Do I have to shave my legs?

Cycling is packed with all manner of traditions that would never cross the minds of other athletes. Shaving one’s legs as a matter of course is one of them.

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  • Unless you’re time trialling, it’s not going to make you faster
  • It does make an already post-race or post-workout massage easier
  • Taking care of the nasties after a tumble is better without hairy legs
  • It pushes the vanity buttons
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But is it really all that important?

Let’s separate fact from fiction. 

shaved-legs“Shaving your legs makes you faster”

Technically, the answer is yes. Functionally, you have to be in a wind tunnel, or a competent and frequent time trialist to really see tangible benefits.

So, if you’re Fabian Cancellara or Tony Martin, two of world cycling’s undisputed masters of the art of time trialling, you’d never dream of taking to the start ramp with hairy gams. When you’re consistently averaging over 23 mph (according to a 1987 study by Chester Kyle), shaving your legs will give you a slight advantage; Around 5 seconds for a 40km (24.8 miles) time trial.

My point is that most Cat 5 racers are going to be hard-pressed to average that speed for that distance, anyway, unlike the pros that can do much, much higher speeds.

With the exception of time trialing, shaving isn’t a practice engaged in specifically for added speed. That said, I’d be remiss in pointing out that many very successful racers shave their legs, as well as their arms, for that matter. Pro cyclists are at such an elite level of fitness, any specific and measurable advantage is treasured. 

But you and I aren’t Spartacus or the Panzerwagen. We also don’t race our bikes for our day jobs. So — what’s the role of leg shaving for us amateurs in terms of speed?

[callout icon=”hb-moon-bike”]There are real, tangible advantages to shaving your legs as a cyclist that supersede speed. [/callout]

As previously mentioned, time trialling and leg shaving go in hand in hand, even for the non-pro, assuming you’re maintaining speeds of 23 or greater over the course of the event.

For mass-start races, however, you spend so much time drafting other riders, it’s difficult to make a case for shaving if you want to go faster. Of course there are breakaways to be considered. If you have the mettle to consistently launch off the front and, essentially — time trial your way to victory, the razor may be your new legal performance enhancer. 

Don’t be misled, however. If you want to go faster for mass start races, train properly and become proficient at the Art of the Draft. You have to have a targeted training plan, a mindful diet, solid recovery, and a strategic mindset. These developable skills will go exponentially farther toward adding speed than shaving your legs. 

“Shaving makes massage easier”

This one is a no brainer. 

No hair means nothing is in the way of a post race massage and that means an easier, more comfortable massage. 

You don’t have to be a pro to enjoy the real, tangible recovery effects of a post workout or post race massage. Starting at the feet and working up, an increasingly firm massage moves fresh blood into previously-taxed muscles. That means your blood pressure, overall, improves. Your muscles will also more quickly return to their pre-exercise, lengthened state when they’ve been massaged after activity. This reduction in what physiologists call “tonus” improves recovery. Lastly, it has real psychological benefits, including increased calm, and a lower perceived fatigue level, which means you can go at it harder the next time you hop on the bike or hit the gym.

Don’t have a soigneur? (That’s the French term for the person on a team who, among many other support duties, provides post-effort massages.) Here are some tips for taking care of your own baby-butt smooth pistons after a hard event.

  • Use a quality massage oil. After a few massages, you’ll start to associate it’s scent with a sense of calm. Awesome how the brain works, isn’t it? Rub a few drops between your palms to warm it up.
  • For the best access and best circulatory benefits, lay on your back, and cross the ankle of the leg you’re massaging over the other leg’s bent knee.
  • Consistently work from the bottom of the muscle group up, moving blood towards your heart.
  • Start with your quads. Use the heel of your hands or your knuckles, and press as firmly as you can tolerate as you work your way up to the hip. Repeat 3 or 4 times up the length of the quads. If you like, you can then switch to pressing your fists into your quads, or a roller, working your way up.
  • Next, the hamstrings. Relax the muscles as you warm them up with fresh oil on the palms and vigorous strokes up towards the buttocks. Once warm, start by kneading the hamstrings from back of knee to the glutes. Use your fingertips and thumb to knead them like bread. Next, use any technique, from fists to forearms to rollers, to apply broader, firmer pressure.
  • End with a similar progression on the glutes. You can lay on one side, or use a massage tool. Some recommend using 3 tennis balls in a sock, and laying your butt on the sock, you can massage and work the muscles in the glutes.
  • Once you get into the habit of massaging post-workout or race, the benefits will become too great to ignore.

 

“Shaving makes dealing with road rash easier.”

I can speak to this one from personal experience. 

Yes. Absolutely. 

Hitting the pavement causes bruising and small blood vessel ruptures beneath the skin. Your forward momentum causes scraping. Your shorts and jersey provide some protection, but ultimately, you end up with a skin surface sausage affectionately called “road rash.”

That pressure and grind activity has to get cleaned in order to minimize scarring and speed healing. When you have hair in the mix, it makes the cleaning more difficult and — more painful. 

If you end up kissing tarmac, perform a thorough self and bike exam, and as soon as is feasible, tend to that mess with your road rash kit. (You DO have a Road rash kit, don’t you?)

“It looks pro.”

It looks pro, not only because the pros shave their legs for all the reasons previously mentioned, but because shaving allows the angles of the muscles of your legs to be revealed in all their bulgy glory. And who doesn’t like being visually reminded of the benefits of all that work?

[icon_box icon=”hb-moon-bike” icon_position=”left” align=”left”]Question: If you’ve already experienced the benefits of leg-shaving for cycling, tell us about your first shave experience. If you’ve not shaved, do you plan to? Why, or why not?[/icon_box]

Sam Lowe

I've been a road cyclist with a penchant for speed ever since my first-ever paycheck holiday. I blew the whole wad on a turquoise Schwinn Tempo with then-new Shimano 105 indexed shifting way back in 1985. I've been a voracious consumer of racing-oriented information ever since. Training, nutrition, bike fit, racing techniques, and all manner of "kit." Between nearly 30 years of riding, racing, and reading about racing, I'm ready to help you get ready to race.