Thursday, June 7, 2012

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Several days ago, while driving downtown with my wife in the car, we passed a Septa bus, wrapped in a Vitamin Water ad.  The ad featured some male model riding a brakeless track bike—fully equipped with male model pony tail, jewelry, and sunglasses, but rather conspicuously sans helmet.  Oh, and I nearly forgot—he was naked.  Strategically covered, of course, by Vitamin Water’s slogan “You’re up,” whatever that means.  

“Eww, gross,” my wife said.

“What? I didn’t see it…” I replied, not know what had caused her such offense.  

“That guy, in that ad, was riding a bike naked…and his legs weren’t shaved.  It was so gross looking.”

I just smiled.  I knew that the transformation—which had been over a year in the making—was complete. 
The Vitamin Water ad
About 18 months earlier, to my wife’s embarrassment, I, as a cyclist subject to peer pressure, had begun shaving my legs in order to fall in line with my pedal pushing brethren.   It’s a perfectly normal reaction to have—her embarrassment, that is—to a practice that has puzzled many people on the outside of our culture.  There is no real slam dunk reason that we can give as to why we shave, which leaves people even more puzzled.  It is such a conundrum that it dominates many “normal” peoples’ misconceptions about cyclists.  Check out what happens when you type “why do cy” into Google:

So why exactly do cyclists shave their legs?  And if you are a cyclist who doesn’t (which, by the way, there is nothing wrong with), should you?  These answers are oft debated, but I’m about to cover shaving from bottom to top, or from top to bottom—depending on whether you go with or against the grain. 

Photo Credit: © Ken Redding/CORBIS

Pros actually have a legit reason for shaving.  When racing over 100 miles on a daily basis in a grand tour, pros get massages every single day.  Hairy legs might make that painful—or at least require a messy abundance of oil.  But what can we say for us amateurs?  I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a team soigneur following me around giving my legs a rubdown on a regular basis.  So what’s my excuse?

Photo Credit:

Cyclists—amateur cyclists specifically—like to cite all kinds of ridiculous reasons for shaving when they are confronted about their smooth legs.  It’s more aerodynamic.  It’s better for road rash.  It’s more comfortable.  It’s not as hot.  HOGWASH! That’s what I say.  Maybe those things are true, but anyone who goes through all the trouble of shaving their legs doesn’t do it for the aerodynamic advantages.  Road rash?  How often are you crashing?  Maybe you should rethink your hobby if you are crashing enough to shave just for this reason—not to mention you should also shave your arms.  They are equally likely to incur damage in a crash.  C’mon.  I will make this easy.  There is really only one reason that any amateur cyclist shaves their legs: We want to be like the pros.  We want to fit in.  We want to feel like we are part of the culture.  And it’s nothing to be embarrassed about! 
Why do people tuck in their shirts, or wear neck ties?  Why do people eat hot dogs at baseball games? Why do you hang a circle of dead pine tree branches on your front door around the holidays?  Because.  It is what everyone does.  It’s tradition.  There are no practical reasons for these things.  If there was, they surely became irrelevant many years ago.  I’m a cyclist so I shave my legs. 

It is a daunting thing: the first time.  So where do you start if you want to make the leap?  Well there are many different kinds of shavers out there (and by “shavers” I mean people who shave, not devices with which to shave).  Some shavers enjoy the Zen of it all, taking their time and enjoying more involved shaving processes that require practice and dedication.  Others are more results orientated, they want it done quick, not matter the method.  You have to decide where you fall on that spectrum.  I suggest starting in the middle and seeing how you feel about the whole situation.  Consult a woman, preferably one that you know.  They tend to know what they are doing.  Lather up and jump right in, although not too enthusiastically.  No one likes an unplanned trip to the ER. 

Maybe one of the best scenes in Breaking Away. 
Shaving can make you feel faster.  It makes you feel pro, like you belong.  Like fresh white bar tape, it will lift your spirits and will boost your confidence.  It just looks good.  Trust me, once you jump in, you’ll never go back.

These are local courier "Franky" Delafuente's legs.  Aspire to be more like them.  Photo Credit:

It becomes a signal.  It’s a signal to those you encounter on the bike that you are a cyclist—and a dedicated one at that.  Maybe it’s a bogus signal, because shaving your legs is not mutually inclusive of being a good cyclist—just as not shaving doesn’t make you a bad one (I know some pretty amazing cyclists who don’t shave).  It is, however, a non-verbal way of communicating to those with whom you are riding:  

“Hey, check me out.  I’m in the club.”

Some people—nay, many people—probably think that is silly.  It is a bit silly.  But sooner or later, after you have shaved for a while, you will see a bus passing by, with some pony-tailed model riding a fixie naked and say to yourself, “Eww, look at that guy’s hairy legs.” 

No comments:

Post a Comment