By: Michael J. Zerinskas, CEO of BALM Co.
While chamois cream may be the most used performance skincare product on the market, by no means is it prevalent. This is due to a number of reasons: some people never feel the need to use it, others have tried it, but feel it does not work, while others simply do not know what it is or how to use it properly.
Your education first starts with knowing what a chamois cream is and how to use it. In this article we will explore discomfort while riding and whether chamois cream will help you in particular…
I spend a lot of time on forums answering questions about how to properly use embrocation, cooling creams, and chamois creams especially. Some people just need a simple tutorial on what the product is for, but others are more critical because they think chamois cream will do something it will not. This leads to athletes branding chamois creams as unneeded or unhelpful.
Lets take a look at the four main ways that cyclists encounter pain on a bike: bike fit, saddle choice, fatigue, and clothing.
Bike Fit – This is the first step in making sure that you will have hours and hours of fun atop a bike. A bike fit should typically be done before you even purchase a bike; a proper fitter will be able to tell you either the geometry you should shop for or specific models and stem lengths to suit your riding style, flexibility, and specific needs.
If you do not have a properly fitted bike beneath you, this will place too much weight in an area that it was not designed for. This will undoubtedly lead to decreased comfort, increased shifting around, and all in all not a fun time. You will often hop off your steed with intensely sore muscles, especially in the glutes and lower back.
Chamois cream will not directly help any muscle pain or soreness due to improper fit/positioning on a bike. It will however cut down or eliminate the chafing caused by increased shifting in the saddle, which indirectly makes even an ill-fitting bike more comfortable.
Saddle Choice – Even a properly fitted bike can become unridable without a saddle that is tailored to your needs. If you want an excellent primer on how to begin to choose a saddle that is right for you, visit the Fizik website. Long story short is that your flexibility dictates saddle choice. If a rider has more or less flexibility in the lower back, the position changes. This means that the majority of the weight shifts depending on how you are leaning over. If your current saddle is not designed to support that weight in that specific spot, you are going to develop muscle pain, discomfort, and increased chaffing. In addition, if you are a cyclist with a fair amount of flexibility riding a saddle designed for an upright position, this will cause massive amounts of friction and chafing due to your things contacting the thicker, rearward portion of the saddle.
Chamois cream will help dramatically with fiction development and chafing, even making the ride on a ‘bad’ saddle better, but the cure will always be to obtain a more suitable saddle. This can only be done through testing different saddles by different manufacturers that fall into your flexibility range.
Fatigue – A rider who is straddling a properly fitted bike with a saddle designed for their flexibility and riding style is still prone to discomfort on long rides. This is due to the overall effects of fatigue. Fatigue can come about by simply pushing your body past it’s comfort level, but also because of increased weight or fitness level.
It is no secret that heavier riders have a tendency to experience more glute soreness than lighter riders. It is also true that riders who are more fit and with greater muscle development (especially in the core) experience less muscle soreness and fatigue than those who are not. When you are fatigued, you shift your weight around, squirm on the saddle, and try different positions in attempt to become comfortable once again. All this does is increase friction and chafing, which intensifies muscle discomfort.
If you are a new rider, take a deep breath; these things are normal. If you understand and expect these truths ahead of time, you will be able to get through it much easier. However, this is another case where chamois cream helps dramatically. A chamois cream will prevent chafing, decrease discomfort, and allow you to remain in your correct positioning longer.
More time on the bike means more fitness, greater core strength, and less kilos.
Clothing – In addition to the above ways that chafing develops, clothing choice plays a very important part. While I understand that cycling has an inherently high barrier of entry from a monetary standpoint, I cannot stress enough the need to buy quality, high-end clothing. I know what you’re going to say here, “Well, I don’t plan on riding the Tour de France.” I know, I know, I work in a bike shop and hear that every single day. Stop saying that. Stop justifying the purchase of crappy clothes and then having a crappy time wearing them. First and foremost, you need proper, tight-fitting bibs or shorts. Riding in your everyday clothes is hell on wheels. I’ll sometimes make the 8 mile trip to the bike shop in my jeans and curse myself every time. If you want to wear normal clothes, or in the case of MTBers baggy shorts, you should wear a liner with a pad in it.
Your bibs have to fit tightly on the skin. Upon first dressing, they should fit a tad too tight. This is a good thing, as a loose fitting chamois pad will simply shift all around as you ride and, you guessed it, increase friction. Chamois cream helps this, but only so much.
Do not layer shorts/bibs either… for the reason just mentioned. If you need warmer clothes for colder rides, invest in thermal tights, knickers, or bibs. Between the increased thermal properties of your clothing and your radiant body heat, you will be fine, especially on the legs. The only exception here would be chamoisless thermal tights that are designed to be worn over regular bibs. The key word there is “designed.”
If you still find yourself cold, make sure that you are adequately clothed around the torso. The body naturally filters blood flow away from the extremities when your core temperature is too low. This is one of the many reasons why embrocation is important… but that’s another article.
As you have noticed, chafing presents a big problem for cyclists. Frankly, its lurking around every corner trying to spoil your fun. In every one of the circumstances above, chamois cream will help make your rides more enjoyable, but it is when you have those other variables in place (bike fit, correct saddle, high quality clothes, and fitness) that the real fun begins.
A nice smear of chamois cream lets you explore just a little bit farther on your Sunday ride, it nudges you to climb that mountain pass you never have, and makes cycling more effortless. And isn’t that what we are all after?