The endless pleasure cycling gives us sometimes comes at a price. Payback comes in the form of muscles on fire, painfully stiff lower backs, necks and shoulders, or fingers gone numb from clenching the bars. Last but not least, sometime our tail can be as sore as heck! No matter if you call it backside, rear, derrière or bottom, it’s one of the main points of contact with the bike. Just how do you prevent saddle sores and soreness down there while cycling? These simple steps will help you make riding more comfortable.
The difference between soreness and a saddle sore
Every cyclist has had saddle soreness at some point and time in their life. It usually occurs if you are new to the sport, or if you have not ridden your road bike for a long time. Our “sit bones“, the ones that rest on the seat, support our body and distribute its weight evenly on the saddle. Like with any new or rediscovered activity, this part of your body has to adapt to its new role. It can feel like slight bruising, but is nothing extremely painful. Unfortunately, there is no way to escape it, but it won’t last very long. A few days on the bike, and it’ll all be over.
A saddle sore is close to the same thing as a blister in your shoe, but it happens down there, on the inner thighs that are in contact with the saddle. Repeated friction in the space between you and your seat with each pedal stroke is the cause. In most cases, they don’t develop quickly, and your body will let you know if they are. Do not ignore saddle sores. What starts out as a sensitive spot or a blister can develop into an open wound which will require proper medical treatment and time off the bike to allow it time to heal.
Generally speaking, soreness can happen with any saddle, but keep in mind that changing your saddle height or the saddle itself may mean that you may have to go through the process all over again. As our position on the bike changes with the saddle, where we bear weight does too. The same is true for a new saddle which can also provoke saddle soreness. Like news shoes, you won’t know until you know. This explains why most cyclists find their perfect saddle and stick with it.
Choose the right shorts
Your most sensitive skin areas on the bike deserve a delicate approach. Choose padded shorts that fit your body snugly with no loose material moving around as you pedal. A worthy pair will let the skin breathe and help reduce pressure on “sit bones” while providing any necessary support. An ill fitting pair means excess fabric slides around between you and your saddle, irritating your skin along the way, and potentially creating nasty saddle sores. More padding is almost never the answer, and shorts that are too tight can dig into certain areas of your body and reduce blood flow. Make sure you have at least one good quality pair that fit you properly to prevent chafing.
If you haven’t tried “bib” shorts (they aren’t just for racers!), I would recommend them as built-in shoulder straps to keep them in place, even when in an upright position.. They may cause an additional bit of inconvenience for female riders regarding nature breaks while on the bike, but the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. And you might find you have eliminated any pelvic pain, discomfort and prevented unwanted soreness thanks to the excellent fit and comfort bib shorts provide.
Although most experienced cyclists already know that wearing underwear under your riding shorts is a no-no, this bit of advice is directed at newcomers to the sport. With all the advice knowledge a seasoned cyclist could share, it deserves to be repeated, never wear underwear under your cycling shorts. The friction of the two materials and beefier seams between you and your skin can eventually cause serious skin damage as saddle sores that could prevent you from cycling for days or longer.
Special briefs with an inner padding (called chamois pads) exist that turn everyday shorts into cycling shorts. The same principle applies to them, too. Do not wear underwear with any type of cycling short to avoid saddle sores. And those special padded briefs do the job in the beginning, but if you love the sport and plan on sticking with it, do yourself a favour and invest in some quality bike shorts. You won’t regret it.
Wash your kit
Sweat, grime and God knows what else are not our friends down there. This is especially true for women. And since nothing is between us and our chamois, that cushioning inside your shorts, take a shower straight away after each ride, and always your shorts too. Even if you’re tired and the sofa is calling you over for a nap, throw your cycling kit into the washing machine. Today’s technical fabrics are fast drying, so no worries, they’ll be ready to go for your next outing, even if it’s tomorrow morning.
If you are constantly washing the same one, maybe it’s time to treat yourself to another pair of shorts? Cycling shorts have a life, and what you cannot see may be an issue for those behind you. Ask someone you trust to speak to you truthfully when you are in your cycling position.
Use chamois cream
What is chamois cream? Back in the day, all chamoix (yes, it’s the plural of chamois) were made of leather, and special emulsions were developed to help keep them supple and prevent saddle sores. The density of the pad provides a level of comfort where on the saddle and reduces road vibrations as we pedal along.
Chamois cream, as it known today, is still in use, but in a thicker form. Some call it chamois butter because some formulas contain shea butter. Ladies, be sure to choose an antibacterial cream.
Not all cyclists need it, but if they do, it’s the best aid against friction. If you have irritation or are planning a long day with an upcoming Gran Fondo, take a palmful of the stuff and smear it on your inner thigh, up there, near your privates. Despite its name, chamois creams don’t go on the pad itself. The product’s density will reduce friction to zero during the ride, eliminating any potential discomfort. Your local bike shop could carry some.
Choose the right saddle
One of the primary culprits of groin soreness on a ride is skin rubbing due to the the wrong saddle choice. If the saddle doesn’t fit your lower anatomy, you’ll feel the pain soon or later, regardless of how you ride or how often you change your riding position. Even pedalling while standing won’t bring any relief.
Saddles are sold in different widths, some wider, others more narrow, that correspond with the rider’s hip and sit bone width. Some bike shops have a special tool to help you measure yours. There are DIY methods too, just do a search online and you’ll easily find one.
Now you know about saddle width, you can understand how one not designed for your anatomy can cause problems. Traditionally, women require wider saddles than men, but not necessarily. It all depends on your body. Some saddle platforms are more curved, while other are flatter. It’s all about trial and error to find yours.
Before you buy a saddle, check if your local shop has the same model in a test saddle you can try before purchasing. Try various shapes and choose the one that is pain free and fits you best. A ride around the block won’t do it. You’ll need to longer test before you invest in your future saddle. Your local shop expert should be able to give you a good idea if one fits you or not, meaning it will support your sit bones and not cause pressure points on your sensitive soft tissue.
Level that saddle
Even a saddle that fits perfectly will cause you discomfort or soreness if it isn’t positioned correctly. Having the nose up or down shifts rider weight onto the wrong spots, which causes either numb hands or pain in the perineum area, the sensitive bits, of men and women.
It may look funny or okay when it is level, but don’t be fooled. Always use a spirit level to position yours correctly to reduce discomfort in sensitive areas and avoid excessive pressure where it isn’t wanted due to being in the wrong position.
Riding in the rain inevitably leads to a wet bottom, and moisture automatically increases friction which leads to potential saddle sores. This is where mudguards or an Ass Saver can help. They won’t completely resolve the situation, but they will help. Get today!
Take a rest
If you are experiencing severe soreness, irritation or are developing saddle sores, it might be best to take a rest day or two. This is especially true if you did a long ride yesterday and your backside keeps reminding you. Give down there a short recovery holiday, and you’ll see, the next ride will be enjoyable again.