Dealing with saddle sores can be a real pain. I know from experience! They easily result from hours on the bike and from a poor bike position. I share my personal advice on how to treat a saddle sore and how you can prevent them in the first place.
There really is only one big tip, and that is to stop cycling as soon as you feel a saddle sore coming on. Because once the sores develop, they will keep hurting until they heal. If you have a sore it might be a good idea to take a day off from riding in order to let it heal up. Of course this isn’t always an option, but if you have the choice, this should be a no-brainer.
Chafing and chamois crème
Chafing is typically caused by ill-fitting clothing. Cycling clothing should be fitted to the body so that it does not rub as you move. When trying on cycling bib shorts, make sure to pull the shorts all the way up and squat like you’re sitting on the bike.
Rapha Souplesse bib shorts work best for me. I also have a pair from Assos (UMA GT HALF SHORTS EVO) which I really like as well. Bike shorts should be tight so if you are in doubt about two sizes, always choose the snug fit!
I use chamois crème to prevent chafing. Chamois crèmes have antibacterial properties, as well as the ability to moisturize and protect the skin. I’m now using Kwakzalver’s Bal-sem, which I really like. I prefer crèmes with a pump dispenser because it is more sanitary than double-dipping in a jar.
Once, I made the mistake of going on a 200-kilometre bike ride without putting on some chammie crème. Because of the chafing, my skin had started to bleed. Since then, I always carry a small refillable squeeze tube with Bal-sem on mega rides.
Preventing infected hair follicles
Infected hair follicles are easy to prevent. All you have to do is stop shaving your pubic hair. You can still use a body groomer to trim your nether region. Body groomers are often marketed towards men, but they work just as well on female parts. Shaving with a blade is highly irritating to the skin, and it is pretty easy to nick yourself. Since I started using a body groomer I haven’t had a single ingrown hair!
Boils and abscesses
If you don’t let an infected hair follicle heal naturally (meaning time off the bike and no picking!) you risk it turning into a painful inflammation. The boils are caused by skin bacteria that invade surface abrasions. I’ve experienced that these boils get bigger when pressure is applied, and also more painful. The bigger it gets, the longer it takes to heal.
If you are getting a boil, change your position. You can lower or raise your saddle a bit, swap out your saddle, or maybe make an adjustment to the handlebar. Anything to take off the pressure from the sore. Squeezing or picking at your sore will also only work counterproductive. Your body will heal from the inside, and opening the boil up will only allow for more bacteria (that live on your skin) to get in.
Bikefitting and saddles
If your bike or saddle doesn’t fit, your hips rock around on your saddle with each pedal stroke, putting pressure on your skin and chafing it. The result is irritated skin and a greater chance of infection. Too much pressure can also cause for painful swellings.
A bikefitter can help you sit more comfortably on your bike, reducing movement and friction. Some bikefitters use pressure mapping technology to help you find the best saddle shape. This is at the top of my wish list because I hope to find my dream saddle using this technology. Remember that bikefitters only have a limited number of saddles. So, if possible, bring a few that you’d like to test.
Treat saddle sores
The most difficult aspect of treating saddle sores is also the simplest: leave it alone. The more you pick at it, the more irritated it gets. Infections should only be drained by professionals in a sterile environment. In general, your body will heal itself if you give it enough time and keep it clean.
After cleansing your skin with antibacterial soap, apply an antibacterial crème or a crème containing 10% benzoyl peroxide. Benzoyl peroxide kills acne bacteria and works by peeling away dead skin cells, excess oil, and bacteria that may be trapped beneath the skin. But you need to be patient, because results can take up to three months to appear.
Deal with saddle sores
My saddle sores can cause me a lot of anxiety. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to continue training, and I’m afraid I’ll have to withdraw from my race due to the sores. But I also notice, that the sores improve when I use coping techniques like meditation or mindfulness.
When you’ve already improved your position, discovered a new chamois crème, and purchased some well-fitting quality bib shorts, there’s not much else you can do but wait. Accept your sores and give your body time to heal.
This article is also very informative, and they address some issues that I didn’t discuss because I haven’t had any experience with them.
Consult a doctor if your symptoms worsen or become unbearable. Also, don’t accept discomfort as a given. The journey to a pain-free bum on a bike can be long, I sure know so. But keep exploring options and give your body time to adjust.
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