The Chamois Solution: A Care and Handling How-To for your Bike Shorts

Care properly for your bike shorts and they'll last a long time. Photo: Michael Robertson
Care properly for your bike shorts and they’ll last a long time. Photo: Michael Robertson

Quick! What’s the first thing you do after a bike ride?

If you didn’t answer, “take off your chamois,” then we’ll give you a moment to rethink your response.

Most of us call them bike shorts.

But years ago, I overheard a professional cyclist refer to them as “chamois,” and I immediately adopted the affectation as my own. It made me feel a little cooler and a little faster than I am.  Try it, and you’ll see.

Regardless of what you call them, bike shorts are integral to riding. (If you don’t think so, you’ve probably never worn them.) Plus, they can be expensive, which is extra incentive to ensure they last.

Below are a few “Dos and Don’ts” for keeping your chamois in tip-top shape.

DO wear shorts with a comfortably snug fit. The material shouldn’t jiggle around, but neither should it cut off circulation.

DON’T wear underpants with your bike shorts. Trust me on this one.

DO care for your shorts as the high performance gear they are. The fact that you can throw them in the wash without regard doesn’t mean that you should.

DON’T ever use fabric softener. Fabric softeners coat garments in a subtle, stain-blocking film, which is the very reason clothes and towels treated with softeners feel so soft to the touch. The problem is that this film clogs up the wicking and breathability features of synthetic and wool fibers.

DO wash in cold water. Heat is the enemy of Lycra and elastic.

DON’T use a heated setting on the dryer, or don’t use the dryer at all. Most people agree it’s best to line dry cycling gear. If you’d like to accelerate the process, use the dryer on no or low heat.

DO use a gentle cleanser like Nikwax BaseWash®.  Harsh detergents wreak havoc on synthetic fibers and the elastic around the waistband and thigh bands. Plus, BaseWash not only cleans, it enhances wicking and eliminates odors.

DON’T assume your “chamois”—and by that I actually mean the part that cushions your bum—is made of suede leather. While this all-important section of the bike short used to be made of sheep hide, most “chamois” from the past 15+ years is fully synthetic and should be cared for accordingly.

DO turn them inside out to wash and avoid wadding them up in the hamper if you’re not planning to wash them right away. This prevents a stink fest. Without going into too much detail (use your imagination), there’s a reason we recommend taking off your shorts immediately after a ride…

DON’T assume you need the thickest chamois on the market. Ask an expert at the bike shop to recommend the right shorts for your type of riding. A general rule of thumb is this: If you prefer an upright position, buy shorts with extra rear cushioning. If you’re more stretched out on the bike, opt for shorts where the chamois foam is more evenly distributed.

6 thoughts on “The Chamois Solution: A Care and Handling How-To for your Bike Shorts”

  1. We have been storing our bike shorts by hanging them with the chamois being turned inside out. Is this correct, or should they be hung as they would be worn?

    1. Hi Bob,

      We always defer to the manufacturer, but hanging them inside out seems like a good idea to give the Chamois the best possible ability to dry completely.

    1. Hi Bonnie,

      We are not sure the best way to stretch out a waistband. Applying excessive heat to it would likely damage the elastic and cause your shorts to have a shorter lifespan.

    1. Hey Mike! Nikwax Basewash is a great gentle cleaner product for bike shorts and bibs. It deodorizes, freshens, decreases wicking time, and increases drying time. Dish soap leaves behind a hyrdophilic residue (water-attracting and dirt-attracting residue) that counteracts your desire to repel water on the outside of the fabric. Hope that helps!

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