Is no hair on your legs a matter of fashion or function for cyclists? Oregon-based triathlete Jesse Thomas forgot to shave before a wind-tunnel testing session earlier this year and decided it would be the perfect time to test this hypothesis. He found out the reduction in aerodynamic drag was so significant that even researchers running the test didn’t initially believe it.
Leg shaving in cycling dates back more than a century by some accounts. The original reasons are murky, but conventional wisdom holds that bare legs recover more quickly from road rash after crashes and hurt less during massage. As former Tour de France stage-winner Davis Phinney said in a recent interview, “Real bike riders shave their legs.”
Before wind tunnel testing, the aerodynamic benefits were generally considered a minor side-effect. Thomas was lucky to have access to a brand-new wind tunnel in California and tests showed that having hairless legs reduced Thomas’s drag by about 7 percent. Other fancy cycling components seemed relatively minor in comparison. A new helmet saved him 2 or 3 watts, and a new long-sleeved racing suit saved another 8 watts.
Five more cyclists were tested before they would let Thomas publicly reveal the findings. The results were consistent: All of them saved between 50 and 82 seconds over 40 kilometers.
The evidence concludes that legs free of hair improve aerodynamics substantially. The benefits of waxing your legs is that is (something) longer and over time hair becomes thinner and not as coarse. You also don’t have to do it as often. Either way if you are a cyclist, it pays to have hairless legs.