I would like to take this opportunity to discuss some issues about cyclists. First, they are extremely sensitive about their name – cyclist – as opposed to biker. This likely stems from the latter’s preference for leather instead of lycra. Which brings up another issue: spandex. Cyclists wear this for several reasons, such as aerodynamics, reduction of that annoying flapping while doing some awesome descent, and also the opportunity to show off the physique attained while doing some hideous climbing. Which brings up another, larger point. One that almost everyone asks a male setting out on a cycling trip. The shaven leg. Below is a brief discussion of the pros and cons of shaving the lower extremity, which we discussed on our short trip from Buckeye to Phoenix, before our presentation to the University of Arizona Medical School about global health. Fourth year medical education at its finest, right here. But enough about medicine; back to the legs.
Reasons Cyclists Shave Their Legs
1. Road rash – this is allegedly the real reason people shave their legs when cycling. The shaven leg is much easier to debride, or scrub gravel out of forcefully with a stiff plastic brush, than the hairy leg. Thankfully we have not had a crash resulting in road rash yet, but Katie Kidwell did have an excellent dismount from her bike at a stop light that day in Phoenix. She didn't even remove her feet from her bike as she lighted on the ground - all those years of gymnastics paid off!
2. Improved aerodynamics – lets be honest, this is pure B.S. The cyclist may feel they are faster without leg hair, but there is no way that cyclists, especially at our level, will have a gain in performance due to a lack of hair; if anything, you may miss the feel of wind in the leg hair making you aware of your pace, and paradoxically feel slower due to the newly naked skin.
3. Solidarity – this is a very important reason. Several of the male riders had already shaved their legs for aesthetic or other reasons, and the shaven ranks swelled by a few in the first few days, as Tim Mitchell joined in with his razor. The sense of brotherhood and team is an important part of why people shave their legs for cycling.
4. All the girls were doing it – past tense. The less said about this the better.
5. Sunblock – since we are riding for several hours each day, sunblock is an important part of your morning ritual, unless your name is Maggie Rosen. Leg hair, especially thick leg hair, can greatly complicate and lengthen this maneuver. A shaven leg is much easier to apply sunblock to than a hairy one.
6. Insect Rights – believe it or not, every day after a ride I have to dig at least three bugs out of my leg hair. This is somehow more disgusting to me than the bugs swallowed while riding or the bugs that you wipe off your face. Without leg hair, the bug would slide right over the leg, continuing to live. At least until it met an unshaven leg. Or a windshield.
7. The calves – you know you want to see them. A shaven leg just puts them on display that much better.
Reasons Cyclists Should Not Shave Legs
1. Time – from a base state of hairiness, it takes about 45 minutes to shave a leg. One. Singular. This is a serious time commitment.
2. Razorburn. Ouch.
3. Folliculitis/ingrown hairs -> necrotizing fasciitis -> sepsis/amputations -> death. No one wants to be a case report.
4. Razorburn. Hurts even worse the second day.
5. Sunburn - according to Travis Grace, M.D* hair acts as a natural sunblock: “I mean, your scalp doesn’t burn unless you shave your head.” Sounds scientific to me.
6. Awkwardness – the positioning required to shave, say, the popliteal space behind your knee or the back of the thigh properly requires a PhD in yoga. And may make you feel like you need to have a confession.
7. The itching – it does not stop.
What, then, is the reasonable cyclist to do, given these facts? The answer seems clear enough to me. Shave one leg, and let the other go.
*pending satisfactory completion of the Ride For World Health