Smooth Like Steel
It’s been ten years since I resumed cycling as an adult. In that time, I’ve ridden 28 thousand miles and gradually become more and more refined as a rider. But the one mark of a serious rider that I never did was shave my legs.
Over the years, I’ve come to understand that there are solid reasons for most of the crazy things cyclists are known for: tight spandex outfits reduce drag while cooling the body; day-glow colors increase visibility; riding in big packs avoids wind resistance; eschewing underwear reduces chafing, and so forth.
But I never really bought the argument that shaving one’s legs provided an aerodynamic advantage. And I always thought it wiser to avoid falls rather than shave one’s legs in order to make it easier to treat road rash. I thought shaving was mostly some sort of culturally-reinforced vanity thing. I didn’t see any logically valid reasons for shaving.
However, as time passed, I discovered two compelling (or at least rational) reasons.
The first is that it makes applying sunblock a lot easier. For many years, I never bothered with sunblock. I almost never burn, and I am outdoors early enough in the season that my skin gets acclimated to the sun gradually, long before its ultraviolet rays reach dangerous levels.
However, realizing how deadly melanoma can be and how (literally) exposed I was to it, I started using sunblock regularly a year or two ago. Putting sunblock over hairy legs is messy and ineffective, and, since I’m spending much more time on the bike, this year I realized that shaving would make that process quicker and easier. It wasn’t a compelling enough reason to shave, but it was the first reason I’d heard that made any sense at all.
The other new thing I’ve taken up this year is self-massage. I’ve found it helps immediate postride recovery quite a bit. Its effectiveness decreases quite rapidly a day or two after a long ride, but in the first 48 hours, it has made a big difference, particularly for my calves and hamstrings (my right hamstring has been my “weakest link” this year).
However, any attempt to massage hairy legs rapidly becomes an exercise in pain management. It’s just not pleasant, nor is it as effective as massage applied directly to bare skin. So after testing the value of self-massage and realizing how much more effective it would be on clean skin, I finally made the decision.
I shaved my legs.
That was three weeks (and two century rides) ago, and so far I haven’t found a downside. Throwing sunblock on is less messy, massages are more effective, and I no longer get sensitive thigh hairs caught in the elastic band at the bottom of my cycling shorts.
If it makes me more likely to use sunblock and perform therapeutic self-massage, I’ll certainly continue to shave my legs, especially when I’m riding as much as I have been this year.
Just… no photos, please!