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To Chamois or not to Chamois?

That is the question.


Small piece of padding. Big opinions.

Last week while cranking on my bike at Community Cycles, I asked the group around me what I thought was a simple question.


"Do you wear a chamois?"


I've never worn one (and have never had a saddle sore) but have also never ridden 60+ miles per day for weeks on end. I was curious what more experienced bikepackers had to say, and to my surprise, their answers were varied and complex.


In perfect unison, I got the following responses:

  • "Ewe; never!" -Josh

  • "Yes, of course!" -Rashid

  • "Almost always." -Will

Great. Thanks for clearing that up, guys.


What... is a chamois?

A chamois, pronounced shammy, is a piece of padding often sewn directly into the crotch of cycling shorts. They're meant to provide comfort on long rides, helping prevent chafing and saddle sores from developing on your thighs and bum.

When hanging, the rigidity of the chamois seems to give the shorts a life of their own. They stand out -quite literally- amongst the other clothes in my closet.


The one pictured above is the chamois liner I removed from the Canyon chamois + shorts combo from Pearl Izumi (Pearl Izumi was incredibly generous in helping me get outfitted for the GDMBR... awesome Colorado company with global leadership. Check them out!).


Doesn't it feel like wearing a diaper?

I mean... it's been a minute since I've worn a diaper, but I can say it feels very similar to wearing a large overnight maxi pad.

Men vs. women

My first sample size was admittedly small and all men, so I decided to consult Google and post a poll on Instagram.


The results were equally mixed, with Bradley Allen representing the majority and responding with a voice memo. I trust his input as he has cycled across the country not once -but twice- and works in the cycling industry. He is decidedly pro chamois.


He recommended using chamois butter as a preventative measure (it can be used with non-chamois shorts) and suggested getting used to the feeling before my big trip.


Interestingly, locally-based pro cyclist Hannah Shell said she'd rather not bother with a chamois on longer bikepacking trips. She went on to cite badass long-distance off-road biker, Lael Wilcox, who has been known to ask sponsors to remove chamois from clothes before sending them her way.


The only other poll response in favor of going chamois-less also came from a woman. Marcey, Michigan-based fellow 2022 GDMBR rider, came to the same conclusion I have.


More on that soon; but first, let's talk about some pros and cons of bikepacking with or without chamois.


The good, the bad and the downright ugly

I want to preface that this is not an exhaustive list. While I've done some research, this is my own opinion as a chamois-less cyclist. Here's an initial analysis:


Good

  • Could potentially save your bum and trip/experience by preventing discomfort, thigh blisters from chafing or saddle sores

Bad

  • Chamois are not a failproof solution. In fact, many people who use them recommend bringing two different chamois on long trips, because if a saddle sore develops while wearing one, you can switch to the other one which likely has a different coverage profile, giving your poor bum some reprieve.

  • They're bulky to pack, especially if you're bringing more than one

Ugly

  • Typically you don't wear underwear with them, which means you'll want to wash it every few days (likely in a river). Because they're made from synthetic fabric, they tend to get stinky and the pad holds water, causing it to dry slower, especially in humid climates. Wearing and/or hauling around a stinky, wet chamois does not sound fun.



The verdict

But (butt? ha), what if you have been riding chamois-less your whole life without incident?


I mean, I don't want to jinx anything, but my butt has been good to me, getting me through years of riding (relatively) long distances blissfully & obliviously in clothes that are not exactly cycling kosher.


Exhibit A: take this ride I did last spring from Jackson, WY up to and around Teton National Park:

I was wearing teeny running shorts for goodness' sake (...and trail runners and, not pictured, a running hydration pack). While I did get some chafing on the inside of my left thigh, my bum was happy. Even on my new Surly, my butt adjusted quickly to the new saddle and I've experienced no issues.


So I ask: why fix what ain't broken?


On our own, Marcey and I came to the same conclusion: wear what has been working and bring chamois butter and a chamois just in case; to wear at the first sign of discomfort.


For me, I know that longer shorts have worked really well for me. I like trading between tighter shorts for blasting through long straightaways and/or extra aerodynamic favor on windy days, and more casual MTB-style shorts for party-pace and/or climbing days. For both, I wear 100% wool boy short underwear underneath.


If needed, I could wear the chamois on their own or pop them under either pair of shorts.


I figure if I haven't used the chamois by the time I make it to my first resupply location in Salida, CO, I can just ship them home.


In conclusion

Like many things, whether one wears a chamois is a deeply personal decision and there's no 'one size fits all' solution.


Everyone's saddles and bodies are different. But it's important to be vigilant and open to trying new things as our saddles and bodies naturally change and are challenged over time, to remain happy and comfy wherever the trails may take us.










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