Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned long-distance cyclist, chances are at some point you’ll get a saddle sore. A saddle sore generally occurs in the area where your body contacts the bicycle seat, where the high pressure on a relatively small surface area for long periods of time can commonly cause skin irritation and abrasions.
When you add in moisture, hair and the potential for bacteria, saddle sores are bound to form. The result is a tender, raised red area that can sometimes look like an ingrown hair and can be extremely painful — particularly if you have plans to get back on the bike again in the near future.
The good news is there are some basic preventative steps you can take to lessen your risk. Use these tips to learn exactly what causes saddle sores and what you can do to prevent them.
CHAFING AND SKIN ABRASIONS
One of the most common causes of saddle sores is chafing and abrasions from the skin rubbing against the saddle. As the length of your ride increases, this repeated friction can eventually cause a saddle sore.
If you’re a beginner, there are some very basic things you may be guilty of that increase the friction created during the cycling motion. To immediately reduce this try the following fixes:
- Wear high-quality cycling shorts: The chamois insert in cycling shorts improves comfort and reduces chafing.
- Make sure your cycling shorts fit properly: If your shorts bunch or ride up, the insert will move more than it should and make abrasions more likely.
- Don’t wear underwear: The extra material and seams in underwear cause more irritation and friction, which can cause sores to form.
For more persistent saddle sores not caused by any of the above, you may need to look at your saddle and bike fit. If you are experiencing pain or any discomfort on rides, look into switching your saddle for a more comfortable option that matches the width of your hips. Some local bike shops have saddle buying programs that will let you try a few different options before you decide on a purchase.
While a bike fit by a professional is generally recommended, you may also want to look into the height of your saddle as a potential cause for saddle sores. If your saddle is too high, the side-to-side rocking of the hips that occurs increases friction. Lowering your saddle so less hip movement is required can help.
READ MORE > 3 CAUSES AND CURES FOR NUMBNESS ON THE BIKE
Another option is applying a chamois cream directly to the skin before you ride. This reduces skin irritation and abrasions on longer rides and in wet weather when saddle sores are more likely to occur.
SPOTS OR BOILS
A much nastier cause of saddle sores is the formation of bacteria, which can inflame hair follicles and lead to folliculitis or even an abscess. While friction is likely the initial cause, if bacteria begins to form where the skin is irritated, these nasty sores begin to pop up.
Two things you can do to prevent the formation of bacteria is to wash your bike shorts after every ride and reduce the amount of time you spend in your shorts immediately after you get off the bike. Hanging out at the coffee shop, going through your stretching routine, or preparing your post-ride meal in your cycling kit gives bacteria an opportunity to grow. Instead, get out of your shorts as soon as you can to minimize the risk.
To treat boils or a nasty case of folliculitis, it’s best to follow the same steps you would for any other local skin infection. Applying an antibiotic or antiseptic cream helps reduce the swelling and redness. Ice can help with the swelling, too, even if ice in this area isn’t ideal in terms of comfort.
If you can’t seem to get rid of your saddle sore or if it’s particularly nasty, seeking medical attention for a prescription cream or oral antibiotic is recommended. Take a day or two off the bike to let it calm down and use the other preventative tips mentioned above to minimize the chance of recurrence.