In a move that will the ruffle the facial feathers of hipsters everywhere, riders with beards have been banned from a Belgian team.
‘Snot and leftovers’ were cited as the reason for this controversial move by Walter Planckaert, leader of Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise. A former professional road racer himself, he claims he is taking this measure to help preserve the ‘elegance of cycling’
“Snot and food stay in a rider’s beard. That’s filthy. .. We’re cyclists, not motocross riders or rugby players. “I’ve nothing against motocross, but a rider with a beard doesn’t fit.” – Walter Planckeart
The 1976 Tour of Flanders winner is reported to have said that a bit of stubble, like that sported by Philippe Gilbert or Greg van Avermaet, is fine, but a full beard is not, so if a rider refuses to shave he has to “find another team”.
Whilst Walter is within his rights to ban the beard, is this really advisable? And why are these seemingly trivial ‘aesthetic reasons’ being considered in light of the deeper issues facing cycling?
Hairless athletes are not uncommon, not nearly as uncommon as hairless cats for instance! However, athletes are usually hairless by their own choice in order to improve performance. This is why the decision to ban facial hair is almost taboo to consider and has garnered widespread criticism as an infringement of cyclists rights!
As the brilliantly bearded Charles Darwin claimed, facial hair is the ‘human equivalent of the peacock’s train or the stag’s antlers’ , a clear symbol of your masculinity in the battle for a mate.
So whilst it might help you find a girlfriend, will this display of masculine prowess convey you across the finish line any faster? Or is Wiggins showcase of virility setting him back in the stakes?
In light of this, Specialised bikes undertook a wind tunnel time trial of ‘beard vs no beard’, and found, to the inevitable delight of hipsters everywhere, that beards made’ absolutely no difference to aerodynamic performance.
Leg hair, however, is probably worth getting rid of. Although there is some aerodynamic benefit to shaving your legs, this was found to be only a matter of seconds over 40 kilometres. The main advantage in shaving is in stopping hair getting into road rash, which is a very worthwhile cause, as anyone who has ever plucked hair from a wound can testify!
For those who refuse to shave, shin strips are available that aim to quicken the airflow around the calves. This can apparently save a rider around 5 watts, or 7-8 seconds over 10 miles.
So while it might seem contradictory to have legs as smooth as a baby’s bottom and a face as fuzzy as a Viking, it’s not, and the move toward clean-shaven riders is less about aerodynamics and more about hygiene and a consistent image.
As nicely shown by this unfortunate photo from the 2011 Amgen Tour of California!