It’s funny to be sitting here on the living room floor as my girlfriend waxes my legs. I can honestly say that looking back five or six years, I never thought that I would be in this position. But at the same time, my life has been building steadily (or regressing rapidly) toward this moment ever since I first started bike racing more than ten years ago.
My first exposure to bike racing was in 1998, when I was literally thrown into a mountain bike race while attending summer camp. As an impressionable twelve-year-old kid, I quickly fell in love with the sport’s adrenaline surges. As much as I enjoyed my kid’s race on that first night, the real fun was watching the elite race. Those men and women flew around the course, flowing like water over rocks and roots, whipping their bikes down the singletrack and sprinting to the finish. Those muscular athletes were the first real bike racers that I ever saw. They all had shaved legs, which I thought looked very weird. The image was burned into my mind.
For several years, my bicycle racing was limited to a handful of mountain bike races during the summer. Then I went to college and with the idea of becoming fast and smooth like those men and women I’d seen at the bike races years ago, I joined the cycling team. Of course, it took a few years to become anywhere near as fast as they had been.
My first bike race in college was on a rainy March morning. Water soaked my clothes and clung to my hairy legs. But I was hooked. I kept racing throughout that year, taking flack from all quarters about my hairy legs. As much as I idolized those slick men and women from that first mountain bike race, I was still weirded out by the idea of shaving my legs, despite the fact that I now had friends on the cycling team who shaved on a regular basis.
They all cited various reasons. “It’s aerodynamic.” “It’s easier to bandage when you crash.” “It shows your definition better.” “It’s intimidating on the start line.” “My girlfriend likes the way it feels.” “It feels great against my bed sheets.” What?
My girlfriend at the time was very much not excited about me shaving my legs, so that eliminated one reason to engage in the act. Experts had soundly debunked the idea that there were any aerodynamic benefits to leg shaving. The only remaining excuse for shaving that I could accept were the potential medical benefits. Of course, I never start a race with the goal of crashing, so for me shaving became a sort of preparation for the worst.
But that was enough of a reason for me to decide to shave at the start of my second season of serious racing. I took clippers to my leg hair in my dorm bathroom, and then disappeared into the shower with my Mach III and a can of shaving cream. I emerged three hours later with toilet paper sticking to multiple nicks, and mostly smooth legs. It was February. I’d been wearing pants for months. Without their woolly coat, my legs looked pale and sickly. All I could think of was a cancer patient’s bald head. I didn’t like the look at all.
But then I got into bed. My silky skin slid between the sheets. I spent a half hour or so rubbing my legs together. [Editor’s note: Hmmmm.]
Needless to say, I continued to shave for the next several years. My one remaining hang-up about the process was, literally, a hang-up—or perhaps I should call it a snag. My stubble. I hated the stubble that would sprout from my skin mere hours after I’d finished shaving. I would grow accustomed to the feeling of sandpaper grit for a while, and then a month or two into racing season, I would get tired of it. I made a point of shaving every other day. At least I eventually got faster at it.
Somewhere along the line, I realized that I had stopped caring about any justification, and that I put up with the stubble because I liked having smooth legs. I liked the way water flowed down them unimpeded in the shower. I liked the way air rushed over them when I was flying down a hill. I liked the way they looked when tanned by the sun. I liked the way they looked stretched out on the couch. I liked the way they made my muscles look taut, when cleared of their fuzzy coat. [Editor: sheesh.] I liked the frightened look I got from racers with unshaved legs at the start line. I liked the way they feel sliding under the sheets or into flannel pants. There, I said it. I’m just like those people I used to make fun of. What of it?
So it was my own vanity, and not any manufactured cycling-related excuse, that ultimately led me into my current position on the living room floor. The sport was just an enabler. I was lured into the deliciously painful world of waxing by the promise of quick and easy hair removal—and more importantly, weeks and weeks of smooth legs—all without touching my razor.
What I failed to realize is that while each yank on the paper strip might be a quick motion, the process of applying the wax and smoothing out the strip takes quite a bit of time. Becky and I spent about five hours—over three evenings—ripping hair out of my legs. It took two full tubs of wax and more than forty paper strips. How I screamed.
So was it worth it? Well, I suppose we won’t know for sure for a few weeks, when we’ve seen how long it takes my hair to return.
For the time being, my legs hurt. A lot. I wish I’d shaved.
Photo courtesy of myshavedlegs.com