Ask The Expert: Why do I Always Get a Greasy Mark On My Calf When Cycling?

We explore the phenomenon of the 'Mysterious Greasy Mark' (or Fourth Cat Tattoo...)

The curse of a beginner cyclist, and an all round pain to clean off – a quick scout around Google reveals the ‘Mysterious Grease Mark’ is the topic of many anxious forum posts.

Also called a ‘Fourth Cat Tattoo’ (meaning the mark of an entry level racer) or a ‘Noob Tag’, this greasy residue left on the right calf tends to plague beginners, and offer much amusement to experienced riders – most of whom have been the brunt of the joke themselves in the past.

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The cause?

Mysterious Grease Marks usually have one simple cause – when the rider comes to a stop, they favour removing their right leg from the pedal, to place it on the ground. Whilst there, they rest their bike against their leg, or allow the leg to brush the bike.

How to: Master clipless pedals

The right side of the bike, also called the ‘drive side’ is where all the magic happens: the chain, cassette, chainrings are all there. And they’re also all covered in grease and oil.

The cure?

The only way to avoid the mark is to learn to avoid brushing your leg against the offending components – the chain rings, cassette, and chain.

This could be through switching the leg you clip out with. However, if this is well ingrained in your mind it might not be worth perusing this option. As a dedicated ‘right foot clipper outer’ I recently found myself forced to use the left foot, and genuinely nearly suffered my first ‘clipless crash’ in about five years…

The other option is just to hold the offending leg a little further away – it might take a little mind training, and maybe some light hypnosis, but you’ll get there.

Embrace it…

The final option? Embrace the tattoo! If the wanna-be-pros want to scoff, let them – because you’re far too busy enjoying your time on the bike, TBH.

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In fact, there are even some people who go so far as to have a permanent chain ring tattoo etched onto their skin – though we’re not quite sure if this is to prove a point, or because they’ve not yet learned that it’s not generally considered to be “cool”.


A word on cleaning the marks off…

If you’re not going for the permanent tattoo option, you might want to clean them off at some point. Sweat is actually a fantastic grease shifter, so often the mark will come off with a rub of the thicker padded area on your glove.

However, failing this, there are plenty of great soaps out there to help you get rid of the pesky marks. Sugar Soap is fantastic at cutting through grease, and generally fairly mild. Alternatively, you can really go wild and try Muc Off’s specially formulated shower gel for cyclists, or the Post Race Wash by Secret Training.

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