Rule number 33 of the substantial list of cycling guidelines, known simply as “The Rules“, is as follows:
Rule #33// Shave your guns.
Legs are to be carefully shaved at all times. If, for some reason, your legs are to be left hairy, make sure you can dish out plenty of hurt to shaved riders, or be considered a hippie douche on your way to a Critical Mass. Whether you use a straight razor or a Bowie knife, use Baxter to keep them smooth.
I happened upon this list three days before my first initiation into “real” cycling – that is, actual cycling, not just “riding my bike”. I had already been worried about the shaving of the guns before I happened on the rules because I’d seen it mentioned elsewhere while researching proper group cycling etiquette. While I am not quite a yeti, I am a furry fellow and up until the day I happened on Rule #33, I had only been trimming my leg, arm and chest hair with clippers. I kept it just long enough that I wouldn’t feel like wool to my wife when we snuggled up on the couch. Reading the rule changed everything for me…
Not wanting to be a “hippie douche on [my] way to Critical Mass” on the day of my first ride with real cyclists, I took razor to leg and shaved “the guns”. Imagine my surprise when, sitting on my top tube (according to Rule #80 – see below) at the starting point, I noticed that I am the only cyclist with “shaved guns”. In my attempt to not be a “hippie douche”, I stuck out as a dopey noob who bought the hype. I was rather embarrassed to say the least.
The next day I passed on my horror, in great detail, with the owner, now a good friend, of the local shop. He explained that, at least in our small town, only the racers who ride in State Champ races or better, shave their legs – that for most, it is an option that simply isn’t worth the effort. Eventually, once the embarrassment subsided, I spoke with my wife about the situation expecting we would have a hearty laugh and I would allow my hair to grow back. If I didn’t already feel like I was in a bad episode of Twilight Zone, she actually said she liked my newly silken jackhammers and asked me to keep up them as such. Will wonders never cease. I have kept the guns wicked clean since. I don’t even opt for the allowable every four-day shave, for this would mean an uncomfortably pokey snuggle partner for my wife – happy wife, happy life.
Now, my awesomely laughable tragedy notwithstanding, the question will invariably come up once a man decides to take up cycling, must one’s legs be shaved. I am here to help navigate this slippery subject, because this will be anything but simple…
First, let’s get the low-hanging fruit out of the way: If you are going to stick to mountain biking only, the answer is flat-out, no, you do not have to shave the guns. You can but it is absolutely not necessary. The reasons for choosing to will follow below.
For road cyclists, you will want to fit in with the group you ride with so a simple trip to the local bike shop will go a long way to sorting this out – and best to ask someone with authority, manager or owner. If you’re too self-conscious, I would suggest the following guidelines: If you’ll be riding with the no-drop (slow) group, definitely do not go to the trouble of shaving your legs. If you’ll be riding with the advanced crew (20 mph + average speeds), you’ve got a 50-50 chance and you will not be derided if you show up with the guns glistening – but you may want to suck it up and visit the shop to be sure. If you will be racing (I would say at any level), get out your razor.
Now let’s get to the why. While shaving is technically more aerodynamic, to acknowledge this (let alone use it as the reason to shave) is strictly verboten. The advantage is so miniscule one is expected to make up the difference with muscle and determination. Swimming, however, is a completely different story. If you show up and someone asks you why you shave, if you answer “because it’s more aero”, you will rightly be laughed at behind your back. Next up is the road rash factor. If you crash, cleaning up a wound afterwards is much easier without matted hair tangled in the clot – this is why racers shave (and for a better massage). Crashes are more common in a race. Also, and this is the usual reason, your legs will look way more awesome without the fur. It’s just that simple. Now, as a side note here, there is a very good chance that if you opt to shave, your significant other will like that you do. Several wives (in addition to my own) who regularly read this blog and have cyclist husbands have happily shared this truth. Finally, and I can personally attest to this one, if you choose to shave and show up at the group ride only to find that you’re the only one there will no hair on his legs, it is perfectly acceptable to, when asked (never offer), respond with, “I got caught up in the internet meme that all non-hippie cyclists shave their legs and it turned out that my wife liked it so I simply kept shaving”. The fact that your legs look super-awesome as a result need never be discussed. At that point there will be a few chuckles and you will be brought into the group with open arms for openly admitting your noob-ish, and hilarious, over-enthusiastic mistake.
UPDATE: Kecia from Push My Limits added in the comments section that Triathletes will fit in better with clean-shaven legs as well – and shared that my wife’s assessment of shaven guns are, uh… Better.