As a cycling aficionado, you no are no doubt anxious to demonstrate your commitment to the sport, even when you are not on the bike.
"But how," I hear you ask, "can I show my absolute dedication to the cycling lifestyle, hopefully to the extent that my family, friends, and coworkers will begin to cast sidelong glances at me and eventually take me aside and tell me they're worried about the direction my life seems to be heading?"
The simplest and most obvious way to make it clear to all and sundry that you love biking beyond all rational reason is to wear a helmet, 24 hours a day. Nothing says, "I am always ready for a ride' like wearing a helmet to a business meeting, to church, or to an exclusive restaurant.
Inexplicably, however, this is frowned upon in polite society.
The next-best way to visibly demonstrate your alignment with the cycling lifestyle, then, is to wear full pro kit everywhere you go. This has its own pitfalls, alas. Namely, pro team sponsors have such a rapid turnover rate nowadays that the US$380 outfit you bought today is promoting a team that may well be defunct or disgraced next week. Which brings up a question: would anybody like to buy my 2005 Phonak, 2006 T-Mobile, or 2007 Astana jerseys? Cheap. Hardly ever worn.
Deprived of these options, then, how can you show your undying love for cycling?
By shaving your legs, of course.
By shaving your legs, you are stating, unequivocally, that you are willing to spend an extra five minutes every other day with a razor, just so you can look like other cyclists. It's like getting a tattoo that way, except you don't have to re-get the tattoo three times per week.
Answering the "Why?" Question
By shaving your legs, you open yourself up to the question, "Why do you shave your legs?" This is an incredibly good thing, because the answers are invariably self-flattering. For example:
"It makes it easier for the masseuse." This is the answer most cyclists give most often, and it's a great one. Without you actually saying so, it tells the asker that you ride so hard and for so long that afterward your legs require professional care. Furthermore, you ride so often that you have developed a personal relationship with this masseuse, to the extent that you are trying to make her life easier.
"It's more aerodynamic." This answer comes pre-packaged with the delightful subtext that you are so fast on your bicycle that you have found it necessary to book time at the local wind tunnel, where you discovered that you became 0.0000004% more efficient without the aerodynamic drag of your hair. And don't get me started about the weight savings!
"It's easier to treat road rash." I'm a little wary of this answer, to be honest. While it does add an element of danger and a steely-eyed acceptance of the inevitability of injury to your cycling persona, intelligent questioners may simply come to the conclusion that you shave your legs because you've come to terms with your incurable clumsiness. I don't think that's what you're shooting for, to be honest.
Whatever answer you give, however, do not, under any circumstances, tell the truth: you shave your legs so that other cyclists will take you seriously as a cyclist. If you admit that, you may as well follow up with, "and I tend to exhibit sheep-like behavior in other aspects of my life, too."
By now, you've decided to shave your legs. Excellent. But you still have questions. Luckily for you, I have anticipated and answered all of your questions, below.
"What kind of razor should I use?" Get the kind of razor that has the most blades possible. Five blades is the bare acceptable minimum, and you should spend some time looking around to find a razor that has 7 or 11 blades. There is no upper limit to blades. Your legs deserve the best.
"Is it OK for me to use an electric razor? Positively not. A blade cuts flush against the skin, while an electric razor leaves an imperceptible - but still present - bit of stubble on your leg. You think that stubble doesn't have mass? You think that stubble doesn't cause aerodynamic drag? Darn straight it does. Shave with a razor, you sissy.
"How about Nair?" I tried Nair once. You have to stand around with this stinky lotion plastered to your legs for the longest twenty minutes of your life, after which you discover you now have chemical burns on your skin. Like I said, use a razor.
"How high should I shave?" As high as you dare. Avoid, at all costs, the "hairy boxer shorts" look. For myself, I no longer have a single hair on my body. I go through six razors per week. I look forward to the day when science gives us a pill that suppresses the hair-producing gene.
"Is there a right or wrong way to shave my legs?" The right way to shave your legs is to start at your feet and work your way up. Use long, even, vertical strokes, against the grain, in the shower, using bar soap as a lubricant. The wrong way is any other way.
"I'm nervous about shaving around my knees and ankles. It seems like it would be easy to cut myself in those areas." That is correct. It's very easy. I recommend avoiding shaving around those areas. Let your hair grow there. Please send photos. As an alternative, use tweezers and pluck the hairs in those areas.
"While twisting around and bending over to shave my calves, I heard a distinct pop and now I can't stand up straight. Is that normal?" It is once you're over 40.
"While shaving behind my left knee, I nicked an artery and am now bleeding profusely. I'm beginning to feel a little bit lightheaded. Is this normal?" You know, you wouldn't be bleeding like that if you'd taken more EPO.
"Do I have to shave my legs through the whole year, or only during the part of the year when I wear bike shorts?" This is an excellent question, but you'll find it answers itself. Once you've started shaving your legs, you see, it's impossible to stop. As you'll find, after about three days, the stubble becomes downright irritating. After five days of letting your hair grow, the stubble will become so abrasive as to take the finish off your top tube.
By the end of the week, you will have caved in and shaved again. Which may explain, when it comes right down to it, why cyclists continue to shave their legs, long after they discover it doesn't actually make them any faster.
Elden Nelson blogs as The Fat Cyclist, where, most weekdays, he lends his brilliant insight to the pressing cycling topics of the day.