What Makes a Great Chamois Pad?
What makes a great Chamois Pad?
Before we answer this question, let’s talk about the origin of the chamois pad and why it’s called a chamois pad? This will help understand the purpose of the chamois pad and the subsequent innovations that have transformed the chamois pad into a cycling pad.
It all began in the wool short era when cycling shorts were made of wool, a material that is abrasive. To combat the chafe that came with wool, riders started placing a piece of chamois cloth into their shorts. Chamois is a soft, pliable leather made of sheep or lambskin. This chamois, with the addition of chamois cream, provided a soft, less abrasive solution to the wool short.
These chamois pads worked, but they had their drawbacks. For one, they dried out quickly and therefore needed to be lubed before every use - with, you guessed it, chamois cream. When washed - hopefully daily - the leather chamois didn’t dry quickly and tended to become a nice home for bacteria. Not good. Another drawback to the chamois was comfort. Ironically, the chamois that was used in the first place to alleviate chafing often chafed itself. After all, at the time, the chamois was a single piece of leather. It didn’t have shape and didn’t contour to the body.
In time wool was replaced by polyester and nylon shorts (still used today), and the need for a chamois pad evolved into a combination of structure, comfort, and to control chafe. Enter the contoured, usually 3-piece, cut and sew chamois pad. These chamoises were more comfortable and provided structure and stability (for guys) but still had the dry out issue and thus still the need for lube.
In the mid-90’s chamois pads underwent significant change. This change was driven by an era when weight cutting was the rage. Saddle manufactures duking it out to make the lightest saddles began cutting out weight in the form of foam (it's so heavy!). Before this paradigm shift, saddles took on the burden of comfort. After the shift, chamois pads inherited this job. Thus, padding, in the form of foam, was introduced into the chamois pad. This shift helped push the chamois pad from a simple piece of leather to pads that blended textile and foam.
This brings us to the Now. What makes a great chamois pad - or as we call it now, given that the leather chamois is no longer a part of the cycling pad, simply: a cycling pad? Today, a great cycling pad is one that is invisible; one that the rider does not notice; yet a cycling pad that keeps the rider comfortable and chafe free. A great cycling pad must conform and move with the body, It must provide padded comfort from today's hard saddles. It must help keep bacteria away. A great cycling pad must work in sync with the patterning of the short.
To make this happen, a great cycling pad must stretch. It must use advanced textiles that move and stretch with the rider throughout the full rotation of the pedal stroke. This sounds easy, but because the cycling pad is now also the source of the padding and comfort, getting the textile and the padding to stretch to the full degree that is necessary takes some high quality textiles, padding, and process. This is an area where Panache stands out.
OK, this is where we get a little ‘Panache is great’, but it’s true…
Many other brands (most) have opted for the more technical looking process known as “heat molding”, where you take fabric, glue, and foam; and put it through a process that involves heat and pressure. This produces a pretty, rather technical looking face (ironically, the spot you put your bum), but compromises the function tremendously. The heat molding process produced a pad that does not stretch as much as a non heat molded pad; and because you’ve added glue into the pad, you now have a pad that breathes far less. Also, because you’ve used a process that involves heat, glue, and pressure you produce a pad with the potential for sharp edges. Not good.
At Panache, we don’t use heat molding. We simply use a type of hidden stitch that stretches in ratio with the textile of the pad itself, thus creating a cycling pad that can move with the body. In the case of cycling pads, more tech does NOT equal more comfort - in fact, just the opposite.
In addition to stretch, what else makes a great cycling pad? The type of textile (fabric) is crucial as well. A great pad will use a fabric that has excellent wicking so that moisture is managed keeping you not too dry and not too wet. You don’t want to be swimming on your sweat, but you don’t want a super dry fabric that chafes. Thus, a technical fabric with the proper wick to wet ratio is needed. A great pad will also have anti-bacterial properties something that was not possible with the old school leather chamoises.
Another key to making a great cycling pad is engineering the the pad to conform to the anatomy of the rider and provide the padding in the right places. Thus, the real question What makes a great chamois pad becomes, What makes a great cycling short? The shape of the pad needs to be curved and shaped in conjunction with the patterning of the short. Curve and shape need to work in harmony to provide comfort so that padding is in the right place and patterning mitigates chafing. The pad also needs to be engineered so that it works while upright, soft pedaling in the peloton as well as when your hips rotate forward when the hammer drops.
A great cycling pad will place the padding so that it aids performance. At Panache, our pad helps place the sit bones on a bridge so that blood flow is not impeded and thus helps deliver O2 throughout the body more effectively. This is one reason that pros come to us and have our pads sewn in there shorts - even though they are tied to another brand for their kit.
The density and thickness of the padding is paramount. Too much padding placed in the wrong spot (especially bad when the pad doesn't have much stretch) makes you feel like your wearing a diaper. Not good.
The sum of these attributes also means that there is no need for chamois cream in most circumstances. The caveats being, changing cycling pads from one brand to another, at the beginning of the season when you go from zero miles to 100 miles in a day; on a rainy day when road grit enters “the equation”. Many riders who ride in a Panache Bib or short find no need for chamois cream. After all, it's not a chamois any more so why use chamois cream?!
Here at Panache, we use one cycling pad for men and one for women. We don't segment our line on comfort and therefore we don't have a good, better, best bib short let alone a good, better, best cycling pad. We only have Great. Our cycling pad uses two pieces of foam, one thin layer that provides protection from chafe and another thicker, higher density foam that provides a bridge for sit bones that allows the blood to flow un-pinched throughout the body. As we said above, we don't use a heat molding process. We use a process that keeps the full stretch if the fabric and foams. The Panache cycling pads move with your body! Our fabric also has anti-microbial properties that in conjunction with washing helps keep the yuck away:)
Hopefully, this info was helpful. Let us know if you have any questions - we are here to help!
::Panache Cyclewear Product Team
*Footnote: We have updated our 4-way stretch, anti-microbial fabric and as a result, you will start to notice Panache Blue in your shorts.