Chamois School 101

With how cycling works with the body, the chamois and shorts/bibs determine a rider’s comfort to allow for the experience of riding. That chamois is the foundation of a good experience on the bike and has three key hallmarks.

The first element of that foundation is the skeletal support and suspension on the saddle at the contact points. The second is tissue health, allowing for proper blood circulation in a relatively delicate area of the body. And the third element is skin comfort with moisture management and friction reduction.

New cyclists have often asked what all the hubbub is with cycling chamois, and rightfully so. They are a complicated feature-filled thing to explain. And while every manufacturer tries to explain why their chamois are superior, most riders don’t know that we’ve been working in partnership with an Italian manufacturer for over 25 years on our proprietary chamois development. Whereas many other cycling brands go to trade shows and pick out a pre-engineered chamois to simply stitch into their own designs and claim it as theirs.

In 2011 we started the process of completely updating our chamois lines to engineer and refine some of the best riding chamois in the market. This culminated in 2017 with the P.R.O. Escape 1:1™ Chamois, featuring our floating top sheet design and delivering unmatched comfort. It’s featured in our men’s P.R.O. Escape Bib Short and Short and will be used in other bibs in the near future. We can validate this claim of the most comfortable short through the comments and “missing” bibs and shorts our wear testing program provided us.

Our network of nearly 500 wear test riders across the globe puts prototypes through hundreds of hours of riding and testing to provide unbiased feedback into product development. Refining our products to make them better so you can focus on the ride and forget what you’re wearing. The feedback we get directly from these riders guides how we improve, and even at times revert to designs that work the best on the body on the bike.

For example, in the process of testing to develop the all new P.R.O. Escape 1:1™ Chamois, women testers found that even with the women’s specific shape and designed chamois, a softer yet thinner chamois was better than a thicker or more robust chamois that was being initially developed. And while you can certainly ride an opposite gender-specific chamois if warranted, our chamois are developed with gender needs in mind for fit and function. The human anatomy is different in that area on the saddle.

Historically, the process of pressing and bonding multiple fabrics to create a chamois pad has been used to make and place into cycling shorts and bibs. Some of these fabrics and processes result in what ends up being more of a modified piece of plastic. The materials are fused together in a way that may provide suspension but lack the other two key elements of circulation protection and moisture management. And in the end making for a less than desirable experience on the bike.

Pearl Izumi uses fewer layers of material and strategic bonding in spots to allow for stretching and form shaping to the body. Using a patent pending process through “skiving” we are able to shape and deform the different foams to contour the chamois ideally to the body. The ability to skive the foam allows us to maximize the suspension of the skeleton and blood flow to tissue. We then invert the construction so the top sheet is completely smooth removing the potential for friction on seams or bonds within the foam and making moisture transfer more efficient.

Since the chamois is produced independently of the rest of the shorts/bibs, there are guide marks that are skived on the chamois pads to keep the sewing placement into the final shorts or bibs critically quality checked. Controlling these processes through manufacturing may increase some costs to make the shorts or bibs, but a quality final piece is more important to riders. And imperative to us.

The riding position you are in also has an impact on how a chamois feels and performs. In the Pearl Izumi lines, you will see offerings of Pursuit and Escape. We use a different chamois in these two different lines to support the body based on how aggressive or adventurous you are on the bike. When you are in an aggressive Pursuit-minded position, pressure points are in a more-forward position as compared to the more adventurous position of an Escape-minded rider. Having the chamois designed to fit the ride style is key to making a good experience on the bike.

Pearl Izumi chart for choosing a chamois

Lastly, moving on to the ingredients of a chamois, various kinds of foam are used with different densities and ingredients to provide different levels of resilience. Our higher quality chamois the P.R.O. level utilizes more resilient foam which allows for more enjoyable experience when riding for long periods of time. When considering the P.R.O., ELITE, or SELECT chamois consider how long your rides will be to determine which may be best for you. Simply adding more foam and charging more for it doesn’t equal a functional and comfortable chamois. Using the gear that fits the way you ride is the best option for you.

So picking your ideal chamois and short really comes down to identifying your riding style in terms of position and duration so that you have the proper tool for the ride. Then you can focus on where you’re riding and forget about what you’re riding in. #endureandenjoy365

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Josh is a recovering photojournalist with a donut addiction that is only kept in check by cycling and trail running. He is continually blown away by the ability to be a part of the industry that encourages a passion for bikes. He is also an advocate for his trail running wife and others recovering from traumatic brain injuries (TBI). #rideallthesurfaces #becausebikes and #traillife are dirty good fun.

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6 thoughts on “Chamois School 101

  1. I ride exclusively pearlizumi clothing which I love. I ride 150-200 miles per week. I have tried your 1/1 chamios and find it NOT so super. The size is not perfected at the edges. So that it bunches and causes bunching and chafing on the inner thigh. The combination of foam and lack of tapering is not comfortable for greater than 20 miles. The conture of the chamois should narrowed so there is less bunching on the inner thigh.
    I have been riding nothing but pearlizumi clothing for 20 years. But find this chamois not your best offering.

  2. I have to agree with Brian Curtis. I rode and raced exclusively in Pearl Izumi bibs and shorts from 2009 to 2017.
    In 2017 I replaced an existing pair of Elite Escape bibs with the new model using the 1:1 chamois. For the first time EVER, I began to have problems with friction and chafing of the inner thigh (at the narrowest part of the chamois) about 20 miles into every ride. No readjusting, repositioning or even use of chamois cream would prevent this. Purchasing a 2nd pair hoping it was just a flaw with my new bibs met with the same results. Switching back to my older “3D” chamois bibs would consistently solve the problem, but as they wore out, I have had to switch brands and have now been purchasing and riding Specialized bibs. I sure miss the older style of 3D chamois and would buy them again if you ever switched back.

  3. After using only Perl Izumi shorts since about 1984 I recently developed rash / soreness on upper inner thigh (both sides) after a few months when riding with “Pearl Izumi – Ride Men’s Pursuit Attack Shorts.” I noticed the chamois in these shorts has a slight texture, whereas all my older (but now worn out) shorts have a smooth chamois. I recently bought “Pearl Izumi – Ride Men’s Elite Pursuit Solid Shorts” and will try them, but they also have a chamois with slight texture. If these expensive shorts result in same rash / soreness, then I’ll be forced to look for a new supplier. I ride several times a week and my typical ride is 50-100 miles. Please let me know (1) where I can get shorts with smooth chamois and (2) why Perl Izumi shorts now *all* seem to have chamois with slight texture.

  4. I’ve only been seriously riding for the last 6 yrs. My first and second pair of riding shorts “Pearl Izumi – Women’s Attack” I found they were/are very comfortable for 25 mile and longer rides. Of course, over time they ware out and need to be replaced. Luckily, I found pair with the 3D chamois. I decided I should get another pair to stash away since I was noticing how hard it is to find them. I ended up ordering a new pair knowing it has the new chamois and thought, let’s give it a try. I only did a 25 mile ride and was ready to toss them because of chafing. Please bring back the 3D. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.

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