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Cover Your Butt: Chamois Talk

By Laurel-Lea Shannon

bicycle chamois pad tripe density multi layers

Every cyclist knows that next to a properly fitted bicycle, that all-important chamois in your bike shorts is what stands, or sits, between you and a comfortable ride. Despite this, the function of the chamois pad is often misunderstood.

A chamois is more than just a cushion between you and your saddle. It supports your sit bones, protects delicate genital tissue and prevents chafing by wicking moisture away from your body.

Originally, chamois were made of leather, with no padding. That sounds painful, but genuine chamois leather is soft, non-abrasive and it absorbs moisture, making it well suited for cycling shorts.

Since the invention of Coolmax in 1986, chamois have been made mostly from synthetic materials, with more multi-layered padding added for comfort. But a thicker chamois doesn’t necessarily mean greater comfort on your bike.

Bike shorts are designed to move with you, like a second skin. That’s what helps prevent chafing, (which is why you don’t wear underwear with them). If a chamois is too thick, it may rub against you as you pedal, causing friction between your nether regions and your shorts.

Boure's elite chamois pad

Finding cycling shorts and chamois that are comfortable for you involves some trial and error. Start by looking for a chamois that suits your riding style. If you ride more upright, look for a chamois with a multi-thick pad  that adds a little extra padding for your sit bones and tapers down at the front, such as the one shown above. If you ride stretched out, using the drops, look for a pad with an even thickness and multi-density foam. This one from Bouré has a four-way stretch chamois on a thin layer of foam padding. The material is light, transfers moisture and is super comfortable.

So when it comes to a chamois, thicker isn’t better. Less is often more. And price matters. Expect to pay $85 to $120 for a good pair of cycling shorts.

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7 comments to Cover Your Butt: Chamois Talk

  • meg44

    I never like to wear the shorts but I always wear the underwear with the chamois on but I am currently encounter with a problem it seems that it is not enough pad to be able to ride more miles when I ride almost 25 miles I start feeling very uncomfortable so I cannot get out of that pattern of not making more that 25 miles. Do you girls have any suggestion? thanks

  • lynette

    I recently found Gore womens bibs. They are really cool in that the zips at the back allow for bathroom breaks without needing to totally strip off. I’ve been wearing them for 2 summer seasons now, and have not run into issues with the zips. Pricey though….seems you get what you pay for.

    I also have big thighs (sigh), and so have taken to wearing mens shorts/bib/nickers…. I wish I could find a women’s make that catered to small waist, bigger thighs, and short enough to get a decent tan (ie petite)!

  • Ann

    I agree w/ LS – I prefer less chamois.

    For me, the Boure shorts are almost perfect (but i wish the fabric was just a teeny bit thicker – too see through). Rapha makes a great short (and I think they use Cytech chamois) but they’re a bit expensive. They’re great if you can get them on sale. My favorite (other than Rapha) has been Shebeest (but that was before they were sold).

    I’m going to try out a pair of Aerotech shorts tomorrow on my 60 mile ride. http://www.aerotechdesigns.com/topshelf-women.htm

    Note: my saddle does not have a cut-out. If it did, a lot of the chamois fabric issues I experience would be a non-event. I know this from experience as I have tried a lot of different saddles over the years.

    LS – thanks for the tip on Bontrager. I’ll give those a try as well. And thanks for your great site. I enjoy it very much.

  • Kylee

    Ive been really lucky, I have to say. I have a pair of men’s 2XU shorts that are great but my pearl azumi womens that are almost perfect!!!!!

  • Diane

    Just when I found the perfect chamois for me (Descente bibs from 3 yrs. ago) they change the chamois every year.I had purchased 2 pair 3 yrs. ago, but they wore out. Had to buy with a different chamois.

  • Great article LL.
    To be honest I can’t say I’ve found the perfect chamois yet.
    I used to have a pair of men’s shorts that were my fav (wore them out) that
    were the best I’ve had.

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