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Which is faster, a hairy chin or freshly-mown skin?

With cyclists such as Bradley Wiggins emerging from the winter break with luxuriant growths of facial hair, one of the burning questions in cycling over the last few months has been: “What DOES he look like?” Er, we mean: “Does facial hair slow you down?” The good folks at Specialized have found an answer.

Specialized built its own wind tunnel at its Morgan Hill California headquarters last year, and has already produced videos showing how much time you can save by changing position on the bike, and how you can more aerodynamically carry water and food for a long-distance time trial or triathlon.

After building up to it with those trivial projects, the Specialized aero R&D team turned their attention to the vital issue of the aerodynamics of beards.

In this video, Specialized’s Mark Cote and Chris Yu first measure the drag of bearded rider Joe Self, from a Specialized dealership in Texas. Joe then shaves of his beard and the measurements are repeated.

Which is faster? Watch and find out for yourself:

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

23 comments

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jason.timothy.jones [294 posts] 2 years ago
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careful, I think Specialized have a TM on beards

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Mombee [84 posts] 2 years ago
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If you have a decent beard, you can tuck it into the top of your shirt and that removes the vortex that builds up under your chin and slows you down. So I think that if Spesh had down the same tests with Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top guitarist for those too young to know), and then shaved him, they would have found a statistical difference in the results.
It's also possible to soak your beard in energy drink ahead of a race and lick that off if your energy levels are starting to flag… which also improves performance.

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javacofe [13 posts] 2 years ago
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just goes to show it's muscles not silly things like hair that really make the difference.

I would like to see Usain Bolt take on a sprinter though!

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AleBeRiding [13 posts] 2 years ago
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I'm pleased to see that my beard isn't slowing me down. I would now like to see how the beard compares to other artificial chin warmers, as on the occasions I've shaved mine off, I've been reaching for the snood.

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The _Kaner [807 posts] 2 years ago
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Wonder if my Norris (norse) Skipper has any significant (dis) advantages....or my oft seen soul patch...couldn't quite get to grips with my hollywoodian phase...cos I just aint gonna get rid of my sidies....

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numbercruncher [28 posts] 2 years ago
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Shave Billy Gibbons????? That's like messing with the space/time continuum!

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levermonkey [667 posts] 2 years ago
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If you shaved Billy Gibbons (or Dusty Hill) I don't think that he would ever stop looking for you!  17

And for those who shave other body parts.  19
" Why do you shave your legs?"
"Aero!"
"No you don't!"
"Ok! I shave my legs because it feels soooooo gooooood. Can I still do it?"
"All right. So long as you don't say 'aero' ever again."
"Yippee!"

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barbarus [282 posts] 2 years ago
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To misquote a t shirt I saw the other day

'A man who shaves his beard to win a medal deserves neither'

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don simon [773 posts] 2 years ago
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The most interesting fact in all this is that the only member of ZZ Top who didn't have a beard was called Frank BEARD!!!  24

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Rupert [189 posts] 2 years ago
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Beards are good in the winter when cycling but .... there is more to this trend for cyclist growing beards..... has it something to do with shaving the legs ?

I am sure they did test on hairy legs vs shaved legs years ago and they found that hairy legs were faster. Something to do with smoothing the air flow over the legs.

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MinardiM189 [76 posts] 2 years ago
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with a wind tunnel driven by hair dryers I'm not surprised a beard makes little difference  16

I doubt Rigoberto Uran optimised his position in that bit of marketing gimmickery they call a wind tunnel.  2

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mattsccm [330 posts] 2 years ago
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My time trial times as an 18 year old with a beard significantly bigger than the chap in the video, were way better than my times when I returned to the sport 20 years later when shaved. Proves beards help. Sadly that was a low point in my life from which have now recovered.
Bet Cadel wishes he had a beard.

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jmaccelari [241 posts] 2 years ago
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jason.timothy.jones wrote:

careful, I think Specialized have a TM on beards

Yeah - and I wonder if they're going to start charging Ferrari for using a wind tunnel..

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stefv [211 posts] 2 years ago
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Rupert wrote:

Beards are good in the winter when cycling but .... there is more to this trend for cyclist growing beards..... has it something to do with shaving the legs ?

I am sure they did test on hairy legs vs shaved legs years ago and they found that hairy legs were faster. Something to do with smoothing the air flow over the legs.

I've made this joke before, but in my case shaving my legs might help me on the hills because of the weight saving  36

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andybnk [97 posts] 2 years ago
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I believe sidies act like the F surface on a Ridley Noah forks and calm the airflow on to the ears!

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BertYardbrush [56 posts] 2 years ago
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It cushions insect impacts.

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Condor flyer [45 posts] 2 years ago
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If you ask me, that wind tunnel test resulted in a close shave.
But don't knock beards. They are especially useful at meal times, for catching bits of food for you to eat later.

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bwpearre [6 posts] 2 years ago
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See https://www.google.com/patents/US3440991

But I suspect that this rider needs to continue growing for at least another year. And as for leg hair... well... I wonder when they'll begin working on appropriate treatments...

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ronin [268 posts] 2 years ago
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Why do not people see the obvious?

Over the course of a year, the time saved by not shaving will all add up. Definitely a help to time pressed cyclists.

Let's say you shave for 3 minutes every 3 days (I'm being conservative); that's roughly 6 hours you've wasted faffing about with a razor. Well that's almost 100 miles of riding.

With my beard, I look rugged.  16

In fact, I'm not sure, but I think there's a kinda Samson effect with beards too. Allow me to explain. When ever you see someone survive against the odds in the wilderness after a crash or that's been stranded, they always emerge with a beard.  4

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thegibdog [103 posts] 2 years ago
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Surely you have to factor in the additional power that the rider gets from having the beard? #BeardPower

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AnalogueAndy [30 posts] 2 years ago
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Anyone we recignise?  3https://www.facebook.com/pages/Beards-Of-Bath/1376571189297074?ref=ts&id...

Appropriately enough though mine came off thisweek. I am still waiting for the aerodynamic advantage to kick in.

I like the idea of the Sampson effect though. I felt like Sampson with the Beard and still feel like Sampson without it  1

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The _Kaner [807 posts] 2 years ago
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This week I has been mostly sporting a tickler...not too sure of the aero advantages as I hasn't been on the bike...been to busy
on other 'projects'...

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The _Kaner [807 posts] 2 years ago
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This week I has been mostly sporting a tickler...not too sure of the aero advantages as I hasn't been on the bike...been to busy
on other 'projects'...