CYCLING PERFORMANCE TIPS
Last updated: 12/06/2009
A saddle sore can ruin a ride. Most medical experts say that saddle sores are caused by
skin bacteria that invade surface abrasions. Avoiding saddle sores is better than curing
them (or ruining a good sirloin). Here are a few tips:
- Improve your bike fit. If your seat is too high, your hips rock on each pedal
stroke and the result is irritated skin and a greater chance of infection. If you suffer
from chronic saddle sores, consider haivng your position checked by aknowledgeable bike
- Stand frequently. Doing so takes pressure off your perineum (crotch) and restores
circulation. Get in the habit of standing for 15-20 seconds every few minutes. Use natural
opportunities such as short hills, rough pavement or accelerating from stop
- Move on the saddle. Sit mostly toward the rear where your sit bones get
maximum support and take pressure off your perineum. Move farther back on seated climbs,
and more to the middle when bending low on the flats. Each shift relieves
- Choose a smooth chamois. Look for shorts with a one-piece liner or one that's
sewn with flat seams. It may take experimenting with shorts brands or chamois types to
find the model that works best. Women often do better with shorts designed specifically
for their anatomy and that have a liner with no center seam.
- Select a supportive seat. Excessively wide saddles rub your inner thighs.
Narrow saddles don't provide enough support for your sit bones -- your weight is
borne by soft tissue that can quickly become bruised and irritated. Thickly
padded saddles can press upward between your sit bones, causing uncomfortable
numbing pressure. The best choice for any individual rider can only be found through
trial and error.
- Lube to reduce friction. To prevent the chamois from abrading skin, apply
lubrication before each ride. Try a commercial product such as Chamois BUTT'r or Bag Balm,
or simply a light coating of petroleum jelly. Apply a dab to your
perineum before putting on your shorts.
- Keep it clean. Always wear clean shorts for each ride. If you seem susceptible
to saddle sores, you may find it helpful to wash your crotch with antibacterial soap and
warm water before lubing up. Dry your skin well first. I have found that Noxzema provides both
lubrication and an antibacterial effect.
- Strip quick. After a ride, get out of your sweaty shorts as soon as possible.
Then shower or clean up with soap and water. Dry well and put on loose-fitting clothing
that allows your skin to breathe.
If You Get a Saddle Sore
- Medicate it. Besides keeping it clean, treat it with an over-the-counter acne gel
containing 10% benzoyl peroxide. Perhaps even more effective is the topical prescription
product called Emgel (erythromycin). If a sore is getting out of control, ask your doctor
about a course of oral antibiotics.
- Rest it. As you medicate a troublesome sore, take some time off the bike to help it
heal. Its far better to lose three days now than a week or more after infection sets
in. If you continue to ride on an open sore it may eventually form a cyst that
If You Must Continue Riding
Sometimes you can't take time off. For instance, you may be on a tour or at a
- Change your shorts or saddle. Your problems are probably isolated in one small
area -- a boil or abrasion. Changing your saddle and/or shorts can reduce pressure
on the sore and lessen pain.
- Use a heavier lube. If you're getting irritated, apply extra lube or switch to a
more viscous one. Many long-distance riders swear by Bag Balm, which was originally
made for sore cow udders but is now available in most pharmacies.
- Numb it. OTC pain reducers and anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen,
can help. In extreme cases, pro team physicians will use a topical anesthetic on riders
so they can finish a stage race. It's not recommended for recreational riders because
when you're numb, you can ride yourself into greater damage.
- Try Preparation H ointment. No, not for that reason. Prep H works on saddle sores
because it shrinks swollen tissue and soothes pain. Apply it five minutes before
slathering on your chamois cream and putting on your shorts. Also try a dab on sores
after rides to dull discomfort.
- Get a donut. In the foot-care section of drug stores, you'll find donut-shaped foam
pads in several diameters. They're made for corns but can help you ride more
comfortably with a saddle sore, too. Simply place it with the sore in the center of
the cutout to relieve direct pressure. The adhesive backing will keep it in
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