Wednesday, January 16, 2008

How To - Shaving Your Legs

One of the classic scenes of Breaking Away is when the dad walks into the bathroom and catches Dave. He's not doing that, he's shaving.

His legs.

That scene, along with reading some books about bike racing, started me shaving my legs.

Ironically I wasn't shaving my face yet. And, truth be told, I didn't have any "hair" on my legs, just the fuzz that all kids have.

But I shaved because, well, as Dave put it, that's what the Italians did. And the Belgians, and the French, and the Dutch, and so on and so forth.

I read up on leg massages in bicycling magazines and books and to this day, when I'm exhausted, tired, sore, and my legs wobble when I walk down stairs, I'll use some of the techniques I learned so very long ago.

The only requirement for such leg massages is to have shaven legs, although some kind of massaging lubricant is helpful. Squirting massage oil (or heat rub or liniment or whatever) on hairy legs is a great way of making a mess. Doing the same on smoothly shaven legs is, well, nice.

Shaved legs also crash much better than unshaved legs. The skin slides better, the bandaids don't rip out hairs when you change them, and you can get the dirt out (and keep it out) much more effectively. In the wet it's almost miraculous how far you can slide on your butt and thighs without actually breaking any skin. Okay, fine, it'll bruise. But no bleeding. Unless you're a hemophiliac, no problems.

Shaved legs also look "professional". I don't know who started the whole thing but it's really a way of keeping clean and sleek. The first part helps prevent infections, the second intimidates your opponents.

Well as long as they race bikes.

I figure showing off your shaven legs in the middle of a bar is not a normal way of intimidating people.

Having said that, in this day and age, men shaving things other than their face is accepted. I know this because at Bed Bath and Beyond I saw a man-grooming thing - a "scratch your back" type device that held a shaver, not a scratcher.

It's for shaving your back.

I figure if "family guys" are shaving their backs, then, well, shaving your legs isn't a big deal.

The only problem is that no one actually tells you what you're supposed to do. How far up? How do you start? How do you keep things clean?

I'll give it a go.

As a disclaimer, I am not that hairy. I don't have to shave my back because other than the stray "The Fly" hair, I only have fuzz there. Ditto my chest and even, to some level, my arms. So I had to do some research for the more hirsute type person.

First, the hardware. For everyone I'd recommend disposable razors. I particularly like these, the Schick Slim Twin. Why not the Quattro (which I also have, for my face)? Because having too many blades removes too much skin, even if you have the cool wires which prevent the blades from digging in. On your face it's not a big deal, but on your legs, where you might be applying heat rub (like Atomic Balm), well, you want a bit of skin there.

Otherwise you feel like the Atomic Balm has acid in it.

Okay, I admit it. Even when you have all your skin there, Atomic Balm feels like it's burning through you. With skin it's somewhat tolerable. But freshly shaven legs will turn bright red and sting like a mofo. You won't be able to wipe that stuff off soon enough. Unfortunately about the only way to get it off is using rubbing alcohol. Rubbing alcohol sort of works if you pour tons of it on and then scrub it really aggressively. I said "sort of works". This is not something you want to do on raw skin.

If you're the hirsute type, get a buzzing kind of razor. Use the little teeth part (for trimming sideburns and mustaches and stuff). Buzz off enough hair so you're left with stubble.

Now for the shaving part. Go to your bathroom (tub is preferable, especially if you wear glasses and can't see in the shower). Make sure you have at close hand some kind of shaving cream (I just use my body wash stuff but your mileage may vary), the razor (the buzzy kind you should use before you get to the tub), and the controls to the water.

If you have one of those detachable shower heads it's easier. Otherwise you'll have to rinse by splashing water on your legs while you stick them under the tub faucet.

Wet your legs. Use warm water, it's more comfortable. Plus you don't want to get goose bumps. You don't want to shave goose bumps, trust me on this one.

Lather up with your shaving lubricant of choice. Do one section at a time. For those of the hirsute class, this might mean you divide your shin into 20 sections. For me it means either below the knee, above the knee, or the knee.


Use lots of the lathery lubricant. Rinse your razor frequently. If this is the first time you've shaved in a while you'll need to rinse the razor on every swipe. Do your section, rinse, and do the next section. I go against the grain but that's me.

Make sure you don't miss a bit swath of hair. It's like when you wax the car - if you miss a big splotch it looks terrible. Very un-pro.

How far up do you shave?

Well, for me, it's pretty clear. I shave up to my scars on my hips. They're at about crotch level on the outside, maybe a couple inches above. I don't have very much hair and didn't shave up to there until I crashed one time and got road rash there. It was excruciatingly painful changing bandages. So I shave that now.

For the middle and inside of your quads, that's up to you. Usually you don't get road rash there. However, I'll tell you that massages definitely hit those spots.

Don't forget the back of your legs. Although not road rash territory, they are definitely massage territory. And if you miss a hair back there it's just plain icky to ride behind. So get those back ones.

Rinse everything, tub included, and you're ready to go. If you shave after you shower you tend to take more skin off (because it's sort of softened by the shower). I'd recommend shaving before you shower. Not the normal order but then again, a guy shaving his legs isn't a normal thing.

Wait a half day (or overnight) before putting strong heat rub (Atomic Balm) on. This lets your skin recover just a bit before you try and burn it off with the heat rub. The lessor stuff, which I personally think is useless, can go on right away. When freshly shaven I typically just put sunscreen type oil on. Otherwise I do the "wait overnight and then do the Balm" move.

For cleaning and keeping pores clean, I use Tea Tree Oil from Trader Joe's (liquid bottle, comes with a green pump type thing, the label is green, and the oil is yellow). It's comfy, it cleans well when used with a little scrubby spongy thing, and it seems to keep my pores clean. Apparently it's anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, all sorts of good things. As a bonus it doesn't sting when applied to freshly shaved legs, at least not mine.

Lather on some moisturizer after you get out of the shower. I have chronically dry skin so I do it anyway, but there are also "bike racer reasons" for doing so. It gives me a chance to run my fingers over my muscles. I get an idea of how fat I am, or, if things are going well, if I've lost some padding. You'll be able to pick out slightly more defined bits of your legs if you inspect them regularly.

In addition, running your fingers over your legs will cause any sore or tender spots to pop out right away, even if they remain hidden in normal everyday movement. If any part of your leg is a bit tender, and it normally isn't, then you have some recovering to do. Although tender muscles don't mean very much to me, a tender tendon is a ringing alarm bell. Tendons are much more fragile than muscles, and any tendon type injury ought to be examined immediately.

For additional reference there is a clip of Rolf Aldag shaving his legs in "Hell on Wheels", but it seems that he's going through the motions - I don't see any hairs on his legs when he starts shaving. I guess in the Tour you shave every day.

Now get your razors and get to it!


Anonymous said...

Going where angels fear to tread.

I'd considered doing a post on this myself, but didn't have the, er, nerve.

Tactfully done on a topic that's a mystery to all newbie racers. Well done!

Aki said...

No one ever describes this whole process. It's pretty individual due to various levels of hair density. But I found it odd to have a teammate admit to me he only shaved up to his shorts line. Any crash and man, that would be painful.

Also, I learned the painful way that good razors for my face take too much skin off my legs. I guess that was one of my motivating points.

Ron George said...

1. The reasons for shaving have been justified inside out. They are pretty sound, but I think many of the silly amateurs on the circuit dont care about massages.

The one solid reason is pretty obvious and c'mon, we all grin at the prospects for showing off. Shaven legs play well with light and shadow to show off the curves, veins, muscle mass and what not due to a smooth even surface, if you will.

Its also about appearing clean, massages aside. There is a way to appear for a race, just like you'd go for an interview (except the former is a way better than an interview!)

"..Wet your legs. Use warm water, it's more comfortable. Plus you don't want to get goose bumps. You don't want to shave goose bumps, trust me on this one."

Alright, tell us what happened! :)