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The Little Trick Hardcore Cyclists Swear By

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Hot Bod is a weekly exploration of fitness culture and its adjacent oddities.

You know those terrible padded shorts that serious cyclists wear? That’s not even the worst of their problems. Cyclists wear chamois (the bike shorts with a cushy little pillow sewn in the crotch area) to relieve the pressure of resting so much body weight on a thin bike seat. All this pressure around the underbutt crease also has some frictional effects on the skin. Things can go south. If you’d like a category of horrifying images to avoid Google-imaging, I can recommend “saddle sores,” which are a severe irritation in the butt region, prompted by sitting on a bike seat for too long. When I started biking a lot and far, I was so frightful of saddle sores that I took the recommended wisdom like it was law: use chamois butt’r.

Chamois Butt’r is an anti-chafe cream — a salve protector of your undercarriage. It’s a little sticky, with a consistency not dissimilar from actual, dairy butter. In conversation in the geared-up cyclist echelon, I’ve heard chamois butt’r function like Kleenex — a brand name that refers to the type of product. I’m glad chamois butt’r got this honor, as circa 2012, I remember a bunch of bike dudes’ affinity for the brand “DZ Nuts,” which boosted the charming tagline “lube ‘em or lose ‘em”. DZ Nuts don’t matter to me; I’m loyal to the original, the singular, the trademarked Chamois Butt’r, with its comforting classic lotion smell, and its packaging: purple and unglamorous.

On any ride long enough for me to wear embarrassing chamois shorts, I also dosed up on chamois butt’r. Chamois Butt’r is part of the ritual of a long bike ride, a viscous totemic protection. I’ve worn it almost every day some summers, staying free and clear of any little irritations that could bloom into saddle sores. Sometimes, it felt like paying renter’s insurance, boring and prophylactic. I questioned my faith about Chamois Butt’r: if I don’t have any problems, how do I know I need you at all? I’d look at a pampered butt and ask of my Chamois Butt’r: Are you doing anything or are you doing everything?    

Questioning my faith about chamois butt’r was the best thing I’ve ever done for chamois butt’r, because it’s not just very good at one thing — it’s very good at many things. Protecting under-butt skin during long bike rides is a very specific mission, a mission that the butt’r accomplished so capably that I’d failed to consider its other possibilities until this summer.

The experimenting started with a desperate Hail Mary to save sad razor-burn armpits from themselves. A specific “pit-soothing serum” did nothing but add some expensive grease. One night, I used the Chamois Butt’r as an “overnight mask” and voila: red line of skin outrage melted away. Irritation on the sides of my legs from … crossing my calves too tightly, I guess? Smoothed. Inexplicable dry patch under my chin? Well, we’re working on it. But this spot needed a thick unguent and Chamois Butt’r is the thickest emollient in the mix, slower to absorb by design. Because Chamois Butt’r is formulated for a hyper-sensitive area, I feel bold about slathering it wherever on my bod. (Related: my partner used to work at Babeland and tells me that lube with silicone is also apparently good for chafing).

So Chamois Butt’r has ascended from its holding place in my bike helmet into product VIP area: the bathroom shelf. Chamois Butt’r, for all its hyper-specific promise and precious reverence within a hyper-specific community, is just a chill calming cream with basic, soothing ingredients. (Runners, I’ve learned, prefer Chamois Butt’r’s go-stick, which has a little more staying power).

The big revelation wasn’t just that Chamois Butt’r is suitable for more places than the rear, but also that it wasn’t only for exercise-induced skin flare-ups. I have city girl problems too! General summer grooming issues! Random tantrums of the epidermis.

Finding Chamois Butt’r’s world of possibilities isn’t just great because now I have a general thick cream for all variety of rashy fusses; it’s great because I didn’t want chamois butt’r itself to be so one-minded and fussy. Single-function objects — garlic press, a graduation gown — have always annoyed and fascinated me. How did they become indispensable by doing just one thing decently well? I’ve always more admired the chameleon.

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The Little Trick Hardcore Cyclists Swear By