is killing me".
We hear those five words several times every
day. Saddle discomfort is the most common cycling complaint.
In the last five years there has been a lot
of attention focused on saddle discomfort, including media
directed at supposed "permanent injuries" that
can result from riding a bicycle. In response to this attention
many manufacturers have introduced new saddles that are
designed to address saddle discomfort issues. These saddles
include such designs as slots, holes, gel padding, etc.
The sensational nature of this media attention,
combined with consumers desire to find a "quick
fix" for saddle discomfort have caused a lot of misinformation
with regard to saddle discomfort. The following recommendations
are techniques used for several decades by top professional
bicycle racers, top triathletes and experienced tourists.
These techniques work.
There is no such
thing as a "comfortable" saddle.
At best, a saddle will be tolerable and not
exert substantial pain on the rider.
Which saddle is best for you? Individual recommendations
about specific saddles are usually not of much value. The
best way to determine which saddle is appropriate for you
is to try it for at least 3-4 weeks. Once you find an acceptable
saddle, stick with it.
Wear padded shorts.
Nothing helps eliminate saddle discomfort
more than good quality, correctly fitted, padded cycling
shorts. Shorts need to fit snug in order to press the padding
firmly against the skin without moving. Movement of fabric
on skin causes friction. Friction causes heat. Heat causes
discomfort. Be sure to buy your shorts tight enough.
Cycling shorts are always worn with no underwear.
Underwear, even synthetic wicking underwear, creates seams
and a vapor barrier that traps heat, bacteria and perspiration
against the skin. Natural fiber underwear is a Petri dish
for bacteria and friction to form. Cycling shorts are designed
to be worn without any underwear, whether you are male or
The crotch pad, or "chamois" (so
named because they were once made of deer leather) in the
shorts can be gender specific. Special womens shorts
have a different orientation of seams and a different overall
cut. Womens shorts may not work well for all women,
however, especially very thin females.
For men, "bib" style shorts usually
work very well. Almost all professional bicycle racers prefer
bibs. The built in suspenders of bib shorts hold the crotch
of the shorts firmly against the body, preventing your anatomy
from shifting frequently during a ride. The suspender section
of the bib shorts is designed to be worn under your jersey
(which is why you never noticed the guys in the Tour de
France wearing them, even though they all are).
Always keep your shorts clean. Never wear
dirty shorts. Do not put padded cycling shorts on until
you are ready to ride. It is a bad idea to put on padded
cycling shorts and drive to a cycling event. It is better
to get dressed at the event or ride. As soon as you are
off the bike, get your shorts off and let your crotch air
out by wearing loose fitting undergarments like boxer shorts.
When I lived at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado
Springs, athletes were asked to sleep in a T-shirt with
no underwear to air their crotch out at night.
Use Chamois Cream.
Almost unheard of in the United States, chamois
cream is the savior of most European long distance cyclists.
Several manufacturers make specific chamois cream products.
If you read the ingredients they are a lot like A&D
Ointment used to treat diaper rash. Since chamois cream
is largely unavailable in the US, A&D Ointment makes
a great alternative. Chamois cream is an anti-bacterial
lubricant that reduces friction between your skin and the
chamois pad of your shorts. It also helps inhibit the growth
of bacteria and helps sooth a raw crotch. Put liberal amounts
of Chamois cream on your crotch before you put your shorts
on. If you put it on your shorts first, it will smear on
your legs when you pull the shorts on. Chamois cream helps
a great deal.
Short, frequent rides will help you "get
your seat" as the Europeans say. This is the uncomfortable
period during which your body needs to get accustomed to
sitting on a bike seat. In general, it will get worse before
it gets better. Saddle discomfort can reach a point of being
intolerable. At this point, it is best to take a day off,
letting your crotch air out while wearing loose fitting
clothes and sleeping without underwear. During this phase
you may actually feel bruised or numb. Although this is
very unpleasant, it is not abnormal and almost never lasts.
In 20 years of endurance cycling I have never met a person
who had a permanent problem from riding bike.
Keep your saddle
If your saddle is angled substantially up
or down there is something else wrong with your position
(most likely your saddle is too high or too low). Your
saddle should be ridden within 4 degrees of
being level. It is acceptable to angle the saddle very slightly,
and also to rotate it very slightly to improve comfort.
All saddle designers make saddles with the intention of
having them in the level riding position.
Be sure your bike
Nothing affects saddle comfort more than bike
fit. Chances are, if you are having chronic saddle discomfort
for more than 8 weeks, your bike doesnt fit.
Have your riding position checked by a person
qualified to do so. Check out their qualifications and experience
before you take their recommendations.
Stick with it.
All fancy language aside, sometimes riding
sucks. Your crotch is completely numb or worse, very painful.
You are convinced your anatomy is bruised (almost impossible)
and youll never have sex, go to the bathroom or ride
a bike again. Dont panic. It will improve. If you
are extremely dedicated, you can try to ride through it.
No advice here: it will just really hurt. At some point
it makes sense to just stay off the bike. Sean Kelly once
abandoned the Tour of Spain while he was leading the race
due to a saddle sore. Greg Welch was forced out of the Ironman
one year after hemorrhoid surgery. Sometimes you have to
gut it out. Sometimes you have to bag it.