There isn’t a cyclist in the world that hasn’t experienced pain in their backside whilst cycling. Saddle sores occur when constant friction or pressure in the saddle region creates chafing, skin irritation, inflammation, ulcerations and infected hair follicles.
They create havoc for cyclists and range from being slightly uncomfortable to requiring medical attention. In fact, a survey of 18 female Team GB cyclists discovered they all had saddle problems which affected their ability to train and compete.
Luckily, there are several steps you can take to avoid them. Here are our top tips for avoiding saddle sores.
Choose a saddle that fits you
It’s no surprise that a saddle better moulded to your body leads to less chafing and saddle sores. In 2012, Team GB cyclist Victoria Pendleton had a bespoke saddle designed for this very reason.
It was made of silicone typically used in breast implants, which is a creative idea if we’ve ever seen one. However, we understand most people won’t want to fork out on a tailor-made saddle. So how can you choose one that best fits you?
Test different saddles
A trial and error approach is the best way to know if a saddle works for you. Most bike shops have saddles you can test, so try them out and see what size, material and shape you’re most comfortable with. This way, you can see what works before you commit.
Having said that, trying every saddle in the shop is time-consuming. Therefore, you should…
Get measured at a bike shop
To speed things up and to make your choice more accurate, you should choose a saddle to match the width of your sit bones (which are at the bottom of your pelvis).
Most professional bike shops are able to measure your sit bones, but you could measure yourself.
Consider your posture and type of cycling you do
Your posture on the bike influences which saddle shape best suits you.
During shorter, more intense rides where you lean forward to decrease wind resistance, you probably put more pressure at the front of the saddle. Therefore, you need more padding there.
If you focus more on endurance and ride in an upright position, you want most of the padding to be at the rear.
Get your bike fitted
When it comes to bikes, one size doesn’t fit all. Even with the right saddle, you can end up with saddle sores if your seat’s in the wrong position. That’s why your bike should be fitted professionally, to ensure you’re distributing your weight correctly.
Here are some bike fit companies we recommend:
- Phil Burt Innovation in Manchester. Burt has spent 12 years as the head of Physiotherapy at British Cycling and 5 years as Consultant Physiotherapist at Team Sky, so you’re in good hands.
- Soigneur in London. It uses thorough scientific methods and an experienced eye to give you the very best service.
Alternatively, a simple Google search for ‘professional bike fitting near me’ should pull up places to get your bike fitted. Just make sure you check the reviews first.
Wear the right cycling shorts
If you don’t already have proper cycling shorts, it’s time you purchased some as these could make a big difference to your ride. Here are some factors to consider when choosing cycling shorts:
Cycling shorts have chamois pads in to make your ride comfortable and chafe-free and mitigate saddle sores. As with the saddle, the ideal thickness, size and shape of padding you choose depends on the type of cyclist you are and your typical cycling posture.
Some materials work better in cold and wet conditions, while some materials (such as mesh) are perfect for keeping you cool on hot days.
You need to get the right size and leg length. If your shorts are too big, they’ll move about and rub, whereas if they’re too small they’ll dig in.
Of course, what works for you is different to what works for someone else. However, there are brands and shorts that tend to be better than others. You might want to check out the best men’s cycling shorts by Men’s Health or the best women’s cycling shorts by Cycling Weekly.
Unfortunately, the coffee stops along a cycle route and the time spent resting after your ride prolong the amount of time spent in your sweaty cycling shorts. This produces a build-up of bacteria, causing pores and hair follicles to become infected.
With this in mind, here’s how to be hygienic and avoid saddle sores:
Take your shorts off as soon as possible
Sitting around in sweaty cycling shorts will create warm, moist conditions perfect for bacteria and infections.
Wash your shorts after every ride
You shouldn’t have underwear on underneath your cycling shorts, so you should treat them like underwear and wash them after every wear. This will prevent bacteria building up in the chamois.
Wash yourself thoroughly
Not washing thoroughly allows bacteria to fester and could cause infection.
Team GB use Dermol 500 Lotion as an antibacterial shower gel instead of using soap, so we suggest you do the same.
If you’re not at home and can’t shower, antibacterial wipes are great to clean yourself with.
Apply a lubricant
Applying a lubricant can be messy and in an ideal world, people would rather not lather themselves up before a bike ride. Once you’ve done it, though, you won’t look back. There are a few options:
- Chamois cream - an anti-bacterial cream that reduces friction between your skin and clothes to prevent saddle sores. It comes as a cream, balm or powder and you can rub it onto the chamois or your skin.
Chamois cream isn’t for everyone and some products might cause skin reactions, so check for any allergens and try a few creams before you choose one. Our top picks are Assos Chamois Cream and Muc Off Luxury Chamois Cream.
- Anti-Chafing gels – anti-chafing gels like Lanacane are a good option because they create a silky protective surface specifically to stop chafing.
- Petroleum Jelly - if looking for a cheaper alternative, Vaseline is commonly used to avoid saddle sores because it acts as a great lubricant. Unfortunately, it isn’t anti-bacterial or anti-septic, so you’ll need to be more diligent in staying clean.
Remove hair carefully
Three-quarters of people who shave their pubic hair experience itching, and 40% experience a rash, according to AsapSCIENCE. It’s no coincidence that shaving, waxing or epilating combined with tight clothing, sweat and a bike saddle can be extremely painful.
Phil Burt, the Lead Physiotherapist at British Cycling, discovered that shaving is likely worsening saddle problems among the world’s most successful female cyclists.
Phil Burt said:
“We knew that we had to persuade the girls to stop shaving and waxing if we were going to sort out the saddle pain we knew all of them were suffering with.”
We know many people won’t want to go au naturel, but it’s a good idea to remove your hair less frequently and do so carefully.
Next time you ride your bike, make sure you’re protected with our specialist cycling insurance.
We provide cover to protect you, your bike and your cycling equipment.
What’s more, we offer Public Liability, so you’ll be protected from legal fees if you damage someone else’s property or injure someone whilst on your bike.