File under “I’m going to stand the whole ride because it hurts”
While they aren’t generally discussed in polite company, saddle sores are simply an uncomfortable fact of life for many cyclists. No matter what, almost every cyclist is guaranteed to have at least one in their lifetime. They’re painful, they’re uncomfortable, and they can be embarrassing.
But don’t worry—it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. Taking car of saddle sores is pretty easy. There are a few simple things you can do to prevent them from happening in the first place, or at least shorten the misery when you get them.
What Are They
Saddle sores are localized skin infections in your, um…pelvic area. Think of them as a pimple that forms where the sun don’t shine. Most are very minor and will clear up on their own, but sometimes if you don’t take care of them, they can get a little out of hand.
Always remember: saddle sores are infections, and should be treated with respect. While extremely, extremely rare, saddle sores can develop into dangerous systemic infections.
If the sore is very painful, feels warm to the touch, is very red or you see red streaks coming from it, or you’re running a fever, seek immediate medical care.
You may also want to visit a doctor if the saddle sore hasn’t cleared in two weeks, or is getting larger.
What Causes Them
This is still debated, not just among cyclists, but also in the medical community. The general consensus seems to be though that saddle sores happen when friction irritates hair follicles, allowing them to become infected by bacteria.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. To prevent saddle sores from happening in the first place, follow these tips:
Having your saddle too high can cause you to rock from side to side on the saddle, building up friction along the perinea and where the thighs join to the buttocks.
Not all saddles suite all body types. Find the one that’s right for you—which could mean trying a few different models and brands. Also, if you’ll be riding more than a few miles, stay away from very padded saddles, add on gel cushions, etc… These only increase friction and make things worse. It seems counterintuitive, but trust us.
Finding the right saddle for you can take some trial and error
Bike shorts come with a pad sewn into them to help keep you comfortable on minimally padded saddles. By moving the padding to the shorts instead of the saddle, the padding moves with your body, reducing friction and helping prevent saddle sores. Also, don’t wear underwear underneath them—that just defeats the purpose.
Using cycling shorts, like the new Ultra SL bibs, can make a world of difference
Chamois cream is an anti-chafing lotion that can be applied to the chamois pad itself, or directly to the skin. It helps form a protective barrier between you and the fabric to prevent chaffing and irritation.
Have a saddle sore? This is your new best friend
Never wear dirty shorts. Not even the ones you “just wore for only 2 miles yesterday”. Last time you rode in them, you created a hot, moist environment loaded up with dead skin cells and sweat. They’re basically a petri dish for bacteria and fungi. Now you want to put those dirty shorts on and ride again? Sure…if you think that’s a good idea…
As soon as you finish your ride, take your shorts off and bathe as quickly as possible. Even if that means wrapping a towel around yourself in the parking lot and changing out of your shorts, go for it. Using some shower wipes to clean up can make a big difference. The longer they stay on after the ride, the greater the chances of a saddle sore. And no matter how short your ride, try to grab a shower and wash up. Staying clean is key to prevention.
If it’ll be a little while before you can shower after a ride, try cleaning up with shower wipes
Already have a saddle sore? Don’t worry. It may be sore, it probably hurts to touch, and it makes riding uncomfortable. But there’s plenty you can do to help yourself get better.
By far the best thing you can do to help speed along recovery is keep the area clean. Wash 2-3 times a day with regular soap and warm water. Thoroughly dry the area.
Nobody likes taking time off the bike, but sometimes riding can make saddle sores worse. If the sore is so painful you can’t sit on the bike, you’re better off taking a few days to let things heal. Yes, we hear about the pro’s riding through them all the time. They are paid to do that and are looked after accordingly. You are not.
If you catch a saddle sore early, you can usually treat them easily with over the counter ointments.
We’ve had extremely good luck with topical acne medications that contain Benzoyl Peroxide (like OTC Persa-Gel 10). BP is a drawing agent that helps the spot dry out and heal—often in just a day or two. It can be tough on the skin though, and everyone reacts to things differently, so we’d recommend testing it on a…ummm… less sensitive area of the body first. Always consult a doctor before trying new medications.
Lately the medical community has advised AGAINST using an antibiotic ointment for minor skin infections like saddle sores. Antibiotic resistance is a serious and growing problem, so if you think it’s bad enough to warrant antibiotics, then you probably need a trip to the doctor to have them check it out.
We’ve had excellent luck with products like this for the early treatment of sores
Our old friend is back again. Most chamois creams have mild antiseptic and moisturizing properties. If your saddle interface area is feeling a little irritated or chaffed after your ride, it can help to put a small amount of chamois cream on the affected area after you shower. This helps to soothe the skin, prevent infection, and speed the healing process.
5. Don’t Squeeze Them
Sorry if this provokes a gag reflex, but don’t try to “pop” a saddle sore. While they are similar to pimples, they aren’t exactly the same. Trying to squeeze it may only drive the infection into a deeper layer of tissue—then you’re really in trouble.