Road cycling can be an incredibly demanding sport on your time.
It’s common to spend 2 or more hours everyday sitting in the saddle. Serious cyclists can spend up to 9 hours training when building an endurance base for the coming race season.
Contrast this against sports such as running and swimming, where a 2 hour session is considered lengthy. I know first hand – I did an Ironman triathlon event in 2007 and 3 hour runs were my longest. A big difference compared to the bike where I’d spend up to 7 hours pushing the pedals.
Saddle sores can result from these long miles on the bike and I want to emphasise how important it is to avoid them. They can ruin your whole season and leave you taking long breaks from the bike.
What are saddle sores?
Warning – the following may induce dry-reaching.
Saddle sores are little boils or pussy blisters that form under the skin, and for men, usually between the scrotum and the anus. This area is called the Perineum.
They generally form right in the crevice where your inner thighs meet the perineum, depending on where you position yourself on the saddle.
Longer rides seem to be the biggest risk factor and they often don’t cause too much discomfort until you’re back on the bike the next day. That’s when the pain sets in.
When that occurs, we tend to shift our weight to the other side of the saddle which causes one to develop on the other side.
Rash and other skin ailments sometimes form on the inner thighs and buttocks but they aren’t to be mistaken with saddle sores. This is generally caused by stitching on the chamois.
Geez im glad that bit’s over.
What causes them?
Contrary to popular belief, saddle sores are caused by friction and not pressure.
This would explain why hard saddles work well with a good quality padded chamois in your knicks. Padded saddles can work well with older nicks with less padding, but you can see the relationship here. Friction is what you want to avoid.
Other causes can be from poor hygiene or saddle fit – never wear knicks twice without washing! This is very important and something that I religiously adibe by. I personally soak my knicks in Napisan before washing after every ride.
Seat height can also be a factor. If the seat is too high, the hips start rocking in order to push the pedals, which in turn causes friction.
Buy a good Saddle
Isn’t it amazing how little importance or thought we put into researching a good saddle. Yet it’s such an important factor in cycling. It can make or break you.
Some bicycle saddles are horrendously uncomfortable. They’re getting lighter and sleeker – due to popular demand of course. Most will buy a sleek, light saddle just because it matches the colour of the bike. Then of course – there’s the weight factor.
“If I buy a wafer thin, featherweight, carbon fibre saddle – my bike will look better, I’ll climb faster up hills and win races more often.”
Yes, your bike will look great! You can admire it whilst applying antiseptic cream to your saddle sores on the couch.
With regards to weight – unless your Cadel Evans, or one of the other 8 people in the world that can finish in the front of a grand tour, saving 200 grams on your saddle isn’t going to make a difference to how you perform.
Unless you frequent 20km climbs where a couple of hundred grams may make a difference, a comfortable seat isn’t going to slow you down on those 500m climbs on your local bunch ride.
From experience, when you start putting in the hours on the bike, a good quality saddle will help enormously with comfort and your longevity in the sport.
Buy only quality nicks
Bib-nicks are the way to go. They’re the only way to go.
New riders have an adversity to buying bib knicks because they look dorky or something. I understand this because my girlfriend laughs at me everytime I put them on. She thinks I look like a Romanian wrestler.
The truth is – they’re practical and more comfortable than traditional cycling shorts, and most importantly, they don’t dig into that layer of fat around your stomach, making you feel fatter than you are!
Once you try bib knicks, you won’t go back – seriously. Actually, this would be number 12 in my 11 Mistakes Cyclists Should Avoid list. Bib nicks are more widely accepted.
Chamois is another important factor when purchasing bib knicks. Seamless chamois are the ideal choice and help prevent those abrasive rashes from forming. Spend money on your bib knicks – you’ll thank yourself for it.
This is also another good reason why I mentioned the importance of not wearing underwear underneath your knicks in the 11 mistakes post. The seams of your underwear can cause significant friction and hence rashes and other skin ailments to form.
Get your mind out of the gutter.
Before I venture out on the bike, I grab my trusty Assos Chamois Creme and smother my perineum area with a thick layer, and then put on the bib knicks. Alternatively, put the bib knicks on and shove a generous serving down there. Lots of people apply this cream directly on the chamois itself – but it comes down to personal preference.
I do this consistently – every ride. It’s the ride you miss, that you’ll form a sore and it’ll take forever to get rid of it.
I’ve also tried lots of alternatives such as sorbeline cream, Vaseline and other brands of Chamois Cream, with mixed results. I’ve personally settled on the Assos Chamois Creme and have found it to be reliable – I haven’t suffered a saddle sore in years. (Assos aren’t paying me the big buck either – I don’t even get cheap cream)
It’ll take trial and error to make the necessary adjustments, like regularly washing your knicks and figuring out which cream is best for your crutch. You’ll eventually learn how to prioritise your purchases, with items such as quality saddles and good quality bib nicks.
Sooner or later, you’ll realise that Mr Romanian Wrestler is much more appealing than Mr William Weeping Wounds.
Good luck and be nice.