Given that I’ve spent more than 15,000 hours in the saddle as a pro cyclist and know the true, visceral meaning of the word “chafe,” I tend to defer to the “more is better” philosophy when it comes to protecting my crotch.
So I was stunned to learn that New York City’s spinning-obsessed aren’t defending theirs by wearing bike shorts lined with a chamois. Even though classes are just 45 minutes on average, I still hear a ton of complaining about sore sitz bones and numb you-know-whats.
How much crotch protection could you possibly require?
To find out, I embarked on a study involving four different pairs of shorts—three with a chamois (pronounced shammy) and one without, while attending classes at Flywheel Sports’ Flatiron location.
The list of contenders—ranging from no chamois to most padded: Splits59 Dusty Capris, Zoot Trifit Shorts, Athleta Spin Shorts, and Pearl Izumi Women’s Speed Shorts.
I started with the Splits59 bareback model, which sell for $86 (at Jack Rabbit Sports, on the Upper East Side) and clipped into my bike with a digital power meter readout. The class pumped in time with our extremely fit instructor Grant and the high-decibel music.
I got to the end of that first class and thought: wow, I don’t feel chafed, abraded, unnaturally smashed, or otherwise uncomfortable at all. I sunk my finger into the bike seat and found that there’s about a half inch of gel just under the surface.
At the next two classes, I wore the two minimal-chamois–stuffed shorts, the Zoot Trifit ($65) and the Athleta Spin Shorts ($54). I noticed almost no difference between those two AND the Splits59 pair. (Although I did ride my commuter bike to class each time and the two pairs with the chamois helped on the ride over.)
I had high hopes for the most-padded pair by Pearl Izumi (sold at Jack Rabbit Sports for $65), given that I’ve worn their cycling clothing for years. But the fully built-up chamois was just too much on top of Flywheel’s saddle. (Think: Sitting on marshmallow Peeps.) My verdict is that the Pearl Izumi’s are best for outdoor cycling, and my sleek saddle of 200 grams.
The takeaway: Check out the saddles on your spin gym bikes. If they feel really mushy, they’re gel saddles and you can probably ride them naked if you have to. But on a regular, rock-hard bike saddle, closer to the ones at Soul Cycle and Equinox, your crotch and sitz bones will thank you if you give them a little bit of a chamois. —Ashley McCullough
Ashley McCullough is a former professional cyclist who has recently channeled her hyperactivity disorder into rock climbing, ice climbing, snowboarding, and cyclocross. A sometimes contributor to Velonews and cyclingnews.com, she makes her real living as a copywriter for the women’s sportswear brand Athleta.
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