Why Gel Chamois Bike Shorts Get Uncomfortable

November 10, 2021 0 Comments

Woman cycling on a road by a beach on an overcast day

There’s nothing like a brand new pair of bike shorts. That fresh, untouched padding feels great on a ride, and it’s one of the key ways to prevent saddle sores.

That’s why it’s particularly disappointing when that great pair of shorts suddenly goes bad. The cushioning disappears, and you’re left with hard padding that doesn’t hold up to a long ride. 

Longtime cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie has gotten many a sad call from cycling friends bemoaning their suddenly shabby shorts. Did they waste good money on a bad pair? Was it the wrong brand? Probably not.

“They don’t realize that something they did changed the composition of the materials in the shorts,” he says. 

One mistake was all it took to ruin a perfectly good pair of bike shorts. Well, Coach Darryl doesn’t want you to have to make that sad call, so he’s here to offer some tips on how to keep your cycling shorts from getting uncomfortable.

Types of Cycling Chamois

Before we get into what’s happening when cycling shorts — also known as your chamois — go bad, a little background may be helpful. Explore the types of cycling shorts so you can figure out what happened with yours.

“Chamois have come a long way,” Darryl explains. 

The original bike shorts weren’t much more than a cloth pad, and they weren’t very comfortable to begin with. Then gel chamois bike shorts came along to change everything. There have been multiple generations of gels over the years, and the technology has continually improved. Still, newer synthetic shorts have also hit the market, and they’re particularly thin and comfortable.

Gel chamois bike shorts are still the most common type of shorts used by cyclists today since they’re quite comfortable and not as pricey as synthetics. That’s not to say they’re not expensive — and ruining a $130 pair of shorts is no small matter.

Why Your Gel Bike Shorts Get Hard and Uncomfortable

Since gel chamois are the most popular — and they’re susceptible to damage if you don’t take care of them — let’s look at what can happen to them and why. It comes down to a combination of two things: water and temperature.

“When you wash your shorts, you should not expose them to a temperature that’s below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, or the gel may never be the same,” says Darryl.

If you soak your shorts in water that’s too cool at any point, you’re putting them at risk. All it takes is one time for the shorts to lose all of their cushion and flexibility. As Darryl puts it, “They get hard, and the hardness does not go away.” 

All of a sudden that $130 pair of gel chamois feels like a cheap $30 one.

What To Do About It

To avoid this problem, though, you have to understand every possible moment of exposure for your chamois bike shorts. 

First, there’s the actual wash cycle. In colder seasons where you may not have well-insulated pipes, the water in your cold line may very well come in below 50 degrees. If you wash on a cold cycle, you could be soaking your shorts in hazardous water for an hour right off the bat.

Then there’s the resting time after the wash. If your utility room or area is cooler — say a garage, unconditioned basement or even outside — leaving your shorts in the washer for hours after a wash cycle could mean they sit in too-cool water for too long.

Finally, there’s the dry time. You should always hang your chamois cycling shorts to dry — never put them in the dryer. But, again, if you hang them in a cool room or outdoors on a cool day … you get the idea.

So, what can you do? Three simple habits can ensure that your cycling shorts stay nice and soft:

  1. Wait until the water is going to be as warm as possible or use a warm (not hot) wash setting.
  2. Set a timer for your wash cycle so you’re sure to get them out as soon as the load is finished.
  3. Only hang your chamois to dry in areas where it stays above 50 degrees.

We should also mention the importance of how you treat your shorts between the ride and when you finally get them in the wash. That’s critical enough that we’ve covered it in another post.

Stick to these habits for taking care of your cycling equipment, and you should never have to call your coach with a sob story about your bike shorts. Here’s to many comfortable rides ahead!

Look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.

Photo by Coen van de Broek on Unsplash