His name was Charlie. I met him on a supported tour in CO. Nice guy. It was hot as we pulled up the 9-13% grade on Devil’s Gulch Road east of Estes Park. As we were chatting I glanced to my right and caught sight of his legs. What I saw normally is reserved for special effects in horror movies. The thick black hair on his legs was marinating in a viscous mix of sweat, road grit, crumbs from the energy bar he’d just eaten, and a few random insects. The Wolfman would’ve been proud to claim those hairy calves as his own – except Lon Chaney had hygienic standards. And people actually wonder why real cyclists shave their legs?
It’s part of a greater story that knows no boundary of time. To shave our legs is to channel the the legends of the peloton of the last century. Close your eyes and you’re eating dust on an unpaved road in the Dolomites in 1951. You’re toiling in the Mediterranean sun across the south of France in a grupetta rolling at 45 Kph. You are connected to a great cosmic ride surrounded by the ghosts of Le Tour past. You drop back to the team car to pick up water, and then press a bottle into the outstretched hand of Greg Lemond. You find yourself pedaling in a great churning sea of shaved legs.
It’s a sign of fellowship. Walk into a high end bike shop with shaved legs and you get better service. Dine outside on the patio wearing shorts and other cyclists nod as they walk by. Conversely, if someone shows up for a fast group ride with hairy legs – stay away from them, as they are obviously a neophyte. There’s an 88% probability they are wearing whitey-tighties under their bike shorts.
I’ve tried to help several guys [girls already do this without being asked] take the leap of faith, and shave. The lame excuses roll out: the stubble makes me itch…my wife will laugh at me…I don’t feel like it. I’ve tried humor, brow-beating, I’ve even tried adopting a quasi-theological tone: LET HIM WHO WOULD FOLLOW TAKE UP HIS RAZOR. I mean, dollar shave club will keep you stocked with fresh blades forever. All to no avail.
The practical side of smooth legs lies in the event of a crash. It’s bad enough to get road rash, worse to have hundreds of hair follicles ripped out in an instant. Worse-er still, carry a small army of microscopic beasties in your leg pelt and rub it into your abrasion so you get a ripping infection.
A few days later, during the aforementioned ride, I faced the CAT 1 climb out of Steamboat Springs after four days and more than 20K of climbing at altitude. I got up feeling pretty blown, so I put a fresh shave on my legs and face, and pulled out my sharpest cycling kit. When I lined up at the start, alongside me were the spirits of Fausti Coppi, Bernard Hinault, Jens Voigt and a vast multitude of clean shaven velo warriors. Looking at my legs, they welcomed me as one of their own.
I crushed the climb.
Shave your legs, okay?