Padded cycling shorts aren’t just for hard-core roadies—any cyclist can benefit from riding in shorts with a high-quality chamois (pronounced "sha-mee"). The chamois is the padded crotch piece on biking shorts that can help reduce pressure points, prevent chafing and disperse road vibration. Chamois come in a variety of shapes, thicknesses and materials.
“Wearing cycling-specific padded shorts can make the difference between loving and hating your ride,” says Mike Herlinger, partner and product developer at Club Ride.
From the road to the mountain biking, here’s how padded bike shorts help you feel more comfortable on your ride:
Remove Pressure Points
“Most athletic shorts are built with a seam running right underneath your crotch, which sits directly on top of your bike saddle and receives the most pressure from your body,” says Herlinger. “As you move around, pedaling and shifting your weight, the seam line will rub on sensitive areas, causing chafing and irritation.”
Because a chamois is sewn into fitted, stretchy spandex shorts, it stays in place even when you’re moving around. Light spandex fabric is breathable and wicking, and if sized correctly provides stretch and compression without being too tight.
High-frequency vibration, also called road shock, is the result of hard rubber tires rolling on the uneven surface of the road. Even if the road looks smooth, it will still cause vibration when you roll over it. As you pedal or even coast, high-frequency waves move through your tires, through the frame of your bike, and into your body. A chamois dampens these waves, dispersing shock, which over the course of your ride could cause pain.
A chamois should be made with a soft and comfortable microfiber shell fabric that wicks perspiration away from your body.
“Spend the money to get a good chamois,” says Herlinger. A gel chamois will be thinner, firmer and more dampening than foam, but also more expensive. For short distances, a thin, wicking foam chamois should suffice. If you’re riding 10-15 miles several times per week, pick a shaped, dual-density sculpted foam or gel, advises Herlinger, preferably with thicker layers towards the center, and thinner edges for comfort. If you’re riding long distances, Herlinger advises you invest in gel. Foam-only chamois will feel soft and cushy in the store, but it’s typically bulkier. Foam-only pads compress and lose their comfy feel faster than gel.
“Whatever chamois you’re considering, make sure it’s comfortable when you’re sitting on your bike,” says Herlinger. Much like running shoes, or even a pair of pants, not every chamois is made for every body size and shape. When you try on a chamois, the shorts should fit well, with a comfortable waistband, and leg grippers that aren’t too tight or too loose. “The best way to see if a chamois fits,” instructs Herlinger, “is to sit on a bike saddle and hold on to the handlebars. Note if the pad is too far forward or back; the ears of the pad should sit just past the ears of the saddle when you’re leaning forward, and the nose of the pad should cover the saddle nose. If there is a flap of fabric on the nose of the pad, it should be snug against your body, not flapping outwards.”
Do I wear underwear with padded bike shorts?
The answer is yes when you’re trying it on in the store. But no when you’re actually riding.
A chamois should be worn against your skin—wearing underwear adds seams, reduces breathability, and restricts your movement, reversing your chamois’ benefits. Wash and dry your chamois shorts like you would your underwear. You may not need to wash them after a one-hour ride, but after three hours—hand wash with mild soap or machine wash on delicate.
A women-specific chamois will usually have a wider back or ear section to accommodate wider sitz bones. They’re a bit shorter in length as women’s soft tissue stops before the end of the saddle. A men-specific chamois may have a center cutout so that blood flow is not restricted from pressure while riding.
More and more mountain bike shorts are coming without a liner since many riders already have a favored chamois liner.
The bottom line? “A good quality pair of chamois shorts is one of the most important cycling accessories you can buy—however long or far your ride,” says Herlinger. “It’ll help you love riding your bike.”
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