Because neither specific historical reference nor objective scientific finding can account for why cyclists shave their legs, we asked some pros to judge the validity of the most-cited reasons.
It Improves Your Aerodynamics on the Bike
The Theory: In this age of seamless skinsuits, aero frames, dimpled helmets, and ultralight deep-rim carbon wheels, it’s senseless to ignore the slight but real advantage of having bare legs.
The Reality: “It [the actual benefit] depends upon how hairy you are. I mean, look at the skinsuits of today. They fit really well, there are no seams, no grippers. So if all that makes a difference, then a lot of hair on your legs could slow you down.” —former pro Levi Leipheimer
“Maybe at the most elite level of time-trialing. On a mountain bike: no way, not a bit.” —Multitime U.S. national mountain bike champion Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski
“In terms of actual aerodynamics [not much]. But I know that if I ever looked down while I was on the bike and saw hairy legs I immediately felt slower.” —Tour de France stage winner Davis Phinney
It Improves the Benefits and Pleasure of Massage
The Theory: Getting your hair pulled during massage hurts. A lot.
The Reality: “It’s why I shave. It would hurt too much if I didn’t.”—Leipheimer
“You need more oil if you have a lot of hair. You don’t want to feel like an oiled pig.” —Giro d’Italia winner Andy Hampsten
“Absolutely. It’s the number one reason I shave. I can’t imagine the pain of getting a full massage with hairy legs. I also think some of best massage techniques don’t involve much oil, so that makes having no hair even more important.” —Horgan-Kobelski
“It probably feels better shaved, but on a deeper muscular level there’s no difference. You can accomplish the exact same thing shaved or unshaved. I work on cyclists all year-round and even the pros go hairy in the winter.” —Certified massage therapist Chris Grauch
“I bet it’s nicer for the person giving the massage. Would you want to touch hairy legs?”—Multitime U.S. national cyclocross champion Todd Wells
It Makes Wound Care Easier and More Effective
The Theory: Cleaning and caring for road rash is simpler and yields speedier healing when there’s no leg hair present to impede the removal of dirt and grime, host bacteria, or complicate bandage changes.
The Reality: “I always thought crashing was the biggest reason. When you slide out on your bike, you take out big swaths of skin. Hair just collects dirt and is no fun to bandage.” —Phinney
“It also allows kinesio tape to stick better, which lots of cyclists are using these days.”—Horgan-Kobelski
It Just Looks Better—and That Makes You Faster
The Theory: Every cut and line of toned muscles pop when not obscured by a thicket of hair, and the snazzier you look the sharper you ride.
The Reality: “Absolutely. In your mind, having shaved legs makes you feel faster. I always shave before a time trial. You feel the wind flowing over your legs.” —RadioShack pro Chris Horner
Women Like Smooth-Legged Men
The Theory: Really, we just think our spouses and partners have been humoring us all this time.
The Reality: Even when [my husband] Jeremy [Horgan-Kobelski] stops racing I want him to keep shaving. I think it’s hot. But I’m a racer, too. The majority of the female population probably disagrees.” —Pro mountain biker Heather Irmiger
The Theory: Losing the leg pelt is a sign that you’re committed to living your life with the noble aim of honoring what it means to be a true racing cyclist–plus, showing up hairy to a serious group ride is akin to wearing shorts to church.
The Reality: “Tradition is why everyone shaves the first time. If you’re a bike racer, that’s just what you do.” —Horner
“Leg shaving is an expression of being a cyclist.” —Horgan-Kobelski
“It always just seemed stupid to me.” —Multitime Leadville Trail 100 winner Dave Wiens
“It was the fashion when I raced. It’s the fashion now. Real bike riders shave their legs.”—Phinney