The fun in bikepacking can easily be taken away from you by an uncomfortable and often painful saddle sore.
Saddle sores differ among individuals but generally, they are skin inflammations on the area which comes into contact with the saddle. They begin as abrasions that may turn into acne-like bumps. When left untreated, they can be infected and become nastier by developing abscess – yikes!
I’m sure you wouldn’t want to compromise your body health and comfort when exploring the outdoors with your two-wheeled buddy. Here are several tips and advice to ensure that your biking adventures do not have to be a big pain in the butt, literally.
1. Maintain a Proper Riding Position
This may sound like a sensible advice, but how you are positioned when riding your bike will impact your susceptibility to saddle sores. It is the same with how you get back pain when you sit all day and realize you do not have the right posture all along.
Typically, the way you are positioned on the saddle should not allow your hips to rock it back and forth. Although there are different riding positions recommended for long-distance cycling activities such as bikepacking, realistically speaking, you can only know which riding position is best for you when you test the ride yourself.
You may use a performance riding position where you are seated far back on the saddle rear where the widest and flattest part is, as your reference. However, feel free to do your own variations depending on your comfort level. It is better to optimize your position according to how your body responds to it instead of simply following what others would tell you.
2. The Saddle Must Fit
A good saddle can be personal, just as your riding position is, and more importantly, it should not cause you any irritation whatsoever. Finding the right one would be a trial and error exercise. Keep in my mind that your saddle width should ideally match the width of your sit bones.
The shape of your saddle should also suit your riding position. For instance, riders who use an aggressive position which maintains about a 45-degree angle to the top tube, would prefer a saddle that relieves pressure at the front. When seated in a more upright position, you might require more padding on the saddle rear to keep your ride comfortable.
3. A Full-suspension MTB Might Help
Some bikepackers have noted that sores are likely to occur with hardtails more than full-suspension types. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense because you will be encountering all sorts of bumps on the trail while bikepacking.
A full-suspension MTB means it has both a front suspension and rear shock, which can provide better traction, control and comfort to the rider. It will absorb the jarring jolts of a harsh terrain which will otherwise be felt raw by your body. It helps reduce fatigue, enabling the cyclist to ride faster for long hours with much more ease.
4. Your Bike Should be the Appropriate Size
More and more bikepacking enthusiasts prefer riding a mountain bike nowadays given its versatility for all terrains. Most MTBs are designed for bikepacking use by having a more upright position, extra-large triangle frame, and numerous fastening points. An incorrectly-sized mountain bike may not only cause saddle sores, but also wrist pain, back pain, fatigue, and worse, higher risk of crash.
The first thing we look at in terms of bike sizing is the saddle height. You would want a slight knee bend when your leg extends at the back of each pedal stroke. Mountain bikes typically come in small, medium, and large sizes based on the frame, inseam, standover height, etc, but are defined according to brand. A medium Giant MTB may not be the same as a medium Trek bike so it’s important to check the actual dimensions.
5. Go Easy on Hair Removal
This may sound off-topic, but I assure you that we’re still on the subject. Many cyclists shave their legs, and that’s totally fine. However, hair removal on your intimate parts, on the other hand, can impact your ride comfort such that it may lead to saddle soreness.
With genital hair providing a protective layer that soaks up sweat, removing it would mean more chances of having razor cuts, ingrown hairs and follicle infection, especially with long hours of riding. These problems are heightened by the friction created by continuous cycling.
The intensity of a bikepacking activity produces a lot of sweating, which can be the perfect breeding ground of bacteria. As such, it is recommended to trim while keeping half an inch of hair that can still provide some protection and at the same time, keep its unruliness at bay. Let’s quickly move on to the next tip, it’s getting awkward.
6. Wear Clean Shorts
As you know, cycling shorts hug the skin, and should be worn with nothing in between, not even your regular underwear. Thus, your cycling shorts is your only undergarment. It goes without saying that this should be washed immediately after use, otherwise you will be more prone to bacterial infection.
7. Consider Padded Shorts
You will find that cyclists who take a performance riding position wear padded shorts made of lycra material. This is a lightweight fabric that can dissipate heat to keep it dry, while some have perforated pads to prevent trapping of moisture. It also distributes pressure from the saddle and your skin to the padding. As such, the likelihood of saddle sores is significantly avoided.
8. Apply Anti-rash Cream or Lubricant
The rider is recommended to apply anti-friction creams such as chamois and diaper rash lotion before embarking on his bikepacking journey. These will decrease susceptibility to chaffing from pressed contact of the fabric of your clothing and your skin. The antibacterial properties of such creams will help you prevent skin irritations.
You can try using Assos Chamois Creme or Squirt Barrier Balm which will be great for prolonged riding. A cheap alternative like Vaseline petroleum jelly can also do the trick,
9. Pick Well-fitted Clothes
Wearing high-quality chamois or cycling shorts will not irritate your skin, even when it’s practically in permanent contact with it. Fit is an important factor, shorts that is too big will move around, causing friction in the process. In the same manner, it will be restricting if it’s too fitted for you.
You should also consider wearing seamless bib shorts that are stretched taught, instead of being just tight. Such clothing has no waistband, stays in place, and provides a more aerodynamic fit.
10. Clean up Afterward
When you arrive at your destination, make sure to clean up to remove any mud spatters on your legs. Replace any wet or dirty chamois clothing. And if you have a means to take a shower, do so immediately after your ride. Doing it daily should be your goal. If you have access to running water such as a restroom, for instance, better to wash soiled clothes right away. You can also save yourself from staying dirty with the help of wet wipes.
11. Consider a Wider Tire with the Appropriate Pressure
Another thing to note to ensure your ride comfort is to keep the right tire pressure. Using a broader width also helps your case as the tires will be able to run with a lower psi. This way, you lower the chance of making a pinch on the inner tube. It is said that rolling resistance is not affected by having wider tires, but you have to keep your front tire within the width of the rim. In the name of aerodynamics, you should use a wider tire on the rear while choosing a narrower width for the tire in front.
12. Bring Extra Shorts
Most cyclists during an unsupported race try to survive with just very few clothing on hand if not, make do with what they are already wearing. However, it is best to take at least a second pair of cycling shorts which you can alternate wearing along with the one you’re in. The difference in their fabric textures will avoid your skin developing marked patches that can cause it to itch.
13. Stand up Every now and Then
It will do you good if you make it a habit to ride in a standing position once in every 30 minutes during your bikepacking trip, or whenever you go over a rolling hill, jump over bumps, or pull away from an intersection. This promotes air circulation and relieves pressure from prolonged sitting on the saddle. You can also evaporate the sweat from your clothing to avoid irritating your skin.
14. Ditch the Heavy Backpack
The extra weight on the back will not only contribute to your neck and shoulder strain, but also puts more pressure to your saddle that can make your derriere sore. You should redistribute most of your gear on the back, and if you can’t help it, bring a small and light backpack only.
15. Observe Proper Nutrition
What you eat can impact your proneness to saddle sores. It is recommended to nourish your body with sufficient levels of protein, vitamin C, zinc, and collagen, all of which will help you combat soreness.