Monday, January 9, 2012

why cyclists shave their legs





This topic really cracks me up; it generates some of the lamest slurs and comments from the non cycling community and creates a lot of eyebrow raising to new cyclists. Especially to the Chewbacca newbie’s to the sport.

The funny thing is most people don’t even realize cyclists have shaved legs until the topic comes up. It has been on TV, print, and magazines so much that nothing seems out of picture when you see it at first glance. Think about it, have you ever seen a gorilla like hairy mongrel on a bike? You know the guy I am talking about. The one who gets in the shower and water never touches is body because it runs off his coat like water on a ducks back?

After getting some lame heckling comments from a friend the other day I was thinking about all the reasons cyclists shave while I was riding for two hours while he was in his recliner swilling beers wearing his wife beater while watching springer.

After the ride I spent quite a bit of time researching the topic and found there are a lot of simple explanations but I set out to create the most comprehensive fact sheet on the subject.

Tradition
Believe it or not cyclists have been shaving their legs for well over 140 years! The Road bike racing scene began as an organized sport clear back in 1868. The first world championship was in 1893 and cycling has been part of the Olympic games since the modern sequence started in Athens in 1896. I did a little of research into the topic to see when women started shaving and found these little nuggets. According to an article published by Christine Hope in 1982 called “Caucasian FemaleBody Hair and American Culture”  Women started shaving around 1915 when sleeveless dresses became into fashion and started shaving their armpits, although it took a few more years before leg shaving caught on, Women's razors and other methods of hair removal didn't show up in the Sears Roebuck catalog until 1922. In other words men have been shaving their legs long before women ever started.

Aerodynamics
“A 1987 study conducted by Chester Kyle for Bicycling magazine concluded that the aerodynamic improvement is roughly 0.6 percent, which could result in a savings of around 5 seconds in a 40km time trial ridden at 37kph” For the metric challenged that’s 24.8 miles at 22.9 mph. For the average Joe just slumming it on the bike this isn’t a concern at all, but to the woolly mammoth, Sasquatch like Italian pro who lost a TT stage in the tour de France by a couple seconds it means buying a set of clippers and letting the fur fly!

Infection/wounds
Hair will actually pull more skin off, create a larger wound, will be harder to clean and more susceptible to infection in the event of a road rash incident so if you are a testosterone-laden goat boy it’s going to be a nasty gangrenes zombie scrape. It’s the same principal as when you get shaved before a surgery or getting a tattoo. And when you do go down like a ton of bricks and slide to a stop on the never ending cheese grater it will be a lot easier to scrub clean and treat without having to weave your way through the follicle forest.

Ingrown hairs
Cycling clothing has developed a great deal over the years into the current form of lycra giving away to spandex. But one drawback is the constant agitation of the material over the skin during the constant pedaling action. This isn’t a problem for everyone but for me it is no longer an issue. But if you are one of those who like to pick at scabs and squeeze imperfections knock yourself out!

Massage
Who likes massages?! Well who doesn’t, except that really furry guy getting his hairs pulled by the masseuse who isn’t particularly impressed at the same time? There is nothing better than a good post ride massage. These days there are more and more massage tables at every event from small club rides to pro events. It has become a documented benefit for cyclists helping with muscle recovery and prevents cramping, just to name a few benefits. It makes the massage ten times better.

Sign of weakness/inexperience
Nobody wants to ride near or around you if you have the Cro-Magnon man, furry leg warmers on. The reason is this. In a pace line or peloton you are inches away from other wheels and cranks moving at exceptional speeds and using cat like corning prowess in a group mentality. But when cyclists see a set of shaggy hobbit legs in the group the general mentality is that “that guy is dangerous”. I mean the perception that they don’t have the experience to ride safely in a group. That they may be a newbie rider that will make irregular swerves or brake abruptly causing crashes or accidents. Nobody wants to be around “that guy”

Mud/Road grime
A while back I was bombing down a 30 mile long grade in the mountains on the roadbike. I was on the drop bars and tucked into a kamikaze death ride to drop everyone on my tail and get every little bit of speed on my cycling computer. I sprang to the descent in such a haste it was not relayed to me that there were road crews below filling road cracks with hot tar. It made for some interesting cornering but I learned something that day. Blistering hot road tar will peel right off if your legs are glistening shorn. Same goes with the mud on the mountain bike trails. Nothing bugged me more than mud dingle berries ripping my leg hairs out. Plus it makes sunscreen easier to apply which also acts as a nice barrier to grime and the occasional high speed road kill splatter.

Athletic tape
Ever ripped tape of your shaggy legs?  Enough said.

Ticks
This benefit is more when I am on the mountain bike since I am usually free riding or dowhilling with knee or skin guards on. I am often blasting off the trail like an out of control missile picking up those pesky suckers like a magnet. Once I get back to the truck it makes inspection and removal a charm.

Tattoos
Who in their right mind would spend thousands of dollars and hours of pain on intricate ink and have it covered with teen wolf hair? A lot of others like myself nowadays have a lot of ink and are proud to show it, but it doesn’t make sense if you don’t showcase it. In fact this makes me think of a great tattoo for the back of the calf for the guy behind you to read “if you can read this you are slow”

The Psychological effects
This one goes both ways. The effects of seeing the clean intense rippled muscle definition of the hulk like sinew calves of the guy in front of you on a pace line makes you wonder what more that guy has in store towards the end of a vomit inducing race. And then you personally have the feeling of being aero and fast as you pedal faster and gain satisfaction that the air glides seamlessly without disruption around you.

But in the long haul there are a lot more than just cyclists that dwell in the shaving conundrums. You have Tri athletes, swimmers, runners, bodybuilders, even divers whom are constantly donning wetsuits.
I am not sure what the ladies think about this topic but then again, I never did care what other think of me.


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