Most mountain bikers will agree with me when I say: saddle pains pose a major drawback to our sport. As fun as mountain biking can be, sometimes the soreness you feel after a long trail can be a bummer. Little did I know that there are preventive measures to keep those aches and sores at bay.
In this article, we’ll explore why you might be experiencing these pains, how to treat them, how to prevent them from happening, and what to look for in a proper saddle.
While riding your bicycle shouldn’t exactly feel like you’re resting your taint (or perineum) on a plush seat, it shouldn’t also feel like hell every time you hop on. Bicycle seats were clearly not made for you to relax on, but that’s not why you’re spending hours on your two-wheeled steed.
Now a bit of discomfort from just sitting on your saddle requires you to take a break which will make it go away, soreness is something else though.
First off, you might be asking what exactly saddle sore is. Saddle sores look like infected hair follicles, so you’re looking for raised spots that are very similar to little boils or pimples. For some people, the area just feels very tender and looks a little red. If what you’re experiencing looks more like a rash, then it’s likely that you’re getting chafed. All these literal pains in the bum are very unpleasant to deal with, but bikers know these issues all too well.
Sometimes, the problem doesn’t lie in the saddle at all. So it’s best to troubleshoot this specific training dilemma before purchasing a new one because high quality saddles don’t come cheap. You need to be as comfortable as possible during training, especially since what you’re doing is already pretty strenuous. So let’s get to it.
What Causes Saddle Pain
You have three main enemies as a mountain biker: pressure, moisture, and friction. You’re subjecting that bit of skin that makes contact with the saddle to these three things every time you go for a ride.
Your weight bearing down on the bike seat puts a lot of pressure on your perineum. Combine that with the friction from your persistent pedaling and things getting damp “down there” from sweat, it’s essentially creating the perfect environment for the formation of sores. It’s bacteria heaven.
You might come to expect a bit of soreness and inflammation after a long day of riding. That’s normal. However, a more serious saddle pain will start manifesting as a minor skin abrasion. At this point, it’s still pretty easy to treat.
If you choose to endure your training without dealing with this pain, it will get worse and lead to folliculitis (acne-like bumps) and then abscess, which your physician will eventually have to drain. You definitely don’t want to let things get to that point.
But what if bacteria formation isn’t your problem? Could there be anything else that’s out of whack? Yes, other saddle pain culprits could be:
Probably the first thing that comes to mind is your saddle. Often new saddles need time to break in and going on extended rides will cause some discomfort. This should go away after a few sessions. Perhaps you’re not using a saddle that was designed optimally or it’s simply too old and worn out to withstand regular use. In many cases it’s not your saddle so let’s continue.
It’s important to get the right size because a narrow saddle doesn’t support your sit bones. if your sit bones don’t bear the weight you’ll soon enough experience issues.
The Bike Itself
Proper alignment during the assembly of your bicycle is essential. Bikes aren’t made to fit everyone’s bodies and maybe you’re struggling to use one that has not been specifically adjusted to your specifications. The distance between the seat post and the handle bars shouldn’t give you any strain. So before your head out to get a new saddle, make sure your bike fits. It would be a waste of money.
A proper position can prevent all kinds of discomforts, write pain is a good example. If you don’t pay attention to and correct your form while cycling, you might be making things difficult for yourself. Your positioning might just be off and you’re sitting on the wrong spot on the saddle.
You won’t see hardcore cyclists zooming past you in loose clothing – and for good reason. Excess fabric will tend to rub between your skin and the saddle, which will cause chafing. Now this isn’t a problem if you ride your local trail for an hour, it is when you’re more of a long-distance rider.
How to Treat Saddle Pain
As you’re reading this, it makes sense to assume that saddle pains are ailing you at the moment. Now, what are you supposed to do to alleviate this discomfort? Know that every biker goes through these pains and that there is a number of things you can do to get you on the way to a quick recovery.
Remember, it doesn’t matter how strong you are or how expensive your bike is. The moment your body starts telling you that there is something wrong, it should put a stop to your training. Any discomfort will significantly affect your speed and enjoyment. Instead of focusing on the trail ahead, you’ll find yourself constantly stopping and changing your positions.
Following the advice below should clear up your bum and get you back on the trail in now time.
Stay off the Saddle for a Day or Two
If you’re a little too determined and keep ignoring your discomfort, this will only make matters worse. Constantly re-introducing your sores to the saddle will only aggravate your skin. In the meantime, do not cycle to increase the chances of your recovery.
For quicker results, wear breathable clothing to keep the area dry. Tight underwear is a bacterial hotspot. Just rest for a while and keep your bum off the saddle until your skin clears up.
Make Sure the Area is Spic and Span
Bacteria is the main cause of saddle sores. Cycling without doing saddle sore prevention promotes the growth of bacteria. If your perineum is already infected, make sure that you keep the area clean by washing it with a mild, fragrance-free (and hypoallergenic) soap.
Afterwards, do not aggressively rub it to dry off. Instead, use a gentle patting motion with a clean towel to soak up the moisture. If you’ve developed folliculitis, do not pop the sores. Also, do not use any harsh cleaning chemicals on it, especially ones with alcohol.
Use an Antibacterial Ointment or Cream
You want to look for something quite mild like an ointment used for diaper rash and various minor skin ailments. You could also use creams with Tea Tree oil, which is usually used to treat acne. Always remember to wash your hands before applying anything to the infected area. Use a cotton swab or pad to put on the ointment and avoid the parts where the skin has broken.
Consult a Physician
Sometimes, home remedies just won’t cut it, especially if your saddle sores have taken a turn for the worse. The guidance you can get from a qualified healthcare provider will always be better than advice from strangers on the internet. In severe cases, you might have to be prescribed antibiotics.
Tweak Your Diet and Get More Sleep
No, this isn’t a long shot. A diet loaded with vegetables will help soothe the area’s inflammation, particularly those that are rich in zinc. Sleep is also linked to the body’s immune system, which is responsible for inflammation as the body’s reaction to foreign pathogens. Not getting enough sleep will actually cause more swelling and redness in the area.
To wrap it up, recovering from saddle pain has all to do with rest and good hygiene. I know it’s difficult to stop training, especially if you’ve got a nice momentum going. But taking the time off to solve the problem will only improve your endurance in the long run.
How to Prevent Saddle Pain
Before cycling becomes something that you dread doing, there are a couple of things you can do to reduce discomfort and stop sores from forming. These things are pretty straightforward and will keep you on the saddle without having to worry about pain.
Have Your Bike Fitted
Adjusting your bike is something that you can do yourself, but it’s better to let professionals do it for you. Like I mentioned before, not adjusting your bike to match your body’s measurements is one of the main causes of saddle pain. Leg lengths vary from person to person. If you’re struggling to find a relaxed position as you grasp your handlebars, it’s very likely that your weight is unevenly distributed.
Get a Proper Saddle
Choosing the right saddle is now quite the undertaking because of the endless choices that you have. We’ll address this problem as we go on.
Most people would assume that a well-padded saddle would cushion your backside very nicely and that’s what you should go for if comfort is your priority. What they don’t know is that sometimes a thinner and lighter saddle would suit them better.
It’s like finding the perfect pair of shoes. You have to be willing to try out different designs with crazy-looking noses and channels and see what works best for your body. Just like shoes, saddles also have a “break in” period where it adapts to your shape.
Saddles have different cut-outs to accommodate riders of different sexes as well. Male riders have reported numbness in their genitals and urethral infections after using saddles that don’t have the right cut-outs. They describe it as a burning sensation as they pee. Female riders, on the other hand, report an inflammation of their inner labia.
Using a saddle that’s not right for your body causes you to take erroneous positons, which will do a number on your back and knees on top of your bum.
Buy the Right Shorts
If you take cycling seriously, then it’s high time you invest in a good pair of cycling shorts. Just like with any sport, getting the right gear will boost your comfort and enjoyment, and keep you at it for longer.
Sure, you’re going to have to shell out a little extra for gear from reputable sportswear manufacturers, but they’re usually well worth the steep price tag. Cycling shorts are usually paired with pads or chamois to protect your groin.
A lot of long-distance cyclists use bib shorts, which keep the chamois in place. They also don’t have itchy waistbands because they have straps to hold them up. The right bib shorts should feel like a second skin. There’s no resistance or chafing. Once you find the right pair, stock up!
Use an Emollient or Chamois Cream
Chamois cream or what bikers call “chammy” is an antibacterial salve that also doubles as a friction-reducing aid. You’re supposed to slather on this cream onto your chamois and to your perineum, but be careful not to go overboard. It’s going to feel a little weird a first, but you can get used to the sensation pretty quickly.
It pays to be vigilant about applying a chamois cream because it truly does reduce your chances of getting saddle sores. As it combats bacteria formation and chafing, it also keeps your skin moisturized and healthy.
Wash Your Shorts After Every Session
A clean cyclist is a happy cyclist. Clothes tend to get funky after you’ve sweated in them, so throw your shorts in the wash after you wear them. Don’t get lazy and re-wear them. You’d just be asking for an infection at that point. Treat your cycling shorts just like underwear. A fresh pair is always better for your bum.
Shower and Change Your Clothes Immediately After Cycling
In the same vein, you should never stay in your sweaty shorts after you cycle. You’re essentially just letting the bacteria brew down there, which increases your chances of getting an infection.
Adjust Your Riding Style
If you intend to train consistently, you need to learn how to stand up from saddle every 10 minutes or so to keep the pressure off your bum. Novice cyclists spend more time seated on the saddle and this is not an ideal practice, especially for long distances. You’ll notice that endurance cyclists will stand up, and they do this to restore blood flow to their legs to keep them from cramping up.
Don’t Shave or Wax Your Pubic Hair
We keep the subject of intimate grooming under wraps because it can get pretty uncomfortable. However, it’s important to note that shaving or waxing your nether regions leaves tiny cuts that bacteria can infiltrate.
Friction caused by cycling also ups your chances of getting ingrown hairs. You’re bound to develop a rash of some kind once your hairs start sprouting back as stubby growths, grinding against your saddle.
Your best option is to trim and do a little landscaping down south because pubic hairs also act as a natural sweat soaker.
If you like being hairless and waxing off your pubes, experts say that you should wait up to three days before you hit the saddle again.
Picking the Right Saddle
Looking for the best saddle can be daunting. Before you lose your cool, we’ll tackle the details that make for an ideal one. This is very much like mattress shopping in that you want something that is firm, but has enough give.
Before anything else, let’s enumerate the types of bike saddles that are available in the market so can choose what suits your choice activity.
Road Bike Saddle
This type of saddle is best for racing, not travelling long distances. It has very minimal padding and is narrow, perfect for a more tucked position to reduce chafing.
Recreational Bike Saddle
This is what you’ll typically see on a commuter bike where the rider pedals upright. The padding is usually plumper. You’ll even see some that have springs in them. These have short noses and are the most comfortable among the saddle types. If you’re aiming for comfort, consider gel cushioning, which molds itself to the rider’s shape.
This type of saddle is used for long distances and is usually made from leather to withstand the wear and tear of prolonged use.
Mountain Bike Saddle
A mountain trail is obviously a more varied terrain than a flat road. Because of this, you’re going to have to constantly switch between standing on the pedals and getting in a tucked position. Saddles made specifically for mountain biking should have a unique shape to accommodate all your movements, ample padding for your sit bones, and weatherproof covering.
Because everyone’s anatomy is different, some saddles have cut-outs to alleviate pressure from our downstairs parts. Women, who generally have wider hips, have the option of getting saddles that are specifically designed to fit their shape.
Dissecting the Bike Saddle
What type of biking activity are you into? Are you more interested in mountain biking than in touring? Different disciplines call for different saddles. These are the factors that you should consider:
You’ll find that pricier saddles have premium leather coverings, but you’ll get great use out ones covered with synthetic materials too if you want something cheaper or you only want to buy vegan products.
Leather coverings are popular because they adapt to the rider’s shape and riding style over time, but they do require maintenance because they’re not waterproof. You’re going to have to treat them with leather conditioner every once in a while.
On the other hand, synthetic coverings are better for long rides in hot weather because they stay cooler. Mountain bikers should go for something a bit more durable as these are prone to crashing and being exposed to a lot of natural elements.
Look for a saddle that will alleviate pressure off your junk. Some have grooves that will accommodate all our anatomical differences.
A lot of expensive saddles are 100% carbon. More affordable options and the majority of saddles are made of nylon reinforced with carbon. The shell dictates the overall shape of the saddle and its flexibility.
Saddles are attached to the seat post with rails. As a mountain biker, you want to get rails that are on the heavier side, usually made from steel. Most rails are made from titanium, which are very likely to get damaged should you crash your bike.
Performance-grade saddles are usually denser to give the rider firm support. Most saddles are made from polyurethane foam, which is very light.
You might think that a softer padding would make you feel more comfortable during long-distance rides, but prolonged contact with foam that has a lot of give generates heat and puts strain on your sit bones. Remember, while it’s counterintuitive, softer saddles don’t mean maximum comfort.
Now that you have an idea of what you should generally be looking for based on your discipline, it’s time consider your own body and capabilities.
Consider Your Riding Style and Flexibility
Do a simple sit and reach test. If you’re having difficulty in inching yourself forward, then you might not be the most flexible person. You then should opt for a more rounded saddle, which will allow for more shifting.
If you can easily reach your toes, then you would benefit more from a saddle that’s slightly curved. If you think you have average flexibility, then go for something in the middle, which tends to be more flat.
Cyclists who prefer to pedal in an upright position should also go for something wider to support their sit bones. If you tend to bend forward for a more aerodynamic position, a narrow saddle that’s slightly bent downwards should be more comfortable for you.
Measure the Length Between Your Sit Bones (Ischial Bones)
Notice that some saddles have high points that look like cheeks. These spots are where your sit bones are supposed to rest. Saddles that don’t have these domed areas still have a wider part that is supposed to support your sit bones.
Knowing exactly how far apart your sit bones are will definitely make your saddle shopping a lot easier. This will also come in handy when it comes it cut-out placement. If your sit bones consistently make contact with the cut-outs, this will lead to some pain.
If you go to a physical bike shop, many of them will make you sit on a gel pad to get your measurements. If you’re planning to get something online, you can take your measurements on your own. Just get any surface that will conform to shape as you sit on it. It could be clay covered in cling wrap or a Ziploc bag full of flour.
Once you lift yourself off the material, you should be able to see two dips. Measure the distance between the centers of the impressions, then the outer and inner edges.
The center measurement should correlate to the length between the two high points on a saddle. This are the spots where you apply the most amount of pressure.
The outer edge measurements correlate to the entire length of the saddle. In general, you want something that is 2 cm longer than your measurement to allow for some wiggle room because you’re going to want to shift positions especially if you’re a mountain biker.
The inner edge measurements correlate to the position of the cut-outs. You want to look for a 20 mm allowance for a cut-out. Let’s say you’re inner edge measurement is 100 mm, you should look for a saddle that has a 80 mm cut-out.
If you take your measurements and find out that the saddle you’re currently using doesn’t match up with them, then you’ve found the culprit of your saddle pains. It’s time to get a new one.
Consider Your Height
Having the proper saddle without positioning it properly would be a total waste. You might just have the proper saddle right now, only it’s positioned poorly.
You’re going to have to measure your inseam to know how high your saddle needs to be. It’s recommended that go to a professional bicycle fitter to avoid guesswork and making mistakes that could be prevented beforehand.
As a general rule, your bike saddle should be fairly horizontal, if not completely. The nose should not be drastically inclined because this will not only hurt your crotch, but the rest of your body as well. If it’s leaning either of the two ways, you are compromising your neck and back.
Doing this by yourself can be frustrating because you have to keep making minor adjustments and testing it out. To save yourself from all that trouble, just get it done professionally.
The wrong saddle is just one of the problems you might encounter as a cyclist. Sometimes, the problem lies in your gear, hygiene habits, handlebars, pedals, or bodily limitations.
Bikes are not relaxation machines. They’re made for sport and transport, and a certain amount of discomfort is to be expected from riding on them. However, most bikes are designed to minimize this discomfort as long as you use them properly and get one that suits your needs the best.
You have to train your body to get used to the sensation of relentless pedaling and staying in the same position for extended periods of time. But if you’re compromising your skin and bone health, then you’ve got to step up and do some preventive measures if you intend to pursue your chosen discipline further.
To wrap up everything discussed above, here are the points you should remember:
- Adjust your bike first before buying new parts.
- Invest in the right biking gear.
- Practice good hygiene to hinder bacterial infections.
- Do preventive measures to avoid chafing.
- Correct your form and riding style.
- Get a saddle that was designed specifically for your chosen discipline.
- Get a saddle that corresponds to your measurements.
- Have your bike fitted according to your measurements.