Harnessing Cycling Saddle Soreness

After a 5-week break from cycling, I recently resumed riding. In addition to my quads being out of cycling shape, I experienced the kind of  saddle soreness that I hadn’t had since I first started riding. While I attributed this mostly from the time off the bike, it led me to a closer investigation of saddle soreness – both in terms of causes and preventatives.  Saddle soreness is one of the biggest complaints of all levels of riders -from beginners to experienced distance cyclists. Chief causes of chafed cheeks and sensitive sits bones include:  poorly fitting shorts, improper sitting position on the bike, lack of lubrication and poor hygiene. Fortunately you don’t have to live with a battered behind. By taking a few preventative measures and investing in some fanny-friendly equipment you’ll be sitting pretty for miles to come.

One of the keys to preventing saddle soreness is choosing a good pair of cycling shorts with a chamois (a padded, synthetic insert) suited to your body shape. Because everyone’s anatomy is different, you may need to try several brands and styles to find one that’s comfortable for you. This is one reason why is crucial to “break in” your gear before a long ride or race. Women should choose a chamois with a seamless “baseball” cut preferably make of Coolmax or another synthetic that works to wick moisture away from the skin.

Whatever shorts you choose, leave your drawers at home. Bicycle shorts are designed to be worn alone without underwear. Underpants aside, however, some cyclists protect their assets by placing other things between their skin and their shorts. One rider I know wears a Speedo swimsuit under his shorts and a female rider I know survived a 300-mile bike trip through Italy by wearing feminine hygiene mini pads attached to the chamois of her shorts. With frequent changes it helped keep her dry and friction-free.

Speaking of hygiene….maintaining personal hygiene is essential for preventing saddle sores. Wash your crotch with a mild soap and dry it (a hairdryer set on a low heat works great) before and immediately after every ride. Also, don’t sit around in your dirty, sweaty cycling shorts after riding. It’s the fastest way to multiply bacteria which thrive on hot, moist areas. Wash your shorts (and yourself) thoroughly to remove sweat, bacteria and any greasy lubricants.

Speaking of lubricants, in addition to choosing proper cycling shorts, you might try a chamois lubricant such as Bag Balm, Chamois Butt-R, SportSlick, Body Glide or even good old Vaseline. Apply to your raw areas after you ride or as a preventative measure. If butt discomfort continues to plague you, examine the way you’re riding in the saddle. If you’re straining to reach your pedals, you may be repeatedly rubbing your skin and bones against the saddle nose. If so, consider lowering your seat. Furthermore, make sure your seat is level, with the saddle nose neither tilted up nor down. Also, be sure to place your “sits” bones in the widest part of the saddle and pedal with your waist and your elbow slightly bent. I’ve personally found that saddle soreness becomes less of a problem the more a person rides. This is probably due to both the fact that the stronger your legs get, the less heavy you sit in the saddle,  and the tougher your skin gets after many miles in the saddle. This is another reason to be consistent with your cycling training.

In addition to altering the position of your seat, you may want to consider investing in one of the many saddles designed to prevent saddle soreness.Finally, consider investing in a suspended road or mountain bike which buffers your butt by reducing the bounce factor on rough terrain. Even riding with suspended seatposts can help reduce saddle soreness. If, despite your best preventative efforts you’re still suffering (and laying off the saddle  for a few days isn’t an option), clean your sores and patch them with a non-stick medical pad such as Spenco’ s Second Skin. This will get you through your ride until you can take time to let your body heal. For the future, you may want to ask your doctor to prescribe a topical antibiotic to have on hand for emergencies.

Be Well,


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