Saddle sores are a common problem among cyclists, especially for those who ride for hours. This skin irritation is caused by continuous pressure between the bicycle seat and your skin. Some cases of saddle sores can also be linked to chaffing and hair follicle infections.
Saddle sores often occur as a raised area of skin. Some appear as spots (often caused by an infected hair follicle) while there are saddle sores that look like boils – large and painful.
How do you reduce saddle sores when riding? There are a number of ways:
1. Wear padded bike shorts
Padded bike shorts are great for long-distance cycling. They help control saddle sores by distributing the pressure between your skin and the saddle over a wider area. Padded bike shorts are made from lightweight, breathable fabric. Because it can evaporate sweat, it also minimizes your chance of chaffing.
We strongly discourage wearing underwear when riding with padded bike shorts. Why? Because the seams of the underwear are prone to rubbing and irritation. It’ll just do you more harm than good.
If you don’t want to wear padded bike shorts so you can use underwear (just kidding!), then you have to ride on a bike in an upright body position. This will help distribute your weight on your sit bones instead of the groin area. You can pair this with wider bike seats for an even better and more comfortable riding experience.
2. Use the right bike seat
This is pretty obvious, but we’ll discuss it anyway. If you want to avoid saddle sores, then you need to find the right bike seat that works for you. There are a lot of bike saddle choices available on the market and most of them fit with any types of bikes.
Bike seats are designed to minimize pressure and give you a comfortable biking experience. But there are different body types. That’s why you’ll see bike seats with different kinds of paddings, curvatures, profiles, and widths. Below is a quick run-down on how to choose the right bike saddle for you:
- Find the saddle with the right shape for your body type
- Consider your flexibility and position on the bike
- Measure the width of your sit bones
For upright riding positions, saddles with a flatter top, more width, and with more padding to support your sit bones are the best options. For performance body positions, where the rider leans forward for more power, saddles that are curved, narrow, and lightly padded are spot on.
3. Use diaper rash, anti-friction, and chamois creams
These creams are made to reduce friction between your shorts/pants and skin. Anti-rash creams are great for reducing chaffing and mitigating saddle sores. Most products also have anti-bacterial properties that give your skin an added layer of protection.
Creams are best when biking in hot and wet conditions. Keep in mind that damp fabrics create more friction than dry fabrics. Before you ride, apply the cream directly to the area of the skin that intersects with the saddle.
4. Wash your shorts after every ride
Cycling shorts are meant to be worn like underwear. This means there should be no additional layer of fabric between your skin and the fabric. Like underwear, you must wash your cycling shorts after every wear. This prevents bacteria from infecting your skin. Take off your biking shorts right away when the ride is over. Don’t sit around wearing it for hours!
5. Be careful with hair removal
There is a debate among cyclists that shaving your legs will help you ride faster (really?). Be wary of this. The hair around your genital area works like a sponge. It’s a natural sweat soaker and adds an extra layer of protection to your skin. Removing hair also increases the risk of ingrown hairs and hair follicle infections.
6. Make sure the fit is right
Getting the right bike fit is important when riding. A saddle that’s too high or pointing up or down at a bad angle can lead to chaffing — and eventually to saddle sores. Get rid of wonky saddles and check if your setup is correct to minimize your risks of developing saddle sores on century rides.
How to Treat Saddle Sores
Saddle sores are not that hard to treat. No one is immune from it and if you find yourself catching one, follow these steps:
- Don’t bike for a day or two. Constantly re-exposing the area where saddle sores are developing won’t help. So, no matter how much you love biking, just stay put and watch Netflix.
- Keep the area clean and dry. Don’t try to pop or squeeze the sores. Just clean it with fragrance-free soap and pat the infected area dry.
- Apple antibacterial creams. Go to your local drugstore and check for any antibacterial creams. Any variant will do. Just spread a thin layer over the sore area.
- See your doctor, if it gets worse. Most saddle sores are gone after a couple of days. But in rare cases, some sores will require medical attention — particularly if it persists and you have difficulty sitting or walking.
- Get the right nutrition. Hygiene and nutrition play an important role in preventing and treating saddle sores. Good levels of zinc and vitamin C can help revitalize the skin. High-protein diet also helps. Avoid food rich in sugars and carbohydrates as these may cause inflammation.
Saddle sores can be a headache to deal with. It surely takes the fun out of cycling if you, unfortunately, develop one. Lower your risks with proper hygiene, by wearing bike shorts, applying creams, and using bike seats that fit your body type and riding style.
Check out our selection of best bike saddles you should get for 2019!