Chamois School 101

With how cycling works with your body, the chamois and shorts/bibs determine a rider’s comfort which greatly influences 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 PRO 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 is currently used in all PRO shorts and bibs in our lineup. 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.

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 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.

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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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17 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.

    1. Hi Melissa,
      Thanks for the feedback. I’ve passed this along to the team working on the next generation of chamois. I would be curious to hear what chamois you recently tried that didn’t work out. There are varying levels of support in our chamois so one may not be ideal for your style of riding. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us. 800-328-8488 or info@pearlizumi.com. Thanks.

  5. I can add to the chorus of complaints about the new chamois. I ride about 150 miles a week and have been wearing nothing but Pearl Izumi shorts for five years. I recently bought a pair of PI shorts with the new chamois (Escape model) and returned them after the first ride. The new chamois bunched up in the crotch causing irritation and seemed entirely too wide in the rear. Come on PI! You can do better.

    1. Hi Richard,

      Sorry to hear you didn’t like the fit and feel of the chamois. We are always working to make our products better and your feedback has been passed along to our team working on the next generation of chamois for our shorts and bibs. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out. 800-328-8488 or info@pearlizumi.com. Thanks.

  6. I have been riding in Perl Izumi since 1986. I was about to buy a couple of new pairs of Shorts but every response is negative. Now I have to look elsewhere. Do they even look at this blog?

    1. Hi Michael,
      We certainly do look at the comments and are looking to create a better info page on the main website to explain the differences between our bibs and chamois. Keep in mind that some people have wider or narrower sit bones that might not agree with a particular version of a chamois. Be it width, thickness, foam density, or compression. There are a lot of variables to consider, but we offer a fit guarantee. As long as the product is like new with the tags still on, we will refund your purchase price for up to 60 days.

      For reference, I do 6-10 hour rides in a PRO short with a PRO Escape Chamois without any discomfort from the chamois or shorts. Mostly it’s just soreness from the saddle time for the first part of the season, and then it goes away. A comprehensive bike fit and saddle choice will make a big impact on your ride comfort. There are only those three points of contact to distribute your weight on a bike, and every one of them is important. An improper bike fit can only be overcome with a great chamois every so often.

      If you have any further questions and would like to chat over the phone about them, feel free to call 800-328-8488 or email info@pearlizumi.com.

  7. I have tried the P.R.O. Escape Women’s Short and had to return it as it bunched between my thighs. I do like the soft smooth top chamois layer but the thickness on the sides in the narrowest part does bunch and cause some saddle rash. I had to return them based on that reason and sizing. Sizing for women seems to be based on the typical model where there is a 10-12 inch difference between thigh and waist measurement. So for me the Small size is great in Thigh area, to tight on the waist. The opposite is true for Medium. It a real catch 22.

    I also think it would be good for P.I. to test chamois designs with Indoor Smart Trainer rides. Many riders Train & Race Indoors much of the year now with TR, Sufferfest and Zwift. I myself train with Sufferfest/Zwift and Race on Zwift. Smart Trainers and Indoor Racing/Training is very demanding and places different demands on the rider and the Chamois design/moisture wicking abilities. Even with two large fans one does not get the same level of evaporation as outdoors. Especially in Colorado’s dry climate. Please consider and would love to know your views?

    1. Hi Stephanie,
      Thanks for the feedback. I’ll pass your thoughts on to our Advanced Development team who are working on updates to our chamois and shorts as we “speak.” The indoor cycling realm wasn’t as big of a “thing” when the current chamois were developed, so your notions on sweat and wicking demands are certainly a new factor to be considered. I think you’ll see chamois developed for the different types of riding with respect to indoor versus outdoor. The conditions of use are just so much different that a “do it all” chamois and short seems like a stretch too far. Stay tuned!

  8. PI, what on earth have you guys done?!?! I own several old pairs of blue 3D chamois escape shorts and 1 old pair of in-r-cool orange 3D chamois escape shorts. These have all been comfortable for thousands and thousands of kilometres using including several 200km rides. I use nothing else. The new blue chamois is a complete disaster. It gave me saddle sores, it bunches, is seemingly not bonded at all to the outer material and only has some cheap nasty stitching holding down the fat rough cut edges. Why why why???. The old design just worked perfectly. I refuse to even try the elite or pro versions. Did you even test these at all or was it just a focus on cost saving? When are you bringing back the old design?
    I’m amazed that a company of such consistent high quality designs would put their name on such a nasty cheap uncomfortable chamois

    1. Davie, I’m sorry to hear your complaints. I wish we could have given you more info before getting into the SELECT level of shorts. Our blue chamois, SELECT, is our entry level chamois which isn’t necessarily designed for the level of use you are indicating in your post. You would be much happier with our PRO level chamois which is designed for those 200km rides. The SELECT (blue chamois) is great for those shorter rides or indoor training sessions at a spin class or similar. The PRO (red chamois) has been developed with feedback from professional cyclists and wear-testers who are riding over 30 hours a week. We are pretty confident in the quality and comfort of our chamois for the ideal use case. We developed different levels of PRO, ELITE, and SELECT, as someone riding for an hour or so may not want to spend for technology that is designed for a six-hour epic. I personally will do 6-10 hour rides in our PRO Bibs without any issues.

      Lastly, we are in the midst of a chamois development process and trying to rethink how a chamois works between a rider and their saddle. Not all chamois work well for everyone, but we are trying to make some innovations to hit the mark for the largest number of riders we can. Thanks for your feedback.

      1. Thank you for your reply.
        I agree that the in-r-cool orange 3D chamois and materials are a level above the blue select and I absolutely love them for my long rides. I’ve not tried PRO. However, the fact that I COULD use the blue 3D for all days rides if necessary, speaks of how good the old chamois was. They had decent support, proper silicone rings all the way around my leg (rather than dots of silicone), good stitching. It was because the blue 3D was so good, that I was confident to spend much more on the orange 3D.
        To clarify my complaint, 95% of my rides ARE 60-90 mins and the new 1:1 chamois under even these easy conditions is terrible. It bunches, the chamois has rough cut edges with with foam exposed, it chafes in the middle, the stitching is bare minimum and likely to lead to tearing of the fabric. As a potential customer, I have examined the orange and red chamois in the shops and they appear to be similar shapeless shape. If your blue chamois is so ill suited to even basic rides, I can’t take an expensive chance that the orange and red are going to be any better. The replacement of a full ring of silicone gripper with assorted dots does not fill me with confidence of the lifespan of these.
        I guess I can go and buy a competitors offering as my old stuff is wearing out. Its just disappointing that PI had such awesome products which I was happy to buy again, yet now offers 1:1
        I hope your development process leads you to something better than your current offerings.
        You guys are better than that.

  9. Since so many of us hate the new changes to the chamois (with the exception of the person that answers our complaints), why not bring back the old chamois and give riders a choice? Make them both and see what riders buy. You’ve ruined a good thing. PS I try not to ride with the tags still on my shorts, so returns aren’t an option.

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