Hints and Tips: Saddle Sore - Prevention and Cure

Saddle sores are an unfortunate result of riding for some people, from novices to experienced professionals. At best they are uncomfortable, at worst they are unbearable, and may even stop you from riding your bike. The sores are effectively caused by friction between your under-carriage and the saddle; the result is pimples and sometimes open blisters, which untreated can develop into infections.

A fellow cyclist recently asked me what can be done to cure the problem; so I have compiled these few tips and tricks that can often improve or eliminate the issue. 

"Are you sitting comfortably?"
Getting the right saddle is the first thing that you should consider if you are prone to saddle sores. The sores are caused by pressure, often on very small areas; as a result selecting a saddle that reduces the number of small pressure points, and ensures that you're sat correctly can make a huge difference.

Visit a good quality bike store and they will be able to show you a variety of saddles in different shapes and sizes, and recommend one that is likely to suit you. Some companies have now got ways of measuring your seat bone pattern to ensure that you get the best fit saddle for your body geometry.

For my 21st birthday last year I got the Brooks Swift, and since then I have been lucky enough not to encounter saddle sores once. For me, this was undoubtedly a good saddle choice: the long nose and relatively narrow style suits me well, and the Brooks design of suspended leather helps to add some suspension to the saddle, which reduces those pressure points. I have the Brooks on my winter training/long mile bike, and it is certainly performing well. Take some time looking for the right saddle for you, and it will ensure that you are sat comfortably on the bike and reduce the chance of abrasion on your behind.

Reduce The Friction...
Saddle sores are caused by friction, and there are various ways to reduce that. Many manufacturers of cycling shorts such as Assos produce their own chamois cream, which acts as a lubrication on the seat pad of your shorts; these work well and help to reduce a lot of the irritation caused to the skin.
However, if you want a cheaper and equally effective alternative, Boots Aqueous cream can be bought for around £5 in a 500 gram tub, a mere fraction of the price of specific chamois cream. As a result you can use a decent amount of the stuff and it does the job just as well.

A Quality Chamois
If you are planning on doing a fair few miles on the bike, a good pair of padded bib shorts is something that you should not skimp on. There is a notable difference in the pads used in high end shorts such as Assos and Castelli, and often they are actually worth the extra money as the pads last a lot longer even with numerous washes. However, in my experience a pair of £50-60 shorts will do the job almost as well, and will be easier on the wallet.
A good pair of shorts will ensure that the chamois is of good quality and doesn't compress too much under your weight, consequently they do their job of cushioning your behind, and reducing the pressure on select parts of your undercarriage.

Keep it clean!
Saddle sores are normally irritating when they are essentially just a friction burn; however if you allow bacteria to get to them they will soon become infected and a far more severe and painful problem.
As a result make sure you don't use a pair of shorts two days in a row...it really isn't a good idea, even if it might make your chamois pad last a little longer.
Even on long tours such as the France and Spain trip, we made sure that we washed our shorts with travel wash every night in a stream or public toilet; getting bad saddle sores on a 1500 mile trip doesn't bear thinking about.

Treating The Problem...
Finally, when the inevitable does happen what can you do to treat it?
As I mentioned above saddle sores are likely to be severe when they have become infected. To ensure this doesn't happen, as soon as you start to get some discomfort, keep the area very clean and use some antiseptic cream to stop it developing.
It may pay to take a day off the bike if it is really bad, or if that is not an option, sometimes two pairs of shorts can help.
If the problem persists, it is possible that you might need a course of antibiotics from the doctor to clear up the infection; hopefully if you follow the tips above though, you will never get to this stage.

Saddle sores are one of the nasty side-effects of cycling that many of us encounter at some point. I hope that these tips and advice will help to prevent it, and that you can enjoy more miles on the bike in comfort as a result.


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