American women began to shave their legs and armpits after an ad for sleeveless dresses appeared in Harper’s Bazaar in 1915, but no one seems able to link any such event to the advent of male cyclists putting straight edge blade to leg. If asked, a cyclist is likely to name one of myriad reasons floating around the cycling community for wanting to shave their legs, but some of the most common are listed below.
Road Rash: The claim here is that when a cyclist crashes and must remove the road grit and debris from a leg, the hair impedes the process and pulls at the skin when the blood dries and forms a scab. Also, hair makes bandage removal a wee bit more painful, and some insist the threat of infection is decreased on a hairless leg. However, naysayers dispute the validity of this claim, questioning the exclusion of the arm in the shaving process. They argue that arms are just as likely to incur road rash, yet arm hair remains untouched. Why shave their legs but not their arms?
Aerodynamics: Less hair, more speed? Consensus on this one is of a less scientific and more psychological benefit. Removing a few hairs is unlikely to truly give an aerodynamic edge to a cyclist, but the psychological “placebo” effect may very well have an impact. Being hairless feels freeing to some and the more unencumbered and free a cyclist feels, the faster the body is likely to respond.
Vanity: Long hours on a bike produces taut, well defined muscles. Hair covers up the definition that many cyclists want to show off. Even if a cyclist isn’t into showing off the assets to others, it’s still appealing to have a visual reminder of the long hours of toil upon the bike seat, so this is right near the top of the list for reasons cyclists shave their legs.
Tradition: This is likely the most valid and widely spread reason a cyclist would want to shave their legs. Despite the fact that no one seems to know exactly when or why the tradition started, it’s still embraced by the cycling community and a smooth leg tags a biker as a “real” cyclist. Keeping legs hairless is a commitment, and when riding with a group of cyclists, it’s not generally appealing to be the one guy in the group who doesn’t go that extra step.