The Chamois (pron. sha-me (eng) or sham-wa(french));
a. a european mountain goat
b. a cyclists best friend
c. "leather made from the flesh split of sheepskin or lambskin, or from sheepskin or lambskin from which the grain (the top split) has been removed by frizing, and tanned by processes involving oxidation of marine oils in the skin (British Standard 6715: 1991)".
Way back when, even riders in the Tour de France rode in heavy woollen shorts and became close acquaintances with friction and chafing. They were confronted by the ineluctable fact that the bottom is the major contact point on the bike and our legs turn perhaps 6,000 times an hour. The 'knicks' are the critical piece of clothing and the reason we we were called Le Knicks in the first place back in 1991.
The story goes that the first insert in cycling knicks was inspired by seeing riders thighs chafed and bleeding, and the soft leather of the chamois was the best solution to hand. The chamois was about reducing friction rather than providing any padding, and that remains a core purpose. The essential ally of the original leather chamois was the chamois cream, keeping the leather soft and supple against the degradations of sweat, heat and sun. Game changing these innovations were and the beginning of a steady evolution and improvement in design of cycle clothing that continues to this day.
Even as lycra began to appear in the 1960's, leather remained the heart of the matter for the chamois and it was not until the 1980's that the next big step occurred. New microfibres and foams came into being and offered a radical improvement in what could be done in a bib knick or short. The shape and flexibility of foams, gender specific cuts and improved padding all greatly improved riding comfort, while chamois creams evolved to become anti friction and anti bacterial rather than leather softener.
The evolution continues apace and innovations ahead might include temperature management and who knows what else to enhance our ride. The moral of the tale? There is a hundred years of work underneath you and it remains as important as ever to choose wisely. A good pair of knicks that fit well, and have a good, gender specific chamois, are still your most important and wisest apparel choice. A great bib will have a chamois that essentially 'disappears' when you ride. Thickness is not necessarily better and how you sit on a bike impacts on which style suits you best. The chamois is working to wick moisture, reduce chafing, support the sit bones and moves with you to prevent rubbing.
Finally, they don't last forever so stay aware and replace regularly!
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