One of the first pieces of advice given to new riders is to buy a pair of cycling shorts padded with a cycling chamois. This isn’t some widely protected hazing plan by seasoned cyclists to get beginners wearing the athletic equivalent of a diaper—chamois padding will often be the piece of gear that makes or breaks your ride.
That's because your bottom serves as the biggest contact point with your bike. A good quality chamois can make you ride comfortably for hours; and it is reason that you're looking for a memorable cycling chamois.
But the padding within your chamois is filled with as much mystery as closed-cell foam. Here are six things you might not know about your chamois, which will help you make the best use of your cycling shorts (and prevent some embarrassing moment and problems).
① An old chamois had more in common with a baseball glove than today’s materials.
Chamois padding was introduced nearly a century ago as a solution to bruising for endurance cyclists. Longtime riders will remember these first chamois pads were made of leather, not the hi-tech synthetic kit materials of today. Nearly every clothing manufacturer today uses synthetic materials—a mixture of open- and closed-cell foam and gel insets—that reduce both chafing and road noise.
② Squishier doesn’t mean better.
Pad density is the key of a good chamois. Between eight and thirteen millimeters is an ideal thickness. Over time, pillowy padding is going to compress; it might not make it two months before it compresses down to almost nothing and is nearly unusable. That's because the more the padding compresses, the more pressure it places upon the exact area you're trying to keep pressure-free.
③ You can borrow women's cycling shorts if you're a man, and vice-versa.
With advances in molding techniques, companies are able to mold chamois to more anatomically correct shapes. Both a male and female chamois will typically resemble an elephant’s head, with the female chamois having wider ears to accommodate women’s larger hipbones, and a shorter, rounder nose. Many cycling shorts use multiple densities and thicknesses of chaomis padding specifically chosen for the unique demands of different anatomical locations. The contours between a saddle and the human body are incredibly complex and it’s impossible for a completely flat chamois to properly follow those curves. Noticeably, many chamois place higher-density foam underneath your sit bones, and thinner foam situated against more sensitive areas.
④ You can tailor chamois padding to your riding style.
⑤ Wash those shorts!
No one likes to do laundry, but you should rarely, if ever, wear a pair of shorts twice without washing them first. That’s a prime place for bacteria to grow, and with a bit of abrasion on the skin from riding, it’s an easy place to start an infection. Although many shorts have some anti-microbial properties built into the chamois that might protect you when riding in the same shorts multiple days in a row, those properties eventually fade away after repeated washings.
⑥ Nothing lasts forever, not even your chamois.
So what’s the typical lifespan of a chamois? It really depends on the rider—how much saddle time they’re putting in, their weight—and the type of short they’re wearing. The best chamois won't have that same supple comfort it once had. Basically, a good chamois should 'disappear' during your ride. If you're actively noticing your chamois, it's time for a new one.
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