Got Saddle Issues? You’re Not Alone: My Top 7 Tips to Riding Comfortable + Riding Happy
Let’s start with this basic premise: Cycling doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. As a cyclist for the past decade, I had years to learn my way around dealing with my “chamois area” while on the bike—and off the bike! And I’ve met plenty of other women who, after a lot of time spent riding together, finally all sat down and talked about what works for us and what doesn’t. When I wrote “Saddle, Sore: Ride Comfortable, Ride Happy,” back in 2016, a few pieces of wisdom really jumped off the page for me. So, whether you’re already dealing with some saddle sore issues, discomfort, or even just the occasional numbness or chafing, here are some of the best ways to ensure chamois-happiness and a better bike ride.
(Oh—If you want more, in honor of the start of 2019 training, I have a HUGE deal on the Kindle edition of “Saddle, Sore: Ride Comfortable, Ride Happy” going on right now.)
Let’s get into my top 7 tips:
Invest in a saddle and a good pair of shorts
This is the number one piece of advice from Samantha Stumpf, the soft-goods manager at Park Ave Bike in upstate New York, as well as Beth Leibo, a rep at Assos and a veteran cyclist. One good pair is better than three crappy pairs, any day of the week (though make sure you wash it after every ride!). Brad Sheehan, co-founder and lead designer at Velocio, says, “People don’t realize that if you find stuff that fits well, that can make cycling a much more comfortable experience.” I could not agree more. Get something that fits well, where the chamois is comfortable and not diaper-like, something that will allow you to go out and do some serious miles. The same is true of your saddle: a saddle that fits your pelvic structure will alleviate pressure and keep you safe from numbness and chafing, and your sit bone width is actually pretty simple to measure.
The one everyone jokes about, but seriously, it’s a problem. Repeat after me: You do not wear underwear with bike shorts. This, and I can’t emphasize this enough, is bad for you—yet it’s a tip that veteran riders tend to forget to pass on to newbies. The chamois is there to pad your seat a bit, but also to keep the bad bacteria away from your genitals. All underwear does is trap the bad stuff in there. Gross.
Speaking of chamois… Wash your chamois, carefully.
This seems kind of obvious, but just make sure that when you’re washing your kit, the inside of the chamois is actually getting clean. Sometimes, it doesn’t get as squeaky clean during a wash cycle as you might prefer, especially in a big load of clothes. The second part to this is making sure that your shorts are getting rinsed enough. I’ve had a lot of people complain about getting rashes from their chamois, and nine times out of ten when I tell them to rinse their shorts an extra time in the wash, that solves the problem. Leftover detergent plus sweaty, exposed skin leads to irritation.
Use chamois cream when needed.
Chamois cream fights the friction between your skin and your shorts. Not everyone needs it, and not every ride requires it, but it’s helpful, and not something to be afraid of. There are even female-specific ones out there, designed to help balance your pH. If you’re going to be out on the bike for a while, definitely apply a bit before you head out the door. At first, it takes some getting used to and feels kind of slippery, but trust me, you’ll learn to love it. (Personally, I love Petal Power’s super silky cream.) A quarter-sized dollop is all it takes.
Keep it clean.
The easiest way to avoid issues like saddle sores and ingrown hairs is by keeping everything clean. For some people, that means simply keeping your nether regions fully hair-free (waxing or shaving is fine, depending on your personal skin situation. Some people I know swear by waxing, some find it wildly uncomfortable. Like the right saddle, there’s a different answer for everyone). Hair-free means chamois cream can actually get to the skin, not caught up in pubic hair, and that means it can actually do its job, rather than just help to trap bacteria in there. But if you prefer to keep it au naturel, that’s totally fine too. You just need to keep things relatively trim (to avoid pulling!) and make sure you do a quick wipe down pre-ride so you’re starting with a clean slate.
Drop your shorts.
I devote a whole chapter in “Saddle, Sore: Ride Comfortable, Ride Happy” to this point because it matters so much when it comes to your in-ride hygiene and ability to avoid saddle sores. If you take nothing else from this book, take away the fact that when you finish a ride, your shorts come off immediately. This will go a long way towards preventing saddle sores and other skin issues.
Treat early, avoid issues later.
A saddle sore is easier to cure when it’s first starting (and it’s even better if you can prevent it altogether). Catching one early and taking appropriate steps to get rid of it can keep you healthy and even avoid needing surgery! A day off the bike beats a season on the couch.