My last column was a success! And by a success, I mean that someone wrote in with an “Ask BB25” question. Jordan from Portland, Oregon is preparing to rid his legs of hair for the 2012 spring riding season and is not sure whether to go with the traditional method of shaving or the more involved waxing option. He had several questions on the why and how of going hair free for cycling. Like most men, he is not super familiar with the waxing process. (Forgive me if you are a guy and can perform a salon quality wax). It got me thinking that there must be other guys (and girls) who aren’t versed in the various hair removal processes. Well, it’s your lucky day! I am quite familiar with waxing – I attended cosmetology school after all – and I personally love it! I would dunk my entire body (minus my head and eyebrows…) in a vat of wax if I could. I want to be fair to other methods though, so I have gotten feedback from a variety of people on this topic.
Shaving is definitely the most common method of getting the legs bare for cycling. It is the simplest and the cheapest per session. Over time, it isn’t the most economical if you count a lifetime of razors and shaving cream/gel. Legs are smooth for about a day, maybe less if you have coarse hair. If your hair is dark, stubble could be visible within a few hours. But it is the quickest, most convenient to do anywhere, and doesn’t require any prep or post care. Izzy Cohan (races for CRCA/Foundation and Warren Wilson College), Molly Cameron (races for Portland Bicycle Studio – MetaFilter), Pierre Vanden Borre (races for Rapha Continental), Jed Kornbluh (Team Honcho) and Dan Chabanov (races for the Richard Sachs cyclocross team) all shave their legs for cycling. I am honored to collect input from these rockstar cyclists.
Dan began shaving his legs mostly because everyone else was doing it. Now it is a combination of psychological and practical reasons and is an integral part of his training and racing routine. Izzy (my favorite 19 year old racer, whom I met at the Bilenky junkyard CX) shaves his legs for several reasons.
“I shave my legs because when you crash it pulls less skin out and is easier to take care of with the bandages. Also when your legs are shiny with sweat and sun and smooth the muscles in your legs look better. And freshly shaven legs feels great on bed sheets and pants.”
These seem to be the most common reasons, and Molly and Dan both commented on smooth legs making post riding cleanup quicker. It is definitely easier to wipe dirt and mud off smooth legs. Jed describes how shaved legs help manage the dreaded road rash that is sometimes unavoidable as a racer or serious cyclist.
“I once hit the deck in a crit going downhill at 40+ mph into a turn (the wheel I was following washed out and down I went) and lost a ton of skin from my right side – hip to ankle. The wound was difficult to maintain and I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to tear off fresh hair every time I refreshed the bandages.”
The sexy leg effect that Izzy mentioned also got several votes. Pierre still has what he calls his “winter coat” and plans on “shedding it soon”.
“Shaving tends to give you the impression that your legs are a bit more toned than when you’re sporting all that hair…and in the early season, when you’re all plump from the winter, any encouragement helps.”
Applying and removing embrocation is also more fun with hair free legs. And if you have the luxury of getting massages often like Molly does, then that’s another reason. “I try to get consistent massage work done and having shaved legs makes getting a professional massage less painful and a little easier for the therapist.” The ladies in their lives play a role here, too. We always get to put in our two cents with our man’s facial hair, and apparently, it’s no different with leg hair. Both Jed’s wife and Molly’s girlfriend are fans of their silky, smooth legs.
So now we know the reasons that serious cyclists want their legs to be bald like a baby’s butt. But what if you want to explore other ways of going hair free? Below are some tips, stories (good and bad!), and processes to help you decide which way to get smooth.
Waxing: It seems like all the cyclists I spoke with have horror stories about waxing. Izzy tells me about an instance with an ex-girlfriend that involved an old sheet or boxer shorts. Yikes. Not surprisingly, he decided to shave the other leg and never waxed again. Dan tells of his teammate Alex Bremer who ended up with the dreaded gross in-grown hairs, and Molly gave it up due to the clean up and it being time consuming. Waxing requires either money or skill. Money, because waxing both legs can cost up to $200. It does hurt but that hasn’t deterred me… and girls wax in sensitive areas! If you can crash on your bike and still want to ride, then you can handle a little waxing. There are always skin numbing creams and Aspirin for before you go, and yes, there is also the possibility of red bumps, minor bleeding and ingrown hairs. The risk of ingrown hairs is much lower if waxing is done properly. Buy salon wax, make sure its hot enough, spread it thin, use muslin strips, pull the skin taut, and yank in the opposite direction of hair growth! And please trim up that forest before waxing. Hair should be about ¼”. There are wax removal products for residue, but baby oil does the trick, too. If you are using microwave wax, stay within reason of the recommended heating times, or the cups will melt and get all over your microwave.
Karen Minnich Skorochod, hardcore cyclist, fellow cat lover, and wife of the awesome Cycling Captured photographer, Anthony, fills me in on epilation.
“I like to epilate. It may hurt a bit at first but it is long lasting and the hair grows back really fine. As a disclaimer, my husband says I’m nuts.” Like waxing, epilation can cause ingrown hairs, so exfoliating is a really good idea. Post bath or shower is ideal since hot water opens your pores. (That’s also true for shaving. Don’t shave in cold water!) “There are pre-epilation sprays that are supposed to help eliminate the pain initially, but I have never tried those.” Karen is tough like me! Epilation can cause redness so it is best done at night. Pulling the skin taut is recommended with this method too. A good epilator can be $100, which may be hard to swallow but you’ll never have to buy another razor again. Thanks Karen!!
I had to call in a professional for laser hair removal since this method is performed by physicians, nurse practitioners and other certified medical professionals. Sandra is a fellow Philadelphia girl turned Central Pennsylvanian (like myself!) and has a long list of credentials. See if you can figure out this title: Sandra S Cook, MSN, CRNP, BC-FNP. Sandra has also earned a certificate from the American Board of Aesthetic Medicine, in Medical Aesthetics. Pretty impressive! There is no real downside to laser hair removal other than the cost. It is approximately $3000 for the six sessions it takes to be hair free. Although $3000 seems steep, the result is permanent. There is some discomfort and heat sensation associated with laser hair removal, but Sandra says it is far less painful than waxing. “The FDA states that our laser system, CUTERA, can claim 80% permanent reduction, however clinically we note closer to 100% reduction of hair and this is permanent. Patients often need a touch up treatment after about 1 year to address any growth of new hair, but any hair that has responded to the treatment will never re-grow.” The only other issue is whether your hair is a proper candidate. Most people can get laser hair removal, but fine, white or gray hair is much more difficult to treat. Coarse, dark hair is the easiest.
A couple of inspirational quotes about going hair free:
“Shaving is part of our culture.” -Jed Kornbluh
“Shaving your legs is just another way to remind yourself that you are a cyclist and there’s a bunch of riding on the horizon.” –Pierre Vanden Borre
After reading this you may want to try another method or it may have convinced you to start/stick with shaving. If you do shave, invest in a good razor. It makes a huge difference in comfort and smoothness. And of course there are other methods like sugaring, threading, and electrolysis. But I think we’ve all had enough of hair removal for one day and are now ready to bare our legs for the cycling season. Until next time, happy (hairless) riding!
*Molly Cameron – (photo credit: Kei Tsuji) **Dan Chabanov – (photo credit: Peter DiAntoni)