Saddle sores are often used as an excuse to avoid cycling. How many times have you heard: “I can’t ride on those tiny seats. They hurt my butt!” Those who use this excuse will probably never take up cycling. Dealing with a bit of saddle soreness should be something to be proud of. Wear it like a badge of courage, but only when you are a beginner cyclist.
Two basic things typify saddle soreness, deep muscle soreness, or a soreness from abrasion between your butt or thighs and the seat. All cyclists learn to live with a certain amount of saddle-soreness. It’s always going to be there depending on conditions, but there are ways to deal with it.
Soft tissue saddle soreness is the deep, almost profound soreness that you might remember when you first took up the sport of cycling. The other scenario includes experienced riders who ride long distances. In both instances, getting on the bike the next day is excruciatingly painful when your butt hits the saddle. This type of soreness is caused from pressure on the soft tissue in your butt.
Saddle soreness from skin abrasion feels like your skin is on fire. It stings — especially when sweat is involved. It shoots fire through your thighs or rear end at the top or bottom of a pedal stroke, or anywhere in-between. This type of saddle sore is more common on long distance rides, even the pros get it. This type of soreness is caused from friction on the soft tissue in your butt or thighs. If allowed to get worse, a saddle sore caused by friction can develop into a one-word condition known as a “saddlesore,” it’s ugly.
Your body makes contact with the saddle at three points: Points one and two are your sit bones, also known by doctors as the ischial tuberosities. The third point is the soft-tissue between your legs. Sit bones are designed to support your body weight — the soft-tissue is not. During long rides, the pressure exerted on soft-tissue from too wide of seat causes saddle soreness, soft tissue irritation, and deep muscle pain.
The Saddle Debate
The debate, and excuse that you hear from non-cyclists, typically centers around the saddle. The overall consensus from non-riders is that the narrower the seat, the more it hurts. But the majority of cyclists know that it’s to the contrary — wider saddles can be the cause of saddle soreness, narrow saddles can alleviate it.
Get a New Saddle
Experiment before choosing a new saddle, they’re expensive. Get a loaner saddle from your local bike shop. Try one that’s split, or has a cavity in the center. These saddles work to help eliminate the pressure on the soft tissue, the nerves and blood vessels. It’s a plus if the saddle is bent forward for added control when climbing or descending. The back portion, with it’s split design, prevents the tailbone from hitting the seat on uneven surfaces or hard bumps, and forces your sit bones to remain where they belong, supporting your weight.
Bike Fit Issues
You’re probably tired of hearing about bike fit. But it’s viable in regard to saddle soreness. The main issue comes down to the angle of your torso. Typically, the further your torso leans forward, the more likely you’ll have saddle sore issues. Sitting up straight is not efficient on a road bike, but if your body is tilted forward more than about 30-degrees, you’re more likely to suffer from saddle sores. Placing a shorter stem on your bike can help to reduce your reach, and it places your body in a more upright position.
Maybe nothing works better than tilting the nose of your saddle a few degrees up or down. Try moving it forward or back. Ride the bike. If it gets worse, adjust it again. If you realize you forgot all about your butt, mission accomplished.
It’s important to clean yourself right after a ride so organisms don’t grow and multiply, organisms on your ass are just deplorable. Make sure your bottom is as clean as possible before a ride to help prevent things from growing in the first place. For long-distance rides, it’s unlikely that you have an extra pair handy, but consider changing shorts at various points to help cut down on possible issues with organisms.
Wash Your Shorts
It’s important to remember that when you stop riding, sweat starts to dry. Because it contains salt, sweat turns into crystals that sand the skin. It’s your call, but if you suspect that you’ve sweated in your shorts, they should be washed. If it’s only a short ride, nobody knows your body better than you do, take your chances and wear them again if you’re comfortable with it.
Don’t Wear Underwear
It’s a common mistake, wearing underwear beneath your Lycra cycling shorts, don’t do it. Underwear can be the sole cause of friction soreness when it bunches up and creates folds that cut into your skin. Good cycling shorts have an adequate chamois pad that’s specifically designed to be used against your skin.
Don’t be afraid to spend money on a pair of highly padded shorts. They’re characterized by how many panels they have, the more panels, the better the shorts. Cheaper shorts may feel good at first, but if there’s a seam in the wrong place, it can cause a nasty sore. If you’re stuck with a pair discard them. They’ll never be of any use to you again if they make you sore.
The longer you’re on the bike, the more you will need to apply lubricant inside your shorts. It takes some getting used to, but it works. Reapply when possible to help decrease friction and create a barrier against potential salt crystals and abrasion. Most cremes on the market work pretty well, but try a few and see what works best for you. Vaseline is not recommended. It’s hard to get out of clothes, clogs pores, and stays on the hands, which can get into your gloves and cause a big mess.