I first shaved my legs aged 14. Sitting in the bath I spotted my Mum’s razor and began at the easy bit, my quads. Downy fur floated around me as I hacked…
Jon in our padded merino boxers. With shaved legs. And scars. Lots of them.
I first shaved my legs aged 14. Sitting in the bath I spotted my Mum’s razor and began at the easy bit, my quads. Downy fur floated around me as I hacked.
The tricky bits were the angles. Kneecaps, ankles, tendons and the concave behind my knees. The water was a lovely pink soup and now cold.
But where to stop? This is 1987, before web resources, before I had the courage to ask that bloke who was nice to me when I bonked on my first clubrun, before it ever seemed a remotely acceptable thing to do to oneself.
So I shaved my arse.
I mean, you would, wouldn’t you?…Hair shorts look bizarre. They ARE bizarre. My bum is, frankly, not like a baby’s bottom. It was a continuation of the hair 'issue'. So I shaved my buns. In a cold bath. With my Mum’s now useless razor. Without a mirror, and a concerned single parent downstairs wondering what the hell her teenage son was becoming.
I was becoming a racing cyclist. The worst kind of scum.
A shaved bum is not a pleasant thing. It itches. Especially when you’ve just hacked it up like a potato field in fallow. Showering after footie practice in the malice-filled changing room of a rather rough comprehensive school in Nottinghamshire, where you’ve already marked yourself out as a weirdo….Is not going to favour the shave-legged. Or bummed.
But I was desperate to belong. Not to the testosterone fuelled football obsessed hegemony of my classmates. But to the bizarre world of European bike racing. A weird clique of skinny pain enthusiasts. That was my church. And my church is smooth and gristly.
Back then everyone raced, or had raced. The non-racers were bearded CTC potterers. We were the sinewed sacrificers. Nobody understood us. My shaved legs, even as a young teen because I was so thin, were all straps of shining muscle, glinting tanned in the sun.
Shaving makes good legs look great.
Civilians asked me two things: Are you in the Tour de France? Why do you shave your legs?
Inevitably they would guess that it was aerodynamics, which seemed a bit full-on to both of us. I took great pleasure in explaining that it was so that I could massage oils and unguents into limbs designed for pure speed. That road racing was a dangerous sport, rife with crashes, and the lack of hair made treating regular injuries more hygienic and simple.
And almost everyone thought I was an idiot.
And I loved that. Deeper into my sect I sank. Deeper into the only culture that understood me I drowned. And it was wonderful. To hell with polite society. Cycling was my punk.
Now the real reason we shaved our legs was because the pros did it. Because our legs did look better. Because it was a badge. We could spot a racing cyclist amongst a group of tourists anywhere. Diamond shaped calves, bulging thighs, skinny knees, scars and scabs, farmer’s tan, brown fingers white hands, no fat, no hair, so cool.
I spent years racing intensely, and the rituals, sights and smells stay with me.
The most evocative is walking into a village hall anywhere in the UK, the heat of strong embrocation mixed with the stench of toilets. The ritual of rubbing hot balms into lithe nervous legs as the rain hammers down, and evacuating your bowels with nerves, just before you head to the start line, your bibs around your hips and the metallic taste of adrenaline parching your throat.
So you race in the sheeting din, your face becomes a cake of blackness, and you run your tongue across your teeth, search for the road grit to spit. Then the tights go straight on and its a lift home to a hot bath, exhausted.
The true idiocy of my lifestyle choice becomes apparent. I can barely climb the stairs. I sink into the steam, each pore filled with bright orange gloop, faking my legs into thinking I’m warm. But now I’m warm, NOW I’M WARM. NOW I’M FAAAARRRRRRKKKING WARM!!!!!
The orange slick melts off my legs as I lower myself in, rising around me as I sink. It hits my balls and I bite my lip in pain.
I scrub at my legs until they’re red raw, unable to free hot synthetic paste from them. This paste works its way into my bits, making me wince, and I swear at myself.
Regular people go out on Saturday night and get pissed. They swear at themselves on Sunday morning for their stupidity, as they nurse their self inflicted injuries. Never again.
Racing cyclists go out on Sunday morning and hurt themselves. They swear at themselves for their stupidity, as they nurse self-inflicted aches and pains. Never again.
Then the next day its back on the booze. Or the bike. Just to do it all over again.
Shaved face, best kit on, 8 pints, kebab, fall asleep in front of telly.
Shaved legs, best kit on, 80 miles, recovery drink, fall asleep in front of telly.
I chose one lifestyle, not the other.
And I still haven’t got that stuff off my balls.
A mathematical problem:
I am 40.
I have been with my wife 18 years.
I stopped shaving my legs 2 years ago.
My son is 1 year old.
What is the answer?
Hairy legs. Not all that bad. Honest.