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How to Avoid and Deal with Saddle Sores

Ultra-Distance Riding
June 11, 2020

There are a number of helpful resources on line. I know because I have wimpy skin and ride constantly and have needed to do the research. This has paid off. This year after 16,000 miles in the saddle, I have experienced only minor saddle sores once and this is due to not following my own advice below. So here is what I have learned.

First I categorize saddle sores into three groups: little bumps, scrapped skin, and pressure points on the ass.

I will start with pressure points which aren’t really saddle sores at all, but rather a pain in the ass simply from putting too much weight on your saddle. A good bike fit can do wonders to set the stage to prevent this. A saddle that fits you is also critical. However the most overlooked and effective way to prevent a sore bottom is simply to distribute your weight more to your legs and arms. Legs can hold your body weight and when they do they give you better power and speed for the effort. A saddle is not to be sat on, but rather to be used as one of four points that you are controlling the bike.You will be more comfortable when you even the weight distribution across those four point, with perhaps slightly more on the feet. Note: likewise people that get sore/numb hands are likely putting too much weight on their hands.

The second issue is scrapped skin, which is obvious with redness, tenderness, or even skinless areas. This is caused by your skin rubbing on your bibs/shorts or saddle. When these sores are right where chamois or shorts panel stitching is it is clear that you need different shorts. Lots of shorts have chamois with way too thick stitching, or too small of a chamois. The most comfortable shorts I have found are Rapha.

Another very common form of scrapped skin saddle sores is when an area of your bottom moves across your saddle thousands of times in a row. Good shorts are important for preventing this. However the saddle is most critical and is most important overall for long term comfort. Each person and each saddle is different; try out several and find one that works for you. If you find one and know that you will be riding for years you may want to get a second one at the same time. It may not be available later. I happen to be comfortable on a leather Stelle Anatomica. Chamois cream can also help with chaffing and is a relatively cheap solution. I find with good shorts and saddle it is not needed very often, but can be very helpful when it is. Chamois creams are NOT all the same. Some are like a coating of grease, while other are more like moisturizer.  I tend to like lighter ones: ButtonHole, Assos, and most of all Rapha.

The third, and official, saddle sores are little bumps like jelly beans under your skin. These are caused by bacteria, and/or ingrown hairs, and are very painful to have any pressure on. These are mostly preventable by staying as dry and clean in that region as possible. Techniques to prevent/minimize these include: always washing shorts after a ride; changing out of shorts immediately after riding (and washing skin); changing shorts during long rides; showering or washing region as soon as possible after riding, or even during; drying region during long rides (hand air driers work great); dry well or better yet use a hair dryers after a showering (let it make you feel a little silly, it is worth it). Using an anti-bacterial soap can be helpful, but can also lead to other irritation. Dermol 500 can be used as a lotion and/or soap substitute and is excellent before, during, or after a ride. I like it as a soap substitute, but also use it in the middle of daylong rides. It is cheap, but sometimes hard to get from England.

If you already have painful bumps or open wounds and want/need to continue to ride try the following. Starting CLEAN and DRY, if the skin is closed add a thin layer of Origel directly on the sores. Let that dry for a moment then add chamois cream and apply a non-adhesive absorbent pad like you would for a large scrap. If the skin is open use Neosporin +pain relief ointment (there are lots of types of Neosporin, this is the best) directly on the sores and apply the non-adhesive bandage. In either case, do not use tape simply use the pressure of your shorts to keep the bandage in place.

Note: unfortunately I have no financial stake in any product listed.

 

Further reading

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Jun
How to Avoid and Deal with Saddle Sores
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“Time On Bike” - And the Importance of Internalizing Your Goals
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Anatomy of a Wipe-Out  
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Fuel Is Essential to Endurance Riding
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