Do you know the truth about chamois pads?
What’s the story behind (pun intended) that giant fabricated pad in the seat of your cycling shorts? Before the days of mass-produced artificial materials, cycling shorts were padded with chamois leather (pronounced “shammy”). A chamois is a European antelope whose hide was used extensively in the 1800’s by the French glove makers. It was discovered that by tanning chamois hide in cod oil, the resultant leather became highly absorbent. Carriage footmen and then chauffeurs used chamois gloves for cleaning and polishing carriages and cars; the uses of chamois leather extended from there and centered around its soft and absorbent characteristics.
History of the chamois pad
Cycling began to gain popularity with the introduction of the modern “safety” bicycle and the pneumatic tire in the 1880’s and 90’s. Soon thereafter, clothing began taking on activity specific designs with the introduction of cycling shorts that were simply modified wool knickers. In order to reduce bunching of the wool shorts, designs began introducing multiple-panels. Unfortunately, multiple panels invariably produced overlapping seams in the most delicate areas. Chamois leather was then used to cover these seams and create a bit more comfort for cyclists.
Development of modern chamois pads
With the introduction of DuPont’s COOLMAX material in 1986, polyester based materials like COOLMAX began replacing chamois leather in cycling shorts. COOLMAX was designed as a moisture managing or “wicking” fabric by its unique structure; it is made of four-channel polyester fibers that are woven together in cross sections to allow air to flow through the fabric. Most modern cycling short pads are now made with some sort of moisture managing polyester fabric. Use of moisture managing fabric in cycling shorts is ideal as moisture build-up can promote chafing as well as bacterial and fungal overgrowth.
How chamois cream was developed
Creams and lotions for chamois pads were originally used when real animal hide was used in cycling shorts. Chamois leather can become quite dry and stiff after repeated use and washings. Therefore, “chamois creams” were originally designed to keep the real leather chamois pads soft, supple, and absorbent. With the advent of modern chamois pads, the need for such creams may seem to be less clear; there’s certainly no need to “condition” modern chamois pads. Modern chamois creams, however, do improve comfort by creating an anti-friction barrier between the skin and chamois pad as well as an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal environment thereby decreasing the chance for hotspots, chafing, and saddle sores. It is imperative that chamois creams not contain petroleum products like mineral oil that are known to breakdown the synthetic fibers in most chamois pads. Ideally, chamois creams should not contain overly thick or occlusive ingredients like petroleum jelly or silicone that hamper the airflow and wicking properties of chamois pads.