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What’s Up with Race Day Scruff?

November 17, 2011

[Updated 12/24/2011]

“Stubble,” according to a Telegraph article, “is the way to win a woman’s heart.” Could this be the real reason an average guy skips shaving every day, instead of the commonly cited motives of laziness, warmth, or weekend relaxation?

Still, some guys feel compelled to shave away facial hair daily. “The way I was brought up, being scruffy means you don’t care about your appearance. I am a slob but I still want to be shaven,” said one recreational cyclist.

What about professional cyclists? They all go through the considerable effort to shave their legs. So why are more and more of them choosing an unshaven scruffy face on race days?

Possible explanations

One bike shop owner who races said, “Likely they want to feel more manly since everything else is shaved.” He offered more reasons: “Probably superstition or maybe it is their game face?” Perhaps not shaving promotes an impression of the toughness required to suffer for the glory of a win – to fight for position in the peloton, fight the wind, and fight gravity on 20% inclines. The same Telegraph article expounds on this potential unconscious reason; it says, “…experts in human evolution say that facial hair may be a signal of aggression because it boosts the apparent size of the lower jaw, emphasizing the teeth as weapons.” Hmm. Can that apply to cycling?

The animalistic battle for survival is especially relevant for sprinters. Maybe that’s why fi’zi:k opted for a scruffy Mark Cavendish in this advertisement.

Cavendish fi'zi:k Ad

Erik Slack, Team Exergy, suggested a more personal rationale for preserving whiskers: “In terms of facial hair, many guys like doing some things different, and I might assume that for some of the married guys while they are away, it may be fun to play around and grow their [beards] out if their spouses do not approve of it. This is just a guess as I am nowhere near that type of a situation.”

Bjorn Borg at Wimbleton (The Telegraph photo)

As the bike shop owner hypothesized, superstition could play a large role in deciding not to shave on race day, and other sports offer lots of examples where this is the case. Bjorn Borg decided a scruffy face brought him good luck at Wimbledon and won five successive titles in the 1970’s, all unshaven. Hockey players’ practice of not shaving during the Stanley Cup playoffs became so well-known it evolved into the phrase, “playoff beard.”

Cycling Inquisition has implied that cyclists follow certain practices in order to instill some stability in a sport where so much is uncertain. He wrote, “…professional cycling has an obsessively ritualistic component to it, and riders adhere firmly to a seemingly random list of do’s and don’ts that is longer than the one observed by most cult members. How many other athletes at an elite level eschew things as varied and seemingly random as pasta sauce, shaving their face before races, air conditioning, soft breads, mashed potatoes, and chocolate mousse?”

Riders agree superstition plays a role. Jack Bauer of Endura Racing said: “Maybe other riders don’t shave due to superstition reasons ie. not shaving legs on race day due to the body using energy for the regrowth. But I doubt it. That makes no sense to me! A bit over the top, however I’ve heard the rumours and riders for sure are a superstitious bunch!” Remi McManus, former U.S. Elite Road Race Champion and part owner of Team Exergy, backed-up the superstition theory: “I know riders have superstitions. I used to make sure I always put my left sock on first, followed by left shoe, and so forth. Yes some riders do not shave if they are riding well, you do not want to wash away or shave away good luck!” And Erik Slack said, “Many cyclists do have superstitions. Some folks prefer certain kits over others and sometimes riders prefer to have the same wheels as they know what it has been through etc.”

Jack Bauer (Joolze Dymond photo,

Pro-cyclists reveal reasons for scruff

According to Remi McManus, “for most, during a stage race we are just too damn lazy [to shave].”

Jack Bauer, who said he never shaves on race days, shared a similar point of view: “I don’t because I’d rather sleep than shave! There’s always enough going on the morning before a race, and shaving is the last thing on my mind.” He described his preferred look when not racing as one or two days’ growth, “which generally seems to do the trick. I’m going for the rugged look you know! Coming from NZ [New Zealand] – once a hippy, always a hippy!”

Erik Slack’s scruff approached beard status on the last day of the 2011 USA Pro Cycling Challenge. Here’s why: “Every stage we were in a different hotel and for the most part, our days were pretty packed. I had forgotten to pack an additional set of blades and I busted a blade on the first day of the race and never had time to swing to a store to go and buy a new set of blades,” he said. “And while someone might say, ‘but Erik, your legs were shaved, you must have had a blade somewhere,’ it just seems weird to shave a face with the razor I would shave my legs with.” Erik thinks a beard suits him and has grown one before, “so I was not stressing it as much as I could have,” he said.

Erik Slack (Team Exergy photo)


Regardless of the pro-cyclists’ reasons, many female fans who follow the sport closely admire the scruffy look. They want their favorite riders to win; if scruff signifies aggression that’s fine, since aggression is necessary to win.

Of course, the real reason could be because scruff is the way to a woman’s heart. And now for the first time women can vote for their favorite scruffy pro-cyclists in the upcoming “Pro-Cycling Scruff-A-List,” here at ProVéloPassion. View the final Scruff-A-List.

[Jack Bauer photo courtesy of Joolze Dymond,]


Additional reading on the clean-shaven vs. scruffy look:

  • The Chicago Tribune provides guidance on how to get the two-day scruff look.
  • For more information on female preferences for scruff, check out The Telegraph’s article on a survey of British women (don’t skip reader comments).
  • The results of a Schick survey indicate clean-shaven guys have sex twice as often as men who shave just twice a week.
  • This New York Times article includes rationales by body part offered by Gillette to encourage men to shave off more than just facial hair. Example of a rationale for shaving the chest: “A sweater should be bought not grown.”

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