If you’ve ridden your new mountain bike for any amount of time, you’ve probably experienced some aching or irritation in the rear end. Often caused by chafing on longer rides, your butt hurts so much you wonder if you’re cut out for this cycling thing. Don’t despair, there’s a solution, and it’s called a chamois.
What is a Chamois?
Pronounced “shammy,” a chamois is a padded liner found in cycling shorts and cycling bids that is meant to perform three functions. First, the foam padding is designed to alleviate pressure on your sensitive parts and help prevent numbness and aches caused by extended saddle time. Second, the fabrics are often designed to fight against friction as you move atop your saddle to guard against chafing. And third, the fabrics should be moisture wicking to draw sweat away from your skin to further prevent chafing. You’ll also find some fabrics are treated with antimicrobial chemicals to guard against bacteria growth in that dark, damp environment. (Don’t think about that part too much…)
Since men and women are built differently (you knew that, right?) there is a difference in the size and shape of the padding in men’s and women’s-specific chamois. Women’s chamois are typically a bit wider in the sit-bone area and men’s chamois may have a channel down the middle.
How to Use a Chamois
If you’re wondering whether or not you should buy a chamois, the answer is “yes.” Trust us, you’ll be glad you did in the long run.
Now, depending on your budget and how dedicated you are to mountain biking, you may or may not want to invest in cycling shorts or bibs with a built-in chamois. A good first step is to purchase a separate chamois from your local bike shop or Amazon. That way you can spend less in the outset, and use the chamois with whatever shorts or pants you choose to wear.
You should never, under any circumstances wear underwear beneath your chamois. Why? Because you’d be pretty much defeating the whole point of wearing a chamois in the first place. That friction prevention mentioned above? Gone if you wear your undies. Moisture wicking and bacteria prevention? Cotton undies retain moisture and hold it against your skin, creating a soggy, chafe-inducing situation—not to mention becoming a breeding ground for bacteria. Chafing causes tears in your skin, increasing your chances of infection.
Never wear your chamois more than once between washes. Follow the manufacturer’s laundry instructions, but in general you should put a chamois into the washer inside out and use a detergent that’s unscented and dye-free. Don’t use liquid fabric softener either since it can not only contribute to skin irritation in sensitive areas, but it also lessens or destroys the moisture wicking properties of the fabric. Lastly, make sure the chamois is completely dry before wearing again.
Saddle Sores and Chamois Cream
Despite your best efforts, don’t be surprised if you still suffer from occasional saddle sores—especially if you’re a new rider beginning to log more saddle time. The best thing you can do is take a day off and allow your skin time to heal. Keep the affected area clean and dry, and possibly use some aloe vera gel to help speed healing.
To help prevent future saddle sores, especially on longer rides, you can use chamois cream. Chamois cream is designed to fight friction in those areas where you come into the most pressure-prone contact with the saddle. Simply apply it directly to areas that chafe most often. Don’t use more than recommended or you’ll make matters worse.
Don’t attempt to use a petroleum-based jelly as a cheap alternative to chamois cream. Not only will it not wash out of your chamois very well—over time building up and making a slimy, goopy mess—but it can trap bacteria in your chamois. You’ll spend more replacing your chamois in the long run than any savings you might get from going cheap with the cream.
TIP: Add a few of tablespoons of white vinegar to your your laundry detergent to help deodorize your chamois and kit, as well as keep the colors from fading. You can also use white vinegar as an natural, gentle alternative to fabric softener.
That Fresh Minty Feeling
One final word to the wise. Be sure to read the labels when you purchase your first tube or tub of chamois cream. Most European-style chamois creams have added ingredients such as menthol or witch hazel, which creates the cooling effect you feel using muscle rubs. Others may even include peppermint oil for the same effect. Don’t panic as none of these products have enough of the extra ingredients to actually burn your skin, but you’ll get a bit of a surprise when you first rub it on your nether regions and get that sudden tingling sensation.
Have fun, ride smart, and keep shredding!