Can shaving legs improve cyclists’ sports performance?

Today we will discuss a slightly frivolous topic, but there may be something to it. I am not a professional athlete, but many cyclists shave their legs for various reasons – tradition, for appearance, and for practical benefits.

This week, for the first time in six months, I had the opportunity to ride my bike in shorts instead of winter tights. And now I am considering making even bigger sacrifices for the sake of my favorite sport – shaving my legs.

Among professionals, this practice has long been common.

Bikers legs

“But does it benefit regular cyclists? I am not a professional, and I am afraid that shaving my legs might push me onto a slippery path leading to searches for sandalwood-scented friction cream.

We couldn’t ask our athletes about leg shaving, it was more like stumbling upon… barely escaped. So settle for comments from less self-conscious Western cycling stars.

Gerald Ciolek, the winner of the prestigious Milan-San Remo race, who rode for the South African team MTN-Qhubeka, which is sponsored by a company that provides bicycles to children in poor villages, said:”

“There are several good and simple reasons for this. In this way, you prevent infection at the hair roots, which can occur due to daily massage after workouts. Moreover, scratches heal faster and infection does not enter them as quickly. And legs look better, needless to say.”

And here is the opinion of less experienced Sam Shaw, who recently scored his first points for Stirling Bike Club in Scotland:

“I do this because cycling has its own history, and shaving legs, whether it’s good or bad, is connected to this history. Many use the cliché “it helps me take sport more seriously”, but the fact is that it really does help.”

Chris Boardman, the gold medalist, holder of the absolute hour record, and winner of the Tour de France prologue, is convinced that hair removal improves the aerodynamics of an athlete.

“You can shave your legs in such a way that they are smooth only on the sides, creating an aerodynamic effect. Aerodynamics is very important. The human body has a rather poor shape – it is a set of limbs – and we spend 90% of the energy on a bicycle to overcome air resistance, so any opportunity to reduce it is a useful opportunity.”

Boardman understands very well how the specific positioning of hair on the legs can affect an athlete’s performance. As the former head of research and development at British Cycling, he spent many hours testing bike models, equipment, clothing, and various positions of riders in the wind tunnel to achieve “maximum gains” for people like Bradley Wiggins and Chris Hoy. But he says:

“Mainly, shaving legs is still influenced by traditions and concern for appearance. Moreover, I do a sports massage every day, and loose hairs cause unpleasant sensations.”

When Boardman won the gold at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, he was riding a carbon bike designed by Mike Burrows, who later introduced a revolutionary design with a compact frame (featuring a distinctive sloping top tube).

When it comes to the aerodynamic properties of hair removal, Burrows advises to have a “mohawk” hairstyle on the legs.

“If you leave a little hair on your legs, they will be turbulent.”[так и сказал]Air, and it will be easier for you to ride through the air stream. To create friction, you don’t need to leave all your hair, just make two thin strips, 10 mm each, without touching the sides – although you will look very silly. You need a boundary layer – these very two strips of hair – that will cut through the air, and a smooth layer on the sides, along which the air will glide. But human legs have such a clumsy shape that ideally they will also need flaps.

However, the benefits of shaving are not only from a scientific point of view. They can also be felt. The show that shaves its legs every week says:

“When you go to bed, the sensations are amazing! It’s the main female secret: smooth legs and cotton bed linen! But I only shave up to my thighs. I heard an unpleasant story about an ingrown hair, so I don’t dare to go further!”

Another rider of the MTN-Qhubeka team, Johann van Zyl, admits that he would happily shave his legs, even if he quit sports.

“My girlfriend likes it when our legs touch, it looks beautiful, gives cool sensations, I feel like I can ride faster and my legs even look more muscular.”

But I still have doubts. Is it worth shaving your legs for appearance, tradition, or practical benefit?