Brace yourself because here it is. The post you’ve been waiting for, although one on which you’ll be glad not to see any of my photographs. It’s about my arse. Well, not just my arse; arses in general. It might even have relevance your arse, who knows? You’ll just have to keep reading to find out.
Cycling shorts are a tepidly-debated topic in cycling. Non-cyclists ridicule the aesthetic but it’s often an early purchase for someone getting interested in cycling who wants to ride longer distances without excess bum pain. The stretchiness of the material reduces chafing and the padded insert (or “chamois” for the uninitiated) prevents pressure on your perineum.
For cycle touring then, you’d assume they’d be the obvious choice, but I decided not to bother. Here’s why:
Firstly, and obviously, they look ridiculous. I can deal with it when I’m out on my road bike and the look is at least consistent (all tight clothes, silly shoes, svelte bike and high speeds). On those rides I also don’t really care if I visually offend the locals in any pub of cafe I might stop off in. Usually, I don’t stop though; it’s just a few hours out-and-back and then the shorts go straight into the wash where the grotesque gooch-sweat can be rinsed out of the porous material immediately. On a tour though, I might spend a few hours napping in a park (perhaps even near a children’s play area, although I would obviously avoid it if possible) in the middle of the day, where the look might not be appreciated. If I go into a bar or shop, I’m already embarrassed by my absolute inability to speak any of the language; I don’t need anything else to make the situation worse.
Secondly, they’re just not that practical for touring. You really should wash them in hot, crotch-rot-preventing water immediately after use, which isn’t realistic if you are camping. Presenting them to your warm showers host on arrival will also not endear you… Sitting around in them in the middle of the day is a) uncomfortable and b) unhygienic. Furthermore, I’ve had as many problems with soreness with a pad as I have had without.
On this tour I have a couple of pairs of ‘cycling-specific’ baggy shorts and a couple or regular cotton ones. The regular H&M ones are actually fine, despite the supposedly problematic crotch-seam, if a little snug around my ‘sprinter’s thighs’. I find if I alternate between a few different pairs the parts that do rub have a day to recover in between and that seems like enough.
I’ve been slavishly following a precise bum-beauty routine: chamois cream (think Sudocrem only thinner, less sweaty and 10x the price) in the morning; shower as soon after getting off the bike as possible; Savlon and then clean pants for the afternoon/evening. It seems to be working although I do have a recurring soreness on the bumcheek/thigh junction of my left leg. This has been an issue for years and I don’t think it’s a saddle sore as it’s not really apparent on the surface and never has been – it’s like a bone pain and I think it might be caused by some leg-length discrepancy or pelvis tilt or something. I’ve tried different saddles to no avail but might have (yet) another try on a Brooks to see if that has an effect.
Anyway, that’s my experience of cycling without a chamois. I’ll probably return to padded shorts on my road bike but it’s good to know I can do multiple 5-6 hour days in regular pants. Maybe I should write a quasi-spiritual book about the merits of Barebum Biking…