recent professional triathlete wind tunnel studies by Specialized have shown up to 15 watts saved at
30 miles per hour by just shaving your legs for a bike ride depending on your personal level of “Chewbacca.” This is roughly 3 to 4 percent of total energy expenditure, and though it may not sound like much, many endurance athletes are willing to spend thousands of dollars for this kind of time savings. When looked at from this point of view, a Gillette razor or extra Dollar Shave Club membership seems to be a bargain investment.
These days, beards and body hair are in and we’ve noticed less leg- shaving (among men at least) going on before these events. If you are a man and do shave for a race for the first time, don’t feel awkward, and the same goes for if you choose not to. It’s not a necessity, but it does make you feel much sleeker and will make you a little quicker on the race course.