QUESTION: How can I keep my chamois cream from bleeding through my shorts onto my saddle — and onto my car seat when driving to ride starting points? —Chuck D.
RBR’S STAN PURDUM REPLIES: It’s not much talked about, but it is a fact that some chamois creams or general skin lubricants can bleed through bicycle shorts. In their sales copy, bike clothing makers routinely mention the breathability of their shorts, which is a useful feature for conveying sweat away from your body, but that also means that other substances may be able to pass through them as well.
When I was a beginning rider and found my bicycle shorts uncomfortable, an experienced rider recommended I use Creamy Desitin — which is a product for treating diaper rash — as a chamois cream. So I tried it, and it did a good job of reducing the friction between my skin and my shorts. But then I started noticing white smears on my dark-colored saddle and also on the outside bottoms of my shorts. Obviously, the white-colored Creamy Desitin was the culprit.
I later switched to petroleum jelly — recommended to me by a skin doctor — which also works well as a lubricant, but it too bled through the chamois or Lycra of some of my shorts, even though I used only a small amount, which I applied directly to my skin hotspots, rather than slather it on the chamois as some riders do. It did have the advantage of not being visible like the white cream, but I doubted all that petroleum jelly was doing my leather saddle any good.
I’m currently using a commercial product called Chamois Butt’r made especially as an anti-chafe cream, and it doesn’t bleed through my shorts.
It happened that I was recently with a group of 12 experienced rider friends, so I decided to poll them to see what experience they’d had with chamois cream. (They are good enough friends that nobody was offended when I asked them about what was in their shorts!)
While all 12 wear bicycle shorts when riding, five of them said they use no chamois cream at all. They feel no need for it. One of those mentioned that the instructions in the last two new pairs of shorts he purchased said not to use any chamois cream, as those products are not good for the shorts. And one of the no-cream users actually wears his regular underwear inside his bike shorts!
Of the seven who do use some sort of lubricating product, four use Chamois Butt’r or a similar commercial chamois cream; two use Noxzema Original Cream (which they apply directly to the chamois rather than to their skin); and one uses Creamy Desitin. (Two of these riders, by the way, are female — one uses the Noxzema and the other the Chamois Butt’r.)
But here’s the salient point: No matter what cream they used, none had had any problem with bleed-through, not even the Creamy Desitin user.
Nonetheless, we brainstormed about what might cause bleed-through and the leading contenders were 1) using too much cream (most use little more than about a 1.5-inch strip and apply it only to “hotspots,” not to their whole sit-down area) and 2) wearing shorts that are worn out or 3) wearing shorts that have been washed too vigorously — which causes premature wear.
But, as I said, other than me, these riders have no experience with the cream bleeding through their bike pants, so what we need is a larger group to poll. So, readers: What’s your experience with this problem and what would you advise Chuck? If you’ve had the problem, please tell us in the comment area below what cream you were using and how you solved the bleed-through issue. Thanks!
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, lives in Ohio. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.