Posted by: Travis | May 1, 2010

Travis’s Guide to Cycling Style and Cultural Norms Part 6: Grooming/Hygeine

Below, i’ll answer the $64,000 question that all non cyclists have for racers. The answer will probably disappoint you. These 5 guidelines will wrap up this series, but this is certainly a case of ‘last but not least’. The next five items are very important but aren’t really common knowledge or widely talked about outside of bike -nerd circles. So, lets get to the guidelines:

  1. Shave your legs (if you’re going to race) – Ask 5 different cyclists why they shave their legs and you’ll get 5 different answers. The most common answer is that shaved legs are more aerodynamic. As a guy who’s never been to a wind tunnel, doesn’t own a pair of aero wheels, doesn’t race with aero shoe covers (both of which offer significant improvements), and whose main race tactic is ‘find a good spot up near the front and hide there, shielded from the wind waiting until the last lap or two, then pop out for the sprint’, i can tell you that this is a load of bull. While hairless legs have been wind tunnel tested and proved to be faster, i can assure you that the main reason 99% of all racers shave is not aerodynamics. You’ll also hear that hairless legs are easier to clean when you crash and have road rash, and help prevent infection. While this is a nice side effect, it’s not the winner either. If it was, we would shave all of the other parts of our bodies that are subject to road rash too (arms, back, hips, etc).  Having hairless legs is pretty nice for clean up after a wet/dirty ride though. All you need is a wet paper towel and your legs are clean for the drive home. But still, that’s not the reason. You also hear guys say that they shave because it makes it much easier to get your legs massaged. For PROs, who get their legs massaged every few days, i buy this. Some of the guys i race with do get massages regularly (anywhere from once a month to once a week), but for most of us trying to bike race on a shoe string budget, a $100 massage doesn’t really fit into the picture. Another thing you hear is that when combined with spandex, shaved legs look good and hairy legs look funny. Yes, i just used the words ‘spandex’, ‘shaved legs’, and ‘look good’ in the same sentence without the word ‘don’t’. Again, i think this is more of a side effect of shaving and wearing spendex than anything else.  Sure, road racers are vain, but we aren’t so vain that 99% of us shave our legs just because it looks good. I’m serious about that 99% number too, it’s not an exaggeration. In fact, i think it might be a little conservative. So what’s the real reason? It’s a rite of passage, plain and simple. By shaving your legs, you communicate to the guys in your race that you are dedicated enough to racing your bike that you are willing to put up with ridicule from family, friends, and coworkers that don’t ride in order to be accepted by the guy in your race that you’ve never met before. Why is this important and why do we all do it? A guy with hairy legs is likely to be new to the sport, not very committed, and thus a sketchy bike handler when riding in the group. This is probably not the guy you want to trust with your well being by putting your front tire inches from his rear tire while jamming around a crit course at 28mph. Is he necessarily a bad bike handler because he has hairy legs? No, but it’s normally a pretty good indicator, and not worth risking a crash and some broken bones for. As a result, guys that race with hairy legs have a hard time because no one trusts them (unless you know them from experience) and people will in general refuse to open up space to let them in the group in front of them. Is it a perfect system? No. Bill Strickland does a better job of explaining it than i could.  There are plenty of sketchy riders out there that shave their legs, and you have to learn to quickly look the the signs of a guy that doesn’t know how to handle his bike, but the system works reasonably well. So why did leg shaving become the symbol of dedication? I’m not sure, but probably because the PROs do it for the massage purpose.
  2. Chamois time is training time – This is big, and beginners tend to break this rule all too frequently. When you’re done riding, you should get out of your bike shorts ASAP. A dark, warm, moist place is perfect for bacteria, and you really don’t want bacteria having a party in your nether regions. Wearing bike shorts for extended periods of time before you ride is also not desirable, but is not nearly as bad as continuing to wear them, after a ride. My advice? Practice and master the Towel Dance performed by surfers when changing into swim trunks or wetsuits at the beach. Basically you can change clothes under a towel without exposing yourself. I tried searching the internet for instructions or a video on the towel dance, but what turned up was a bunch of stuff that was neither relevant nor appropriate. I typically travel to races/rides in jeans or athletic shorts, get checked in, change into bike shorts, warm up/ride, then change back into street clothes as soon as i’m done. It’s much more hygienic and comfy.  I’ve never had a saddle sore, but i imagine they hurt. For longer rides i use chamois cream. DZ Nuts and Mad Alchemy both make great chamois creams. The best thing you can do for ass comfort is finding a saddle that you like. It’s a highly personal thing and what works for one person may not work for another. I find that i really like Fizik sadles, but i’ve also had good experiences with Specialized saddles.
  3. Embrocate! – Embrocation is a warming liniment that cyclists in Europe have been slathering on their legs for a long time. Recently, Belgium obsessed bike nerds have been getting really into the stuff, so i ordered some to see what all the fuss was about…and my life hasn’t been the same since. It’s just awesome stuff. My favorite thing about it is riding in the rain on cold days. Where i would previously layer up with tights or warmers that eventually get soaked though and get heavy and cold, i now just slather up with warming embrocation and the water runs right off while my legs stay warm. It can also be great on mornings when it’s a little cold and you know that if you wear a layer on your legs it will come off in the next half hour and you’ll be stuck lugging it around all day. Just put on a light layer of embro on and your good to go sans warmers. I also love the way your legs stay warm for the rest of the day after you put it on, just a friendly little reminder that you got out on the bike that day. Some times i’ll rub what i have left on my hands on my feet before i put my shoes on and it keeps my feet nice and toasty for the entire ride. I’ve only used Mad Alchemy embrocations, but at this point i don’t see a need to try any other brands, because their stuff is just so top notch. They’ve got a ton of different flavors, as well as different warming strengths, including some designed for summer riding that don’t warm at all (the ‘Mango Love’ flavor it great). Bottom line, it’s great stuff, maybe not for everyone, but if it’s up your alley, you can really geek-out.
  4. Recovery through stretching and massage – I could stand to get a lot better at this. The harder you train, the harder you should recover. There’s a saying with pro bike racers: don’t stand when you can sit, don’t sit when you can lay down. Really good bike racers look fluid on the biker, like they’re one with their machine, but get these guys off the bike and they walk around like the tin man. Cycling is great because it is a non-impact sport, but it’s also bad because it’s a non-impact sport. With stretching and massage you can help keep you keep your muscles loose and supple. Austin based Trigger Point Therapy makes some good products for stretching and self massage, though they are admittedly unexplainable expensive.
  5. Tanlines are good (except when they’re not) – Unlike most people, bike racers are proud of their tan lines. A sharp contrast shows that you’ve been out training in the sun honing your form and putting in big miles. And just to clear things up, a ‘farmer tan’ is a fade from light to dark over about 2-3 inches of bicep.  A bike tan is when there’s a hard line between light and dark in the middle/upper bicep. One of these is cool, the other is not. Tan lines are cool, except when it comes to skin cancer, so if you’re going to ‘curate’ some tan lines make sure to put some SPF10-15 on to take the edge off, otherwise, find some sort of water/sweat proof sunscreen to protect your skin.


  1. […] Travis’s Guide to Cycling Style and Cultural Norms Part 6 … by Travis Cycling is great because it is a non-impact sport, but it’s also bad because it’s a non-impact sport. With stretching and massage you can help keep you keep your muscles loose and supple. Austin based Trigger Point Therapy makes some … […]

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