Why Do Cyclists Shave Their Legs?

The Answer May Surprise You

Cycling: 90th Road World Championships 2017
Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Shaving leg hair is fairly common in the cycling world, both for professional riders and the more serious amateurs.

In 2014, Specialized Bicycle Components released a video claiming shaved legs are significantly faster than furry ones. How much faster? They provide almost as much of an advantage as switching from a round-tube frame to an aero-style one, says Mark Cote, who does aerodynamics R&D for the California-based manufacturer.

Whether you believe the science or not, the decision to shave is a personal one. Here are some of the reasons riders given for shaving their legs.

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For More Aerodynamics

To make oneself faster is probably the most frequently assumed benefit of leg shaving. Less leg hair, less drag -- that's the thinking.  The problem is that the aerodynamic advantage gained in this area would be so incredibly slight as to be virtually undetectable. This is especially laughable when you think about a guy like USA cyclist Dave Zabriskie shaving his legs to go faster, and then keeping that big honkin' mustache.

Tthe actual benefit depends upon how hairy you are. And, regardless of what actual testing in a wind tunnel would show, like so many things in life, a cyclist who BELIEVES that having smooth legs is helping is likely to see (or perceive) a positive effect as a result.

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Easing Healing of Road Rash

One of the reasons for shaving is that it makes the healing of "road rash" -- that painful patch of skin that has been ripped off your body after a nasty fall -- that much easier. Cleaning the wound is simpler with no leg hair in it, and you lessen the chance of infection in addition to minimizing the painful problem of leg hair getting trapped in the scab as the wound dries out.

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Makes Massage More Pleasant

One of the best things about being a professional cyclist is the massage sessions that follow a day's riding. Having clean shaven legs makes it easier and more pleasant for the trainer to perform massage. ​Getting your hair pulled during massage hurts. A lot. Plus, there's no pulling on the leg hair when they really start working the muscles hard. 

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More Attractive Appearance

To many people, shaved legs simply look better than hairy ones. Tanned, muscular and lean legs are enhanced by smooth skin. After all, that's the same reason weightlifters shave their body hair -- to look better when they're strutting around stage. And anybody who has followed pro cycling knows there is no shortage of preening in the peloton.

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Maybe one of the strongest appeals to shaving one's legs as a cyclist is the tradition involved. No one knows which cyclist first shaved his legs, or why. In his blog, the frame builder and amateur cycling historian Dave Moulton writes that racers have done so for at least 100 years.

To shave your legs marks you as one of that group, regardless of how fast you actually go on a bike. Shaved legs are the trademark of a serious cyclist. Half of being a cyclist, some might say, is looking the part -- after all, shaved legs show off the muscles.