Almost as mysterious and magical as shaved legs is this substance known as chamois butter, or chamois cream.
From the name you can figure out it’s a cream that goes on your chamois. But why? And does it really go on the chamois? Do we even use chamois today? But we still need chamois cream?
It’s time to answer these questions and more! Let’s get past all the myths and folk lore, and get into some practical tips and real advice on how and why to use this cream…
What the heck is a chamois?
When it comes to cycling, the chamois is the piece of padding found in bicycling shorts, with the purpose of providing increased comfort for long days in the saddle.
The name comes from the olden days when this pad was actually made from chamois cloth, a type of sheepskin leather. Today, most shorts feature a synthetic chamois, usually made of foam, gel, and/or microfiber cloth. It serves the same purpose but is cheaper and easier to maintain.
It is pronounced “shammy” or “sham E.”
Where does the chamois butter come in?
For a real leather chamois, you used to need chamois butter to condition it. It’s like how you have to oil a leather baseball mitt to break it in and keep it pliable. You would apply the cream to the chamois itself, or else it would stiffen up after it was washed and dried.
These days you don’t technically need any sort of chamois butter since a synthetic chamois will remain soft and pliable on its own.
Do my shorts have a real or synthetic chamois?
The simple answer is that if the shorts are new enough that you are still wearing them today, the chamois is probably synthetic. If it looks anything like the one pictured to the right, it’s synthetic.
Then why should I use chamois butter?
Since your synthetic chamois will be fine without chamois butter, it is technically unnecessary.
However, “lubing” your butt (and other body parts that contact the chamois) is still a good idea. It reduces friction between your skin and the chamois, which will prevent chafing, which will lessen the chance of saddle sores.
Personally I have found chamois cream most useful on shorts with a weird looking chamois, or one with seams all over. For example, one of my shorts uses a terribly rough seam to join the chamois to the lycra, and it digs right into my butt cheek. Without chamois cream, I can’t wear the shorts.
So it’s like the holy grail?
To some people, yes. To others, chamois butter is a waste of time and money. It is all about personal preference.
If you have the perfect saddle, positioning, and shorts, working in harmony with your body, chamois butter is probably not necessary. But it could still enhance comfort.
Couldn’t it damage my expensive shorts?
It is possible that the type of chamois butter you use could shorten the lifespan of your expensive shorts. For example, Vaseline soaks in and doesn’t come out, so it then soaks into your saddle, too, leaving it slippery.
But I look at it in a different light…
Could chamois butter make an old chamois comfortable again? Yes it could.
So how do I apply this chamois butter?
If you have a genuine leather chamois, you need to condition the chamois itself. However, with a new synthetic chamois, you have two options: lathering it on the chamois, or just putting the cream on your skin.
I choose to apply the cream directly to my skin, wherever my body makes contact with the chamois. Anywhere down there that might chafe or rub on the saddle, or a seam, whatever. I consider it more of a “skin lubricant” than a chamois cream, but the “chamois cream” name kind of stuck.
When you apply the cream to your body, you can get it right where you want it. Not only on skin-to-chamois contact points, but also on skin-to-skin contact points that might rub. You’ll learn from experience where is best for you.
How much do I apply?
Usually you only need a thin layer to do the job.
I used to use a thick glob, thinking that would increase the padding offered by my chamois. Well, all that does is soak through the shorts down to your expensive leather saddle, and it doesn’t add more padding.
So I have decided a small amount is best.
Why is it so expensive?
Most boutique brands of chamois butter are quite expensive. For example, Assos costs about $22 for a tiny container. But even other brands like Paceline Chamois Butt’r are still much more expensive than regular skin creams.
There are a few reasons for this. First, the branding. Some of the brands charge lots of money for their products so you perceive them to be better quality. Second, they are designed to easily wash out and not to harm your chamois. Third, they may contain expensive ingredients.
But for the most part, you’re just paying for the brand name.