Do I Need a Chamois?

If you’re new to cycling, you might start noticing some surprising discomfort in the seat of your pants. Regular riding, and long rides, can create soreness and irritation in a way that it never seemed to in childhood. For some, this can be enough reason to stop riding a bike, and we hate seeing that. Thankfully, the bike industry has a bunch of solutions, far beyond that extra cushy seat you bought. And while you might not want to be the bike rider kitted out in full spandex, you can still borrow the technology they use to keep yourself comfortable on a ride.

We spoke with Andrew Hammmond, global brand manager, and avid rider, from Pearl Izumi about the ride experience of new cyclists, and how to stay comfortable on a ride.

Many new riders many have heard of padded cycling shorts, bib shorts, or chamois (pronounce “shammy”) and while yes, we can admit, they do look kind of silly, they also serve a vital purpose, “Chamois serve two main purposes: to provide some cushioning support and to reduce skin friction, both of which will keep you pedaling much more comfortably on a bike,” says Hammond. But, he adds, it’s important to wear them correctly. “When you wear cycling shorts you don’t wear underwear, so seams that would normally cause irritation are completely removed.”

If you are trying to find apparel with these benefits though, you may be overwhelmed by all of the language surrounding cycling gear, so Hammond cleared a few things up for us, “People sometimes refer to cycling shorts as ‘chamois,’ but really the chamois is just the padded part of the short. Bike shorts use compressive fabrics with high stretch to hold the chamois comfortably in place so that it stays under you.”

Of course though, putting on a chamois adds a complicating step to riding your bike. It’s one more thing to do before you head out the door, and for some that might be enough to actually make them ride their bike less, so it’s important to know where the benefits are. “It depends on how long your commute is,” says Hammond. “If you’re just pedaling for 15 or 20 minutes, you don’t need cycling shorts. When the time on your bike gets longer than half an hour, it’s probably a good idea.” And since riding your bike for more than 30 minutes is certainly physical activity, changing into cycling shorts will give you a secondary advantage. “Another benefit to changing into cycling shorts for your ride is that your work clothes don’t get sweaty,” says Hammond.

And if you want to get the benefits but also want to walk through the grocery store without feeling a tinge of insecurity, you can layer your protection. “A nice middle ground is to use a liner short with a chamois, which goes underneath your regular clothes,” says Hammond.

Maybe you got here and thought, well that’s nice and all, but I don’t need that. I already bought a nice, squishy seat. Well, Hammond says that might not be the complete answer you think it is. “A softer seat will feel good for the first few minutes, but doesn’t solve any of the seam chafing issues, which is where the real discomfort comes in. A chamois does offer padding, but that’s just part of the benefit. The smooth, seam-free interface is important too.”

Additionally, to keep the rest of your body comfortable, Hammond recommends filling out your commuting gear with a lightweight, weatherproof jacket, with a hood that will go over your helmet; a nice pair of rain pants that you can ride in; and a pair of riding gloves.

So, do yourself a favor and buy some clothing with a chamois. You don’t have to be in the full spandex kit to keep yourself feeling comfortable, and importantly, on the bike longer.