Saddle sores can be a drag. Even though they can be small, they can make cycling unbearable. There’s a few different kinds of saddle sores. It can come in the form of an inflamed hair follicle, an infection caused by bacteria, or skin irritation from excessive chafing. If you’ve had one before, you know that it can ruin your riding experience.
Molly Hurford, author of the book “Saddle, Sore: Ride Comfortable, Ride Happy” is, as you can guess, an expert on the area. She says that it’s not just about treating it when you get pain down there, but preventing it, as well.
Treating saddles sores
“Remember two things, clean and dry,” Hurford says. “Really, most saddle sores will heal on their own when they’re minor or fresh. Your goal is to keep that area clean with a gentle soap, and maybe a bit of a Polysporin or other antibacterial ointment, and let it breath as much as possible. So that means wearing something that keeps things airy down there like boxers or a long skirt!”
Hurford also says that some people swear by tea tree oil, but test another area of skin before trying this, as plenty of people find that tea tree oil, while antibacterial, is also far too caustic for that sensitive skin and can actually cause chemical burns.
Time off or keep riding?
When you’re hurting in your undercarriage, at what point should you take a break?
“Anytime you have a saddle sore that causes pain when you start pedaling, that’s a sign to take a day or two off and let the area heal, it won’t recover if you don’t let it!” Hurford explains. “Think about it the same way you would think about any other injury. We don’t (or shouldn’t, at least!) ride the day after we have a bad crash or gash our knee, so why do we push through a saddle sore? Usually, a day off will go a long way to clearing up the issue. If it doesn’t go away, or if the area is hot to the touch and really painful, or if you develop a fever, definitely see a doctor. Those are signs that you have a more serious infection, which sounds gross, but can happen!
Prevention is key
The cyclist and author says that there are a few simple ways to prevent the dreaded saddle sores. That includes proper bike fit, a good saddle and shorts combo that doesn’t cause discomfort. “These three things are the holy grail, really, basically. Seriously, if those things are in place, you’re in great shape to avoid saddle sores,” she says. “The other big thing, especially in the summer, is getting the heck out of your shorts and cleaning that area immediately post-ride. No hangouts for beers post-MTB without changing in the parking lot. Bonus points if you bring wipes to actually clean up your nether regions, which can get a bit gross with sweat, mud, dirt, chamois cream, road grime getting kicked up, et cetera during your ride. But even just getting out of your shorts and into something clean and dry helps.”
She emphasizes that as soon as you’re done riding, you should shower and clean up your junk.”Get in the shower ASAP. And because ingrown or short hair can get irritated and cause ingrown hairs/saddle sores, just be cognizant of how your skin reacts to getting shaved and plan accordingly.”
Another key to preventing saddle sores is your riding style. “Stand up more,” Hurford adds. “On the bike, make sure your butt isn’t glued to the saddle. These little breaks help avoid too much pressure focused on just one spot, which can help avoid saddle sores that are caused by too much pressure in a certain quadrant of skin.”
Many cyclists sometimes have problem with chafing. Is chamois cream a panacea for it?
“Chafing is definitely an issue—my stance on chamois cream is that it’s great, but if you need it for even short sixty minute rides, you might need to rethink your shorts and saddle combo, because you should be able to get through a short ride without it.”
She does point out that the one exception is some women dealing with dryness related to menopause, and for them the chamois cream can be a lifesaver on even short rides.
Hurford does have one additional chamois cream note. “A quarter-size amount applied directly to the areas that chafe is all you need. This saves you serious money since it’s not cheap, and guarantees that you actually are targeting the spots that have chafing issues.”