HomeBlogShould You Shave Your Legs ?

Lee's Blog No 9

Can shaving your legs offer any advantage for regular male cyclists?


I don't race anymore, but many ordinary cyclists take a razor to their legs for reasons including vanity, tradition and function....

This week, for the first time in six months, I was able to go for a bike ride wearing shorts instead of winter tights.  Now I'm considering an even more radical concession to my favourite sport – shaving my legs.

This is already a well-practised custom within the ranks of the professionals.

Gerald Ciolek, who won last month's prestigious Milan – San Remo race said:

"There are some good and simple reasons for us doing it.  By shaving, you avoid the uncomfortable hair root infections that can be caused by our daily massages. Also, wounds simply heal faster after crashes and don't get infected as easily. Not to mention that it just looks better."

At the other end of the competitive spectrum, a Cat 4 rider who recently picked up his first points racing for in Scotland, says:

"I do it because cycling's tied to its history and, good or bad, leg shaving is part of that history. It's a cliché to say that it makes you feel slightly more serious about your sport, but the fact is that it does." 


Olympic gold medallist, hour record breaker and Tour de France prologue winner Chris Boardman believes shaving your legs can improve a rider's aerodynamics.

"You can shave in a certain way so that you leave your legs rough down the front edge but smooth at the side, creating an aerodynamic effect.
Aerodynamics is really important.  Human beings are a really crappy shape – a collection of tubes ostensibly – and 90% of the energy you produce on a bike goes towards pushing the air out of the way, so anything you can do to reduce drag has got to be a good thing."

Boardman knows exactly what a difference a bit of strategically positioned stubble can make to a rider's performance.  As the former head of research and development at British Cycling, he spent hours in a wind tunnel testing bikes, equipment, clothing and riding positions in search of "marginal gains" for the likes of Sirs Bradley Wiggins and Chris Hoy. He says:

"Having said all that, shaving your legs is mostly governed by vanity and tradition. Plus I used to get a massage every day, and with hairy legs that's rather unpleasant if the hairs get pulled."

When Boardman won gold on the track at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, he was riding a slice of carbon fibre designed by Mike Burrows, who later went on to revolutionise bike design with the compact frame (featuring the distinctive sloping top tube).

When it comes to the aerodynamic properties of depilation, Burrows recommends a Mohican for your legs.

"If you've got a little bit of hair on your legs it will turbulate [sic] the air so you get a better flow.  Now this in itself creates friction, so you don't want all your leg hairy you just want two thin strips, each about 10mm wide, just before the sides of your legs – though you will look really stupid.
You need the turbulent boundary layer – provided by these strips of hair - to get the air around the corner, and you need a smooth layer for it to flow over.  But the leg is such a rubbish shape that ideally you want an aerofoil on the back of it."

But the benefits of shaving aren't just scientific.  Some of them are sensual too. Shaw, who shaves his legs once a week, says:

"The best thing is that getting into bed feels pretty good!  It's women's best-kept secret: shaved legs and cotton bed sheets! But only up to my hips.  I heard a nasty story about an ingrowing hair on a club mate's perineum so I daren't go any further!"

And in the professional peloton, another Team MTN-Qhubeka rider, Johann van Zyl - currently competing against Wiggins in the three-day Giro del Trentino - says he would happily continue applying the razor even if he gave up racing.

"My girlfriend likes it because my skin feels better when brushing against her skin, and I like it because it looks cool, feels cool, makes me feel faster and even makes my legs look muscular.
Any recreational rider should cut off that leg hair, or avoid Lycra – the two do not mix well."

Let's know if you shave your legs, should it be for reasons of vanity, tradition or function?