What is it with cycling and facial hair? Beards and moustaches are only notable by their virtual absence in the pro-pelotons of the world. It’s a state of affairs that the writers of Velominati’s rules of cycling etiquette are keen to maintain. As Rule 50 states: “No full beards, no moustaches. Goatees are permitted only if your name starts with ‘Marco’ and ends with ‘Pantani’, or if your head is intentionally or unintentionally bald.” Apart from a select few Rapha models, it seems that most roadies, when using a razor, don’t stop with the legs. However, as the dark nights of November drag on, Rule 50 is getting increasingly broken. Hair is sprouting on the top lips of cyclists everywhere, even Lance Armstrong is not immune... November has become Movember.
It wasn’t always like this. In 1885, when John Kemp Starling put the finishing touches to his “safety” bicycle he didn’t just have a handlebar to steer with. Maurice Garin, the first winner of the Tour de France, survived the excesses of Henri Desgrange’s great race with his carefully groomed moustache intact. Josef Fischer, conqueror of the inaugural Paris Roubaix demonstrated his toughness with thick and elaborate facial hair. As the 20th century progressed however, something happened – between the two wars, only Albert Dejonghe and Jules Van Hevel beat the cobbles whilst sporting a ‘tache. Even in the hirsute 1970s there was a distinct lack of successful cyclists with hairy faces. Marco Pantani’s neat goatee aside, every winner of the Tour de France in the last 50 years has been clean shaven. The odd aberration has occurred – in particular Dave Zabriskie’s 2008 moustache - but it seems the overall consensus is to keep your face smooth. Elite rider, Rob Orr, of the Forme Procycliste SanLamere Team, thinks it might be because the moustache is synonymous with 70's porn stars and also the 118-118 adverts. “The 118 people should sponsor a cycling team and take the handlebar moustache to an even wider audience” he says. It’s not all about looks though: “When racing, a moustache would be like a human ash tray for road crud, snot and energy gel!”
One previous Paris Roubaix winner currently cultivating his facial hair is Magnus Backstedt. “I’ve got nothing against facial hair” he says “as long as it is kept neat. It definitely doesn’t slow you down – even if it does break up the airflow.” Big Maggy is hoping to raise as much money as possible for Movember and the work it does to raise funds for men’s health and awareness of the cancers that affect them. To that end he’s got the rest of Team UK Youth to join in. “We’ve made a pact to keep the mo’s at least until 7th December when we go to Gran Canaria for our training camp.” Rumours that the tough Swede grew his moustache in an afternoon are sadly unfounded.
Away from the pro-peloton, beards become more popular and not just with audax riders. The late, great bike mechanic extraordinaire, Sheldon Brown had one of the cycling world’s more eccentric beards and as Mark Beaumont racked up the miles on his round the world ride, so he racked up the hairs on his chin.
“Quite simply I rarely have the space or inclination to carry shaving gear, but more importantly a good beard is the perfect sun block and keeps the elements off you a bit.” says Mark “There are also parts of the world that I have pedalled through that a beard as been culturally advantageous - I was definitely given more respect in Pakistan because of my 'local' looking facial hair - there are other times that it helps just to look a little bit wild so that people don't try and meddle! As a cyclist, I have found myself in the odd situation of having shaved legs and a huge shaggy beard!”
With his next adventure approaching in January – the simple matter of trying to set a record for rowing across the Atlantic - it’s unlikely that Mark will be spending much time clean shaven in the early part of 2012.
Where does all that leave the rest of us? If you’re proud of your Movember mo and want to show it off on your bike, there are two events this weekend that will let you do just that. On Friday night, the Leicester Critical Mass-tache, will see over 200 riders of both sexes parading their (occasionally false) facial hair through the city, raising money for Movember and finishing with a Mo-party in a local pub. On Saturday the altogether more refined Tweed Run takes place in London with what is likely to be wide selection of impeccably groomed moustaches on show. Maybe the days of Rule 50 are numbered
Andy Ward works his socks off for the NHS as a GP and teaching at Leicester Medical School. After a brief foray into road racing he decided it hurt less to fall off on mud and is now most likely to be found on his cyclocross bike. He recently surprised himself by completing the Three Peaks without breaking his bike or any limbs