One of the most common complaints you will hear from somebody who has just taken up cycling or is an infrequent rider is that it can sometimes be a pain in the a** . . . quite literally.
While spending time in the saddle is a great way to commute, exercise, and get some fresh air, if that saddle, or indeed the clothing next to that saddle, doesn’t suit the purpose then yes, you can get quite a sore bottom.
However, there are quite a few ways to eliminate or at least decrease the chances of that happening.
Although I’ve been on plenty of charity cycles and sportives where I’ve seen guys and girls ride for hours on end in nothing more than a pair of GAA shorts, that just won’t cut the mustard, although it may cut your undercarriage by the end of the ride.
The first thing to do is buy some properly fitted cycling shorts, with padding that will suffice for the type of cycling you intend doing.
Back in the ‘olden days’, or the 1980s and 1990s as I like to call them, cycling shorts came with a leather chamois padding that had to be washed and dried very carefully and treated with chamois cream before each ride – which meant you always pulled on a cold, ‘wet’, pair of shorts even on a sunny day.
Nowadays, most cycling shorts contain a gel or foam padding that can be thrown in a washing machine and tumble dryer and the need for chamois cream is more of a personal preference than a necessity.
Lots of shorts manufacturers have the same shorts in varying degrees of padding, depending on the amount of cycling you want to do, from short commutes to long-distance training and racing, so feel free to ask your local bike store for advice on the best option for you.
When buying cycling shorts make sure they are a snug fit and tight around the legs so they won’t ride up and cause chafing when you start pedalling. Look out for any stitching or labelling that may cause discomfort. Try them on before you buy them if you can.
When you do find a pair of cycling shorts that suit you, the golden rule is to never, ever, and I do mean ever, wear anything underneath them on the bike.
Cycling shorts are meant to be worn next to the skin and wearing underwear just adds additional moisture and friction and makes soreness and even infection more likely.
Bib shorts (ones with what look like elasticated braces attached, rather than ones with an elasticated waistband), will stay in position far better when riding but make sure the bibs are not too short or they could cause pinching around your shoulders after a long ride.
After a ride, get changed, washed and dried as soon as possible. Sitting around in damp, sweaty shorts only breeds bacteria and increases the chances of infection and soreness. For the same reason, you should never wear the same pair of shorts twice without washing them.
If you can’t get a shower immediately after a race or sportive, keep a packet of baby wipes, or antiseptic wipes, handy in your kit bag to clean the contact area before drying thoroughly. You can even moisturise with some Sudocrem or antibacterial cream afterwards if you want. Back in the ‘olden days’, we used hot water from a flask (not too hot obviously), some soap or shower gel and a towel after races.
Saddle choice is another important issue when it comes to comfort on the bike. Although a big chunky gel saddle might seem more comfortable than a skinny racing saddle, it’s not always the case and the wider area could in fact begin to cause problems like chafing.
The ischial tuberosities – or ‘sit bones’ – is where you want your saddle to support as much of your body weight as possible.
Everybody’s sit bones are a different width apart but there are various ‘sit bones width measuring’ techniques online that will give you a good indication of your best saddle width. Again don’t be afraid to try out different saddles before you buy.
Apart from the shape and width of the saddle though, the height and angle that your saddle is set at can also cause soreness.
If your saddle is too high, it will cause rocking from side to side with every pedal stroke, which causes friction and chafing. If the nose of your saddle is tilted too far up this could also cause undue pressure and chafing.
Tilting it downwards a couple of degrees may increase your comfort.
No matter what the reason, consistent pressure and chafing in the same place will irritate and inflame your skin over time and cause saddle soreness.
Like any part of your body, if you overuse it you will get sore so take it easy at first and build it up slowly by cycling every second or third day at first and.
Another way to give your bottom a break is simply stand up every so often while riding to take pressure off the area and restore blood flow.
The trick is to try one thing at a time and see if it makes a difference before trying the next.