Skin is the largest organ in the human body. It should be treated well for both short-term and long-term reasons. Comfort, performance, and health; to name a few. More importantly, because we enjoy riding, and know that sometimes our skin presents limitations we’d rather not have, we periodically investigate ways to help our skin in an effort to further help ourselves.
We don’t know if this is why Rapha decided to get into the skin care business. Regardless, they decided to get into a realm that only few clothing companies have dared tread before. They’ve designed their own chamois cream, embrocation, and soap. As with all of Rapha’s offerings, they’ve engineered these products to fit into their aesthetic in addition to performing well.
The cream and rub come in cylindrical screw-top tins. Don’t know if this is how the stuff came in the early days of cycling or not, but in a world where plastic and squeeze tubes are common, this departure is welcome. The tins are easy to hold, easy to open and close, and easy to grab a dollop or a few finger-fulls at a time. We’ve been trying to figure out what a good use of the tins will be when we finish the contents. Safety pins are too easy.
The skincare products all come with a seemingly hand-drawn map of Mount Ventoux, and a short storyabout an exploit on the famed slopes.
The cream, hot sauce, and soap also share herbal ingredients. The aromas will tickle your nostrils as notes underneath the sensations you get from whiffing them. You can sense the heat of the embrocation, the cool of the cream, and the cleanliness of the soap. At the same time, you’ll know that these three products are related.
No, you do not need to use them together. In fact, you don’t need to use them in conjunction with any other Rapha product, though the soap works well with their leather riding gloves. Since they are three products that are related yet separate, we’ll give each their own segment of this review.
Rapha Chamois Cream is both classic cream and classic Rapha. It looks, feels, and even smells different than similar salves. The presentation, with the box, the can, the map, the story, makes the experience of using a topical ointment seem like a celebration of cycling.
There is certainly a debate at all levels of the sport as to the value of the lotion. Chamois crème sells very well. All the same, chamois crème doubters are legion. Those for the proposition say it’s a saving potion. Those opposed say it’s tantamount to sitting on slime. However, in our experience, most of the latter have never tried a topical ointment on their nether regions and speak out of ignorance.
Watch this clip of the Jelly Belly Cycling Team debating the subject. Not a lot of grey area with this crew. There are the orthodox on both sides, the “never” and “always” crews, but we’re not with either. We take the middle road, with the “sometimes” gang.
Sometimes is because it depends. It depends on the weather, the particular chamois we’re riding, the climatic conditions, the length of the ride, how hard we expect to be going, and whether or not our ____ (undercarriage, tenderloins, taint, crotch) is already in bad shape or not.
As much as we like to believe we have an iron constitution, an iron will, an iron stomach, and iron skin, reality occasionally intrudes. With our chamois area, we do find that our skin sometimes makes a point of letting its suffering be known. This comes in the form of an ingrown hair, a saddle sore, and/or raw skin. These maladies don’t spontaneously generate, but have been caused by something or things of a previous ride. Ingrown hairs seem to “just happen” but really they’re from blocked pores, and that could be from a host of reasons associated with having a saddle pad so close for so long. The saddle sore also seems to spontaneously generate, but it’s usually from the skin and chamois moving against each other too much for too long. Raw skin seems to happen for us on long days in certain chamois.
So, in practical terms, this means that if it’s raining, and we’re planning on riding hard or long, we use it. If we’re riding or racing 130km up and down steep hills or long mountains, we use it. If we’re riding in certain shorts and the ride is over an hour, we use it. If we’re doing a stage race, we use it. If we have an ingrown hair or saddle sore or a skin is a bit raw from the day before, we use it. Sometimes, we’ll go for a month without applying, then find ourselves dabbing daily for a week, and then back to the occasional dip.
There are doubters out there, and we agree with the notion that if you feel you have to use it for every ride, there is probably something wrong with your saddle, your seat position, or your shorts. At the same time, we agree that it is pretty cheap insurance for your backside with very little downside. We call it insurance because we aren’t sure we’re going to chafe, but would rather be smooth than raw.
We wanted to offer more than just the seat of our pants review, so we tracked down a team doctor to see what he thought of using a topical solution between body and shorts. Dr. Michael Ross is a veteran of three pro teams, Colavita, Jittery Joe’s, and Navigators and the author of Maximum Performance For Cyclists. We wondered if it was better to put it on the shorts, ala Ulli of Höllentour. He told us, “It doesn’t matter where you put it, skin or chamois, so long as it’s putting a layer in between (the two).” He found that guys who ride on the nose of the saddle a lot, like many time trial specialists, seem to have more problems. In general, “Saddle sores are bacterial issues. There are blisters and infections. Folliculitis is an issue, which is an infection of a hair follicle. (You’re) Probably more likely to get this from shaving…Cleanliness is important. New chamois cream on old shorts is probably a bad idea.” Interesting side note, Dr. Prentice Steffen, the team doctor for Garmin-Cervélo, has noticed that particularly hirsute people seem to have more folliculitis problems.
We also asked Dr. Ross whether or not the herbal ingredients could make a difference in terms of better protecting the skin than a solution that didn’t have those ingredients. He noticed lavender on the list and found that there is some research to back up the contention that lavender oil has helped in recovery from episiotomies, so the claim that is an antiseptic and anti-inflammatory does seem to check out. The others he wasn’t so sure about.
Of course, the real test is on the road. The Rapha Chamois Cream in the can looks like whipped cream. Swipe a little with your fingers, and it feels light and creamy, like a thick hand lotion rather than the slicker consistency of Assos crème. The consistency is such that we found ourselves using more than we would have if we were using Assos or DZ. The aroma is pleasant, with a smell that does indeed recall the countryside, though one without livestock. A plus. There is a very mild cooling effect upon rubbing in, thanks to the menthol. It’s not the full-on air conditioning we’re used to getting from Assos.
Riding, it works. The chamois or skin seems to absorb the cream fairly quickly, but at the same time, it does seem to offer hours of protection. We’re used to creams that are, to lack a better description, “slimier,” so when the Rapha went on thin and felt so mild surprised us. All the same, it was fine on rainy rides. It seemed to work for hours on long rides. Even grueling races on rough pavement, the Rapha offered up the protection all crèmes promise.
Our only complaint is that we seemed to use it up faster than we’ve used other brands. Don’t know if it has do so with the consistency or that it’s easy to take out a lot when scooping from the tin or that we really liked it, but it disappeared faster than we expected.