Some of our quirks are admittedly unnecessary -- like our need to always take scenic and lightly-traveled back roads to get anywhere -- but some do have merit.
Case in point: chamois cream for cycling shorts. I use it because it provides lubrication to a part of the body that can, at times, become quite sore and raw after several hours in the saddle. And let me tell you, that's the last place on your body you want feeling like that.
Today, chamois cream is a bit of a misnomer because advances in fabrics and padding have led to much better synthetic, anti-bacterial alternatives to the stiffening leather patches of yore. Way back in the day, up until about the 1980s, chamois cream was used to soften the leather after it had dried from a washing.
As it happened, one side-benefit to spreading cream all over your shorts before a ride was that it also lubricated your hide and thus kept chafing at bay. Some old-schoolers will tell you that using chamois cream now is silly, and to an extent -- they are correct -- we certainly don't need to soften up today's synthetic chamois pads. But it's the skin-saving, anti-chafing properties that keep chamois creams in use today.
If you spend significant time in the saddle, you most likely suffer at some level from the friction of a cycling pad on your skin. Consider trying out a cream. Choose something thick that contains a low water content -- creams with higher water content are simply absorbed by the chamois. You want it to stay between your skin and the pad and act as a lubricant. Also, go with a product containing a blend of silicone and anti-bacterial agents. Friction Zone from Brave Soldier is a good example of a cream with all three properties.
How much do you apply and when?
Each brand will recommend that you basically slather your behind and crotch wherever your pad touches your skin. That's a good starting point, but you may find you don't need to go quite that far.
As long as the major friction points -- sit bones, inner thighs and crotch -- are well-lubed, you're getting all the protection you need. That said, you can only go wrong by applying too little. And don't forget that you have to put the cream on before you ride (Seriously, it needs to be said.) as these products won't heal saddle sores and irritations. They do, however, help tremendously in preventing them from occurring in the first place.
Two final words: Bike Fit
No chamois cream in the world will take the place of proper bike fit. Many of us ride racing bikes which are meant to go fast first and be comfortable second. It is this choice in bikes that can render our posteriors, as well as many other body parts, sore during and after a ride.
If you seem prone to saddle soreness or saddle sores, get your bike fitted first before you open a tube of chamois cream. Once that fit's dialed you should experience less soreness down in those nether regions. Apply chamois cream to your hide as an extra insurance policy against saddle sores and discomfort.
Max Shute, Ph.D., is a Senior Coach for Carmichael Training Systems, who lives in Valdosta, Georgia. He coaches athletes training for competition in road cycling, mountain biking, triathlon, and marathon. To find out what CTS can do for you, visit www.trainright.com.