Do you shave your legs? The answer if you're any sort of racing cyclist is almost certainly yes, and there are almost as many excuses, sorry, reasons for shaving as there are riders. But now it looks like science has given you a solid reason to depilate.
Up till now it's been considered that the least plausible reason for shaving was to improve aerodynamics. Sure, shave because it looks good, it's easier to get a massage, bandages and tape are easier if you crash, it feels nice in bed and the opposite sex digs it.
Shave for eerodynamics though? Not so much. Everyone references a study done by Chester Kyle for Bicycling magazine back in 1987. That test found only a tiny difference in aerodynamic drag, 0.6 percent according to Alex Hutchinson in Canada's The Globe and Mail.
That's a few seconds over 25 miles at a typical decent time-trail speed. If you're not chasing personal bests up and down the country, it's arguably not worth the hassle.
Early in July, though, Specialized aerodynamicists Mark Cote and Chris Yu blew conventional thinking out of the water. They found savings of 50 to 80 seconds over 40km when they tested riders in their wind tunnel before and after shaving their legs.
As Yu says in this video: "I am shocked at how big a difference it was."
Cote says: "We've run about 1200 hours' worth of experiments [in the wind tunnel] over the last year and no question, this shaved leg data set has been the most surprising revelation."
Yu adds that he and Cote had wanted to test the effect of shaving legs for a long time, "but just didn't believe it would be a big enough difference to be able to measure it."
At the end of the video, Cote and Yu credit Specialized-sponsored triathlete Jesse Thomas for getting the shaving testing under way.
Thomas had turned up to a wind tunnel testing session with hairy legs; he'd simply forgotten to shave. He persuaded Yu and Cote to test him before and after he shaved.
“It honestly was a total joke,” he told Hutchinson. “None of us expected [shaving] to make much of a difference.”
It turns out that Kyle's test used a fake lower leg with hair glues on (or not) in a miniature wind tunnel, a far cry from Cote and Yu's closer simulation of the real world with actual riders pedalling bikes in a tunnel that simulates cycling speeds.
Almost everyone who races shaves their legs, so for those riders this finding just demonstrates that you'll be at a disadvantage if you don't shave. But if you want to boost your average sportive speed it might well be worth getting out the razor.
John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farrelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.