It happens to the best of us if you ride enough, its almost guaranteed that youll get saddle sores sooner or later. Theyre uncomfortable, even painful, and they threaten to make every biking experience a nightmare, and in some cases they can keep you off your bike completely!
Simply put, they are the bikers bane.
For those who dont know, saddle sores come in 3 stages:
- Skin abrasion.
- Folliculitis, which looks like small, reddish acne.
I personally tend to catch them when they reach stage two, and I hope to high heaven that I never have to experience stage three! But the best defense is a good offense, and if you can prevent them and keep these sores to a minimum, then so much the better!
What sort of photos were you expecting? 😉
Saddle Sore Prevention
1. Make sure your bike fit is correct
Team Judson says, If your seat is too high, your hips rock on each pedal stroke and strum your soft tissue across the nose of the saddle. The result is irritated skin and a greater chance of infection. Correct bike fit is a prerequisite for so many things related to excellent mountain biking that hopefully this is not an issue. If in doubt, see a professional fitter or your local bike shop.
2. Make sure you have a good saddle
The importance of having a high-quality saddle that fits your butt well cannot be understated! Of course, everyone prefers a different saddle because everyones butt is different. The key is to experiment, find a saddle that works well for you, and stick with it!
3. Ride a dualie
I personally had never had saddle sores until this year. And this year is the first that Ive spent most of my time riding hardtails. Coincidence? I think not. All of the jarring from the roots, rocks, and other trail obstacles is rough on your entire body, and particularly your taint. Riding a full suspension bike will drastically reduce the amount of rubbing taking place down there.
4. Choose a good chamois
Using a high-quality chamois will definitely improve your chances of avoiding the dreaded bikers bane. Whatever you choose, make sure there are no seams in your chamois!
5. Keep clean
Try to always ride with a clean chamois. Re-using a dirty one will encourage growth of all sorts of nast-inducing bacteria. At the very least, make sure your chamois is dry. Riding with a pair of shorts that is still wet with yesterdays sweat guarantees you’ll be rubbed raw!
6. Lube up
One of the best things you can do to reduce friction and avoid stage one (skin abrasion) is to lube up. There are expensive chamois creams available which are designed to provide maximum glide, but if youre looking for a low-cost alternative, consider Vaseline.
7. Get clean when dirty
Try to get out of your riding shorts and get clean as soon as possible after a ride. Hanging out with your nether regions swimming in your own sweat is, again, an excellent breeding ground for bacteria. Even if you cant shower immediately, at least make sure to change into dry clothes.
8. Ride less
Saddle Sore Treatment
If you ride enough, you are bound to be afflicted with the Bikers Bane at some point. While prevention is the best course of action, when the crotch-acne does strike, its crucial to know how to treat it properly.
1. Keep it clean
When you know for sure that you have saddle sores, doing all of the prevention steps mentioned above is infinitely more important! The last thing you want is for them to get any worse. Your main line of defense will be to keep your crotch as clean as a babys bottom (ok, cleanER than a babys bottom).
Team Judson recommends that you 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.
I would add that a simple triple antibiotic cream, if administered religiously, will also eliminate saddle sores. I havent personally tried any of the medications recommend by Team Judson, but maybe next time. (Please let there not be a next time!)
3. Ride a dualie
Yes, I know I already mentioned this under prevention. But if youve been riding a hardtail, switching over to a full suspension bike for a while can give your taint a much-needed break.
4. Stop riding
I was kidding when I mentioned this under prevention, but now I am dead serious. Taking a couple days off to heal up is much better than letting this progress to an even worse stage, which could possibly force you to take an even longer break from the bike. If you let the saddle sores get way, way out of control and they get seriously infected, you could even be facing surgery. Of course, that’s a worst-case scenario.
Saddle sores truly are one of the curses of our existence as bikers. I’ll spare you any more details about how uncomfortable they can be. But with the above prevention and treatment techniques, you can now do everything in your power to fight the bane and stay in the saddle as much as possible!
Do you have any tips or tricks to add to the lists above? Feel free to share them in the comments section below!
I found myself wincing all the way through this article and THANK YOU for not including any pics. 🙂
One more tip that may not be obvious to beginning riders: those silly looking spandex shorts you see bikers wearing are WAY more comfortable than the athletic shorts you’re riding in now. Cycling shorts are designed so they don’t bunch up when you’re on the bike which can lead to saddle sores and other forms of discomfort. Plus they also have a chamois built-in (a padded, soft material covering your nether region).
If you don’t want to walk around in skin-tight shorts (and I don’t blame you), check into a pair of baggy mountian bike shorts with a liner and chamois either sewn in or attached. Of course I tend to sweat more in these types of shorts so #5 and #7 above are important to keep in mind.
Yeah great call on the pics… I am sure people don’t need a visual…
I too agree on the cycling specific shorts (tights or baggies). Even as a seasoned rider you can feel the difference right away on the shorts.
Saddle sores must be somewhat genetic in nature as I never, ever (ever) get them, and I don’t use cream, I don’t change out of my biking shorts until I get home, and sometimes I wear them twice before washing them. I’m also not affected by poison ivy, so I wonder if there is a connection?
For those who do struggle with this, I hear that DZ Nuts is a really good chamois cream. Also, as previously mentioned, cycling-specific shorts are a MUST for any kind of sustained riding.
As for saddles, try out as many as you can. The most comfortable is not always the most expensive. I have a Nashbar store brand knock-off of the Fiz’ik Arione that costs $40 and I LOVE it!
@MTBGreg, I went to a hardtail this season too, and my tail did just fine. 😀
Hey madd, about the hardtail. First, you live in Colorado. Means you have rode for quite a while on a bunch o trails. 🙂 Second, you have rode so much that your taint is probably a big callous! 😆
Ride a singlespeed and you won’t have this problem! Just kidding!!
Anyways, since riding SS a lot this year. I have noticed that I don’t have much numbness or butt soreness. So stand up more to climb. Fortunately, the trails I ride don’t climb for miles on end, too !!
+1 to having biking shorts over normal gym shorts. Everything written above is already ASSUMING you have halfways-decent shorts. If you don’t, you are REALLY in for a rude awakening!
@maddslacker, well, good for you, lol! Way to rub it in 😀 Some of us are merely human…
@allroy71, Good point. Less time in the saddle=fewer saddle sores. The same argument could be given for downhilling vs cross-country riding 😉
I’m with madd, I’ve never had saddle sores, and I’ve had plenty of big days in the saddle. I ALWAYS wash my shorts before wearing them again. ALWAYS. Lycra shorts are more comfortable for long days than baggies for me. I use chamois butt’r for rides around 3hrs or longer. I apply it to my chamois, not my skin. It’s easier to do it that way in a parking lot surrounded by people LOL. Without chamois cream I start getting uncomfortable (stage 1 I assume) after 3hrs, but with it the rest of my body wears out before my taint. A tube lasts me over a year easily.
Also, a lot of riders like Bag Balm, which is cheap and can be found at wal-mart and many drugstores. It also has medicinal properties, so could be good for after a ride if you do get roughed up. Supposedly it’s really hard to get it to wash out of the shorts though.
i don’t have any problems with saddle sores and i ride usually 5 to 6ooo miles a year on mtb and road bike i always wear cycling shorts with chamios butter. i don’t know if i would go cheap and use vaseline because it is a petroleom based product and that does’nt mix well friction and heat. could cause a serious reaction or rash then you will end up being off the bike longer. spend the xtra bucks and you won’t have to worry about. and its a must to find the saddle that fits YOUR butt.
On the point that Madd made about trying different saddles. Saddles come in different widths which will match different riders pelvis (Butt bones)…Finding the correct width is probably the best start at preventing saddle sores….Some (not all) shops have bought into the try before you buy programs that manufactures like Fisik and WTB provide.
+1 for Bag Balm. It’s good for what ails ya
The mountain biking world is new to me so I am taking it all in. After reading this article I was wondering, “what is chamois cream?”. I am an esthetician aka professional skin therapist so this particularly interested me. I wanted to know what is in a chamois cream. There are tons of products ready to use. I would not use vaseline (petroleum jelly) is a comodeogenic (pore clogging) ingredient.
I found a few sites that listed at home recipes to make a better quality/ more economical product.
This site lists witch hazel as an ingredient which is good bc it is an natural antiseptic that will not strip your skin like alcohols can..The other 2 “boots” brand ingredients are made of some things I would not use on anyone’s skin bc it can cause sensitvities and breakouts. But the concept of the general recipe got me further thinking…
Dr Bronner products are awesome for body care. I am not sure how far this amt of product would go but the ingredients it contains are all awesome for the skin.
This site lists a good recipe- although the process looks like it could be somewhat time consuming vs buying it already made but it also gives you the option to make a better quality, more economical cream and you could also make a big batch to last you a while.
dermalogica is the product line I professionally use but could be a little costly if using for the body.. the above link to the product is a great on the go wipe to use after you change until you can shower.
this product is meant to be a barrier for your facial skin to repair and protect. This product came to mind when I thought of some of the function of a chamois cream..again this would be an expensive option for body use.
Never the less I am glad I saw this article bc I would not enjoy an abcess….
Never made it to stage 3, though came close, Switched to dz nuts this year, is working better. Just like saddles, also try different chamois. I have shorts for short rides, and a few I keep just for 4 hr+ rides. If I tried to wear the same shorts 2 days in a row, my nose would jump off my face, and slap me.
So are you guys recommending bag balm for prevention, treatment, or both?
greg – both. You can use it as your chamois cream while riding, and/or apply some after the ride (and a shower) to help heal any irritation/sores/etc. I’ve never used it, but some people swear by it. A lot of the Tour Divide racers use it because it’s one of the longest lasting, and it will help heal ya if you need it to.
It was originally designed for cow utters if they had issues after being milked! 😀
have been sore but maybe only reached #2. However other parts of my body chaffed before and it hurt like H E double hockey stick. Placed a little lube on it before long rides and it worked. Seen others place band-aids there.
@Dustin Gaddis, interesting, thanks!
@brianW, yeah chaffage is no good!
I use the Chamois Butt’r when I need and it works great,might have to try some of the other products mentioned in this here blog post.I’ve had some knarly chaffing and irritation and the Chamois Butt’r really helped a bunch,what a relief even when sweating on miserable hot days and things arent feeling so great.
@joannamariew,sounds like you know a bit about skin care products,would be great to have your experienced opinion on the products mentioned here when you get familiar with there ingredients..Thanks for what you have already contributed….
What is this Chamois you speak of?? I have the spandex shorts with the padding built in……Is a chamois something different? thx
“chamois” is the actual pad itself.
Lots of good info here guys, will have to look into bag balm for the times I get a little sore. I personally have never had sores worse then stage 1.
As mentioned above saddle choice should be your first consideration, and only way to find the right one is trial and error. Some shops have a loaner program and allow you to try before you buy. My LBS had such a program and I tried almost every saddle they had before I made my final decision, which ending up being a 155 Avatar Comp Gel which is now seeing action on my MTB.
I learned early on that not all bike shorts are created equal. Just because a short has a nice thick chamois in it doesn’t mean it will be the most comfortable, more material sometimes means more bunching up.
Also higher priced shorts does not always mean more comfort, I have a pair of $40 no name shorts that are way more comfortable then the $160 pair my wife bought me. (don’t tell her!)
@steve32300. let me know what specific products you are wondering about and I will do my best to look at all the ingredients and see whats up with them. I know that the affect on the skin is important but also the effect on the chamois and bike shorts is a concern…not sure what ingred would damage the shorts
I have padded shorts, but did not know abbout using vaseline. I will have to give it try next time I ride.