Whether you’re just getting into cycling — or you’ve ridden for years and want to reminisce about a time when you might’ve struggled with some, let’s say, sensitive issues — this story is for you. Here, we’re addressing the wearing (or not wearing) of underwear, the ins and outs of bathroom breaks in bibshorts and the glory that is chamois butter.
TO WEAR UNDERWEAR OR NOT…
Over the years, I’ve done many centuries and ridden in Hawaii, New Zealand, France, Spain and all over northern California wearing my trusty stretch bikinis under my bike shorts. I was unaware of another way. Sometimes I got sore down there, but for the most part, I wasn’t bothered, especially for rides under 60 miles. But it wasn’t until this past year when I found out that, actually, nobody who knows what they’re doing rides wearing underwear. (Apparently there must be a secret cycling society code I don’t know about.)
Slowly, but surely, people started to notice. Actually, the only person who said anything to me was my boyfriend who dubbed me absolutely the only woman in the San Francisco Bay Area (or was it the world?) to wear underwear on the bike. Like the independent (some might say stubborn) girlfriend I am, I automatically dismissed his statement as biased and continued to wear undies under my shorts.
Then, I did the Rapha’s Women’s 100 ride (an event where women around the world ride 100km on the same day), and the topic came up at a stop light. Former pros, bike coaches and recreational cyclists on the ride all chimed in. It was unanimous: No undies. End of discussion.
“As a coach, when I am on rides with beginner riders, I am not afraid to point out to women that wearing underwear with cycling shorts is a big no-no!” says Robin Farina, coach and former pro cyclist. She lists the reasons why underwear is your enemy: “Fewer seams means less saddle sores. Friction equals bacteria, abrasions and painful miles on the bike.” She continues, “Less is more when it comes to going commando on the bike because the chamois was made to be the material touching your skin.”
I’ve heard pro-underwear arguments for normal workout clothes — like yoga pants — in terms of bacteria protection, breathability and moisture control, but the chamois of cycling shorts are built with all of those things in mind. “The main point I want to make is that the more layers under your chamois, the more you are setting yourself up for infection, saddle sores and bacteria. You want less moisture down there — and that comes with more high-tech fabric which the chamois are made from,” says Farina.
On top of that, it’s one less thing to have to throw in the laundry. Riding, as we all know, means extra loads of laundry, especially in the winter, when layering is imperative. With gloves, arm warmers, leg warmers, jackets, etc., who wants to deal with underwear, too?
So I finally took the no-underwear plunge, and I probably won’t go back. I don’t think I can bare the judgment …
TO WEAR BIBSHORTS OR NOT…
As I started to ride further and longer, I came to learn about bibshorts. The benefit of bibs is improved comfort and fit because they stay in place better. They’re extra secure, which reduces movement and friction. Bibshorts are no-brainers, especially for guys. However, for the ladies, to take off nearly all of your clothes, unstrap the suspenders and pull the shorts off to pee is a multi-step disrobing process that takes valuable time — whether you had to go 15 miles ago and things are getting urgent, you’re on the side of the road, in a gross port-a-potty or you’re riding with a bunch of guys who can easily take care of business and hop back on the bike in two seconds.
This time-consuming and frankly annoying drawback makes the advantage of bibs less enticing for women. But then I heard about a company based out of New Hampshire called Velocio that crafted a wicked-smart solution: Velocio’s fly further design. It’s a brilliant use of a zipper. See, there’s a “fly” in the back which, when you unzip, allows you just the right amount of room to easily pull the bibs down over your butt to pee. No stripping necessary.
TO USE CHAMOIS BUTTER OR NOT?
Finally, after ditching the underwear and discovering bibshorts that stay secure and are a dream for bathroom breaks, saddle sores and any discomfort is minimal to nonexistent. But for added insurance and comfort, there’s always chamois butter, which is a game-changer. Now, some people won’t use chamois butter out of principle, but I see no downside; only upsides. I’d argue it makes me faster — and definitely happier — on long rides.
Consider this the comfort trifecta: no underwear, a pair of quality, well-fitting bibshorts and a smear of chamois butter.
Oh, and welcome to the not-so-secret cycling society.