Reverence: Chamois Cream

chamois creamPull up a seat around the fire, Old Gianni is going to tell you a story about lube… hey kids, come back here! It’s really just a story about cycling chamois really being made from chamois. There, I knew that would bring you back. Who doesn’t use chamois cream? I’m a little surprised to find a lot of cyclists don’t. Us guys don’t talk about our asses enough so this subject rarely comes up. I don’t climb well for my weight and I’m not peaking in two months and I still use some chamois cream on rides of any decent length.

Back in the days of wool shorts and leather chamois, your brand new Italian shorts had a chamois as soft and buttery as the leather seat of a Ferrari. Yet after the first wash it was a crinkled stiff mess that needed a cream just to smooth it out enough to be rideable. The cream I was familiar with was akin to Bagbalm: a honey colored, thick translucent goo which had to be massaged into the leather. It also gave it enough lubricity to prevent hot spots. Every ride would be followed by a shorts washing then drying and the dried chamois got more goo and massage than your legs.  It was a minor pain but one could assume it to be a ritual every roadie did, save Lord Eddy who had Mrs Merckx do it. Did I mention padding hadn’t been invented yet? Just thin leather and the black wool (and eventually thin lycra) it was sewn to.

Lycra replaced wool before synthetic chamois replaced real leather, the synthetic looked similar but behaved better after washing. I stopped using chamois cream because it was no longer really chamois and the need to un-crinkle the thing was gone.  Different synthetics came and went, even a polar fleece pad by Avocet, but a cream would just disappear into it, a waste. Synthetic chamois improved bit by bit, our Concor seats were still miserable and the idea of padding actually came into fashion which may have made Concor seats better, but barely. Regardless of saddle, for me the limiting factor for the 100k plus rides was the discomfort of just sitting on the bike.

I don’t remember when the dim bulb went on in my dim brain, but somehow it dawned on me that the pros were still slathering their shorts up with abandon. I would be interested to know how much a team goes through in the Tour; I reckon kilos of it. The preparation and lubing of the cyclist’s most sensitive contact point with the bike is nothing to be taken lightly for a pro. If you really want to get ‘core, try DZ’s procedure on staying right.

For the uninitiated, I put a large aliquot of the cream about where my sit bones contact the chamois and then press the chamois together to spread it. Apply it where you need it.  Sure it feels a bit clammy when the bibs are engaged but that passes. A long way into a ride you notice the warmed cream has produced a near zero friction coefficient ‘down there’, all is well and one’s attention can be spent on other things like staying in the saddle and laying down a little V. I always put my creamed-up bibs on at home even if I’m heading for the car to get to a ride. Years ago a Tour racer pulled over for a serious call of nature which required shorts lowering and removal. In the ensuing re-shorting, sand from his shoe contaminated the creamed-up chamois and miles later his Tour was over. My point is this; putting on bibs in the car, outside the car, in the bushes are all bad. Your sand-free bedroom is better.

Have the new chamois pads made the creams redundant? I don’t want to find out the hard way. Certainly if you are doing this for a living you are doing your best to avoid saddle sores and blisters and the creams are still the one true way.

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42 Replies to “Reverence: Chamois Cream”

  1. For the uninitiated, I put a large aliquot of the cream about where my sit bones contact the chamois and then press the chamois together to spread it.

    You know where JENS! puts his chamois cream? One spot: the RIVET.

  2. @ben
    I know what you’re tryin’ to say, baby: ah, yeah, that’s it!

    I’m not a big ‘creme user, but I have had “issues” on some long rides. These days, even when wearing the V-Kit (which is always,day and night) I use Chamois Butter. Despite me Velomihottie calling it “butt butter”, it really does get amazingly comfortable once it warms up. 30km into the ride and your rollin’ smoother than a kitten in a yarn store.

  3. Considering I started with a pair of tri-shorts with a nearly non-existant pad, I became a chamois creme user almost immediately. I started off with Chamois Butt’r, but when a couple from our local shop started making their own “Cobble Cream” I gave it a shot and have never looked back:

    All natural and isn’t nearly as greasy as Chamois Butt’r, but sticks around longer. I use it even when I run. Fantastic stuff.

    They also make some great embro…

  4. @ben
    Locally made chamois cream, a locavore’s delight. That is great. I wonder if they mail order. Maybe we need a Velominati version, with abrasives in it, to show how tough we are.

    I still use the Butt’r because it’s good and cheap. Many swear by Assos but like all their product, it’s not cheap. I read that cyclists use Queen Helene’s skin creme, it’s cheap and comes in vats. It also smells like…I’m not sure, coconut suntanning oil. Long story short, I have a mostly unused vat of Queen Helene’s skin creme.
    I’d like to use DZ’s Nutz but it’s a small tube for the money, it wouldn’t last long.

  5. @Jarvis
    It makes sense Assos would make a great cream as they don’t make anything badly. I will have to revisit that product. Too bad they can’t somehow combine the minx female model and the creme in some memorable photo shoot. Then I would definitely buy it again.

  6. @john @ Jarvis I started using Assos creme this season. My left schnuttal area would always get rubbed raw – dog saliva really does help but Mrs. Cyclops would give me the stink eye (with her one eye) when she would catch me in the bedroom with the dog.

    I think a Velominati “chamois creme” should come in a multi-part kit form. Part one would be the creme which would be a closely guarded secret formula that was akin to Biofreeze with Capsaicin in it. Part two of the kit would be duct tape with shards of glass from a broken beer bottle (preferably a dark stout) embedded in it. Part three would be one of those disposable plastic enema thingys filled with Tabasco sauce.

    Step One: Slather the crotchel groinal area with the Velominutheat Creme
    Step Two: Tightly wrap the tea bags with the Velomiducttape.
    Step Three: Administer Velominanus Sauce into the “wrecked ’em” with the handy disposable applicator.
    Step Four: Climb the Scanuppia Malga Palazzo in the big ring

    This would definitely seperate the true Velominati from the pretenders.

  7. I’ve never understood chamois cream, even after trying it several times. I found no comfort advantage to riding with vs without it.

    If you have good shorts, you shouldn’t be sliding around in them causing friction.

    Basically, if your shorts fit, you have the right saddle, and you’ve been well fitted to your bike, you shouldn’t need chamois cream at all.

    I’m more inclined to believe that the pros who slather their chamois in cream do it more out of habit than anything else.

  8. Actually, I agree with Omar more. If your shorts fit and your saddle fits and you ride your bike enough to have calluses on your perineum, you shouldn’t need it. Unless you are prone to saddle sores, then finding the right thing to put on can help a lot.

  9. @Cyclops
    I will refer this to the Velominati Products Development Division.
    As to what you and the dog do in the privacy of your own home, I don’t want to know anything more lest I be an accessory.

  10. @Omar

    Hmmmmm, maybe, he said guardedly. I have the best shorts(Velominati bibs), I believe my bike fits, maybe I could blame the saddle. One never really knows if the saddle fits until you do a looog ride. I may be on a life long quest for the perfect saddle. That’s another whole subject. Maybe I’m too damn big.

    I’m more inclined to believe that the pros who slather their chamois in cream do it more out of habit than anything else.

    That I doubt. These people use the best bibs, fit their bikes, have tough asses, would only use saddles they like and I bet they are slathered. If you put in the yearly miles these people do, I’m willing to bet a V-chalice almost all use a cream and with good reason. But that is a tough bet to settle as I know no pros. If I meet up with Ryder H this winter I’ll put that on the long list of questions I have for him.

  11. @john,
    Velominati kit awesomness aside, having the “Best Shorts” is a highly individual thing. As soon as I bought Assos shorts, I never again had a problem with any abnormal discomfort on the bike. That was after trying Castelli, Giordana, Pearl Izumi, etc etc. Same thing goes for saddle, you have to get measured and try a bunch of them before you find one that you really like.

    Regarding Pros using chamois cream, we know that Pharmstrong loves Assos chamois cream, and he’s been using the same saddle for a really long time. With how many miles he puts on the bike, the skin on his perineum is bound to be tougher than the average joe, but I could be wrong.

    Next time I’m back home in San Diego, I’ll ask one of the local pros on a club ride about the chamois cream enigma.

    And they don’t ALWAYS use the best bibs, fit their bikes, and only use saddles they like. They use what their teams give them, ride frames that are the right “stock” size for them but may not fit perfectly, and most use whatever saddle their sponsors throw at them. The ones who DO ride whatever they want are usually only the big names.

  12. As consumers we have an advantage over the pros in that we can shop around through different brands to find what works best for us rather than being force-fed a bunch of kit. Sure, the free schwag would be nice, but it’s not always the best for each rider.

  13. Thanks for the post. I have not been much of a user, but after last weekends ride and my subsequent request for suggestions, I see my prayers have been answered. Now if only I had a V Pint to drink my Saison Dupont in I would be completely content.

  14. @michael, @Omar
    Bottom line is this: butt butter amounts to little more than a lubricant; I don’t use it much myself, but the argument that you shouldn’t need it is completely missing the point. The times I do use it, I notice the increased comfort, especially on long rides.

    No matter what the fit, size, etc of your ass, saddle, or bike, lubrication reduces friction. Period. The more you ride does not, in fact, insulate you from this – on the contrary it increases your risk of having problems like saddle sores. You move your legs more, and, given the complexity of the crotch and the organism in general, nothing beats lubrication when it comes to reducing wear on moving parts.

    The right bib fit might reduce the need for it, but doesn’t remove basic physics from the equation.

    On a side note, as consumers we do have more choice than the pros, but many consumer products even labeled as “top of the line” or “what the pros wear” is not actually the same stuff. Take, for example, the V-Bibs; the aero Race bibs by Castelli that you find in stores have a lower cost pad in them to cut inventory costs and lift profitability of the products. The V-Bibs are the only bibs I’m aware of that consumers can buy that have the same pad in them that is issued to the Pros.

  15. @frank
    Well I agree with you somewhat, but you didn’t necessarily disagree with me. There’s a fine line between riding too little and having crotch problems, riding just enough to not have crotch problems and riding enough to have them, I’ve been on all 3 sides of it.

    Basic friction from legs moving generally causes chafing where the legs meet the torso, but not saddle sores, these will go away with more riding or chamois cream. Pressure mixed with the rocking motion and heat, friction, hygiene, perinum physiology is what causes saddle sores. Saddle sores are generally subcutaneous irritations of what looks like follicles on the skin ‘down there’. I don’t know if any cream or not will help or prevent these as it may be better to let your skin breath as much as possible. Having said all that, I have no idea what my point was.

  16. @john – Aaron and Mary from Winston’s Brand definitely mail order. That stuff is awesome and I find myself not needing as much Cobble Cream as Butt’r. The Butt’r seemed to break down… and with the sunflower oil and tea tree oil in the Cobble Cream, it’s antibacterial and stays put nicely.

    If any Velominatus order, make sure and tell ’em I sent ya. I highly recommend their CX Warm embro for rides sub-50 degrees.

  17. I’m a big fan of Assos creme. (I’m a sucker for the tingle of witch hazel in the morning.) Tried a few other brands – not sufficiently viscous, too oily, too hard to get off of your fingers after application, no with hazel – but have always come back to Assos. I thought we only rode as a thinly disguised cover for our creme habit (or is that just me?).

  18. I love slapping a bit of lube around the ol’ back door. But that’s another story. Chamois cream… right. I use it on occasion, not all the time, but for longer rides I’ll use Keywin, locally made from lanolin and inexpensive. Can even use it on your nipples. The V-bibs don’t seem to need it so far, they are pretty damn awesome, I must say.

  19. @minion
    Yeah well I haven’t seen you on any of my rides lately, road or mountain. And isn’t that your track bike hanging up in the shop, the one you tried to put a 1:1/8 fork into a 1″ head tube?

  20. @Omar
    You are right on both counts. Bibs and saddles are subjective personal choices, if I didn’t like my Castelli V kit I’d invest in some Assos. Still, I’m wearing what Thor wears so I’m feeling good about that. This new Castelli is much better than the old Castelli, something happened there. I’d like to try a dozen saddles, I think Competitive Cyclist has that service, it would be interesting.

    And yes, most pros are stuck with the sponsors saddles and clothing and bikes. But their service course must have every stem, crank, and handlebar option a person might hope for, but I hear you on that too.

    Yes please, get data in San Diego.

  21. I bought a cheap pair of bike shorts from MEC a few years back. The chamois was thin and none too comfy so I went to the auto store and bought a real chamois, grabbed my moms sewing machine, and sewed the real cloth over the MEC pad. Man did that ever turn a mediocre pair of shorts into some nice, choad caressing package slippers. After 7 years and thousands of miles the sew job finally gave out this year. No worries, my V bibs had arrived and I’ve worn nothing better. But I do miss the feel of well oiled natural chamois sometimes.

  22. I must have an ass of steel (Hey, there’s something for the resume), I’ve never used chamois cream in 25+ years of riding. Sure, I can tell the difference between a cheap pair of shorts and a quality pair – no doubt – but, no need for slathering goop into ’em.

    My favorite shorts? Older style Descente Pro bib shorts. I’m screwed though, since I’ve wasted the few pairs I have and can’t find exact replacements. I keep lookin’ though.

    Back in the ’80s, I did many long mountain bike rides wearing jeans – yes, jeans with tighty whities under ’em. Maybe that permanently conditioned my ass for all future rides.

  23. Hailing form the barnyard, I naturally go to the local feed & seed for my ointments. Bag Balm contains lanolin, ergo, a hint of antibacterial quality. It is also non-soluble in water. Good for a wet ride, not so good if you are trying to wash that shit out of your shorts. However, Bag Balm also contains petroleum jelly, and thus not quite compatible with synthetic fibers. I noted accelerated shorts wear, like threadbare (read: transparent) in the upper ass region. I also feel it led to accelerated degradation of the synthetic leather covering of my saddle, and perhaps the urethane foam within, as well. I found Udderly Smooth to be the next best thing.

  24. @Dan O,

    I have a pair of large Descente bibs from the early 2000s that I got for free from the shop I worked in at the time, I’ve worn them a maybe 600 miles, but they still look basically new and I religiously use baby wipes. If these are the bibs you are looking for and really want them, I’d trade you for something comparable.

  25. @Michael

    I wear medium, actually purchased two pairs of large at bike show a few years ago – too big. Sold ’em as new to a riding a pal.

    I appricate the offer – but used shorts? Ack!

  26. Don’t use it myself, even on long rides (100k+) … lucky I guess (or unlucky, if I’m reading Brett and Cyclops correctly?) Like anything else, some folks need it, some folks don’t, too many variables to draw any conclusions as to why… Probably better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. If I ever need it, I know who to ask.

  27. @sgt
    You can FEEL the anti-V emanating from that space. If this were Star Wars, Yoda would be very leery of that room. The inside-out bibs is the worst. @Cyclops, where the fuck did you find that?

  28. @Cyclops,@frank
    That fucking photo is sick. When will it dawn on that poor guy what he’s done? Hopefully before the ride not after it. And there is an eager beaver behind him in line with his camel Back, all loaded up and ready to sign in.

    @foghorn leghorn
    I say, I say, I say, it’s nice to see you on the site…udderly smooth eh? I’ll keep that in mind.

  29. @Marko
    What happened to your avatar? Working on the bat-wing avatar? re: chamois from autoparts store, that is a cheap yankee move I would have attempted but I would have fucked up the sewing. Not easy that. I’m impressed for both reasons. Maybe you were the first person ever to enjoy real chamois with padding?

  30. Back in the day we used Noxema. It was cheap and it worked. When you were in a race tha was the smell of the peloton!
    Now days Bag Balm is the cheapest alternative to the Boutique brands like assos!

  31. For years I used Body Glide or DZ Nuts. Recently I have discovered (thanks to my LBS) Button Hole chamois cream and am having very good luck with it. Goes on well, stays around decently for long rides. No complaints. About $20 for 8oz.


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