Eliminate saddle sores and improve your comfort on the bike.
Saddle sores can be painful, uncomfortable, and in some cases, may even stop you from riding.
And while you’ll likely get saddle sores from time to time — this can’t be helped — you can reduce your risk of saddle sores, saddle pain, and other discomforts on the bike with a few simple tweaks.
In this blog post, we explain what saddle sores are, how to avoid them, and in the unfortunate case that you have a saddle sore, how to treat them.
What are saddle sores?
Saddle sores are small bacteria-filled pores, they’re often small in size and found in the nether regions — you know, your sensitive downstairs area... This is the main contact point with your bike, so it’s no surprise that you may run into a few issues.
The term “saddle sore” actually relates to various saddle discomforts. But one of the more common culprits is those small and painful spot-like sores where the chamois and the sit bones make contact with your saddle.
They are painful to touch, should not be popped, and in some cases, may lead to an infection if improper hygiene is not practised.
What do saddle sores look like?
So, what do they look like?
Saddle sores are usually small in size and look like small spots or ingrown hair. And in some ways, that’s exactly what they are! They can be very painful and uncomfortable, and can even stop the strongest of riders in their tracks.
How to prevent saddle sores
If you’ve ever had a saddle sore, then you know just how unpleasant they can be. They make the toughest riders squirm and can be excruciatingly painful. It’s less of the “I stubbed my toe in the night” kind of pain, and more of a dull “hold your breath kind of hurt.”
Let’s skip to the bad news: you will get a saddle sore or two at some point or another. But prevention is better than treatment. And there are many habits you can adopt to reduce your risk of saddle sores and other pain. That means more riding, less pain, and no complaints.
So what can you do to best prevent saddle sores?
More on each prevention method below.
Apply chamois cream
If you find yourself getting saddle sores or chafe regularly, then you might want to try chamois cream. These creams, such as the Styrkr Anti Friction Chamois cream, contain antimicrobial and antibacterial properties to keep your skin clean and fresh when riding.
This helps prevent the build-up of bacteria, and the soothing products provide additional pain relief. It also has a layer of lubrication to prevent chafing and direct contact with the saddle and your clothing.
Some riders do not apply chamois cream — but it’s a good idea to apply a little when cycling in the heat, or when you plan on being in the saddle for several hours at once.
When using chamois cream, apply a small amount to your chamois. A lot of riders overdo it and smear it all over — you don’t need quite as much as you think!
Wear proper kit when cycling
This may seem obvious, but if you’re not wearing the correct kit — at the very least, a pair of proper cycling shorts — then you’re more at risk of pain, discomfort, chafing, and saddle sores
But not all cycling kits are made equal. It needs to fit well; otherwise, you’ll encounter a host of other issues. For example, if your bib shorts are too loose, they’ll rub, chafe, and be painful. The same goes for if they are too tight.
Our advice: try a mix of brands and find one that works well for you. There is no one size fits all solution, but a little shopping around should do the trick. And once you find a brand that works for you, double down on it!
Always wash your shorts after every ride
Wash your bib shorts after every ride — no exceptions.
Your shorts/tights are worn next to the skin, like underwear. If you don’t wash them after each ride, bacteria builds up. If you wear these a few days later, for example, then you’re at greater risk of saddle sores and infection.
Plus, who wants to wear shorts smeared in three-day-old chamois cream? It’s a hard no for me.
You also want to change out of your kit — shorts included — as soon as possible after your ride. Don’t sit around in your sweat and bacteria-filled shorts, you’re not doing your nether regions, or your skin, any favours.
Shower straight after riding, wash off any chamois cream, and put your bib shorts in the wash. If you can, it’s a good idea to have a few pairs of shorts in rotation. That way, you can resist the urge to wear the same pair again. And yes, even if it was just a quick 45-minute spin, it’s still not a good idea!
Avoid hair removal
Cyclists are known to wax and shave — whether they’re trying to save a few extra watts, or want to make a statement that they mean business. Although, whatever the reason, shaving and waxing could be working against you…
Back in 2012, a small team was put together to solve women’s saddle pain in the lead-up to the Summer Olympics. Chronic saddle pain, discomfort, and sores were big issues for the women’s team. For example, Victoria Pendleton struggled to find the right saddle, and had a bespoke model made to help reduce pain.
In an article, the advice to women from a panel of experts, including Phil Burt, expert bike fitter and physiotherapist for British Cycling, was to stop shaving, waxing, and removing hair. Pubic hair helps transport and evaporate sweat — it also protects against friction, reducing direct contact between clothing and skin.
Removing pubic hair damages the skin and increases the risk of ingrown hairs and hair follicle infections. That also means less razor burn, infected follicles, and other issues you might encounter. The women were also given Doublebase gel, an OTC moisturiser that can also be used as a light lubricant, applied to tender spots before riding.
To sum up: avoid hair removal and instead trim, rather than shave or wax.
Check your saddle (and saddle alignment)
If your saddle does not suit your unique anatomy and riding style, no matter what you change, you’ll continue to experience saddle pain, discomfort, and sores.
A poorly fitted saddle increases pressure to the wrong areas — something we want to avoid, if at all possible.
In the same study from before, that investigated saddle pain and saddle sores in the Olympic women’s team, another suggestion was made: increasing saddle tilt to nine degrees (from the previous legal limit of 2.5 degrees). Increasing the tilt improved rider health and reduced pressure.
As a general rule of thumb: If you’re a more aggressive rider, you’ll likely want a saddle (or a saddle tilt) that shifts pressure to the front, and if you’re a more endurance-based rider (an upright position), you’ll want pressure towards the back to suit a more upright position on the bike.
But don’t be afraid to switch up your saddle position to best suit your anatomy. A slight tilt may drastically improve comfort and reduce pressure, so play around with it! Also, check your saddle is straight and not wonky — this can cause poor alignment and rubbing.
And, if after trying all of the above advice, you’re still suffering from saddle pain and saddle sores, it might be worth experimenting with a few new saddles to see if that fixes the problem!
Saddle choice is highly individual, so don’t be afraid to try something new!
If problems persist, consider investing in a professional bike fit to eliminate saddle soreness, and any other pain that you’re experiencing on the bike.
How to treat saddle sores
There’s no doubt about it, you’ll likely get a saddle sore or two at one point or another. And they suck! But if you find yourself suffering, there are a few things you can do to treat saddle sores:
Practise excellent hygiene
Not only is excellent hygiene essential to avoid saddle sores, but it’s necessary to treat them. Shower daily, especially after exercise, to prevent further discomfort, and irritation. And let’s not forget infection.
Also, avoid the urge to pop or burst any saddle sores. This will be very painful! Instead, let your body take care of it. It’s what it does best!
Apply an antibacterial cream to the affected area
As part of your hygiene routine, it’s a good idea to apply an antibacterial cream to the affected area. An antibacterial cream such as Sudocrem (also used to treat nappy rash) works well — apply a light coating to help reduce your risk of infection.
You can also apply this cream to road rash, so it’s good to have on hand!
Take 1-2 days off the bike (if needed)
If the worst comes to worst and your saddle sores are so bad it hurts to sit in the saddle, then take 1-2 days off the bike.
When resting, follow the above treatment tips to speed up your recovery (and to prevent infection).
When should you see a doctor?
If your saddle sores keep coming back and are very painful, you might want to visit a doctor or a dermatologist for expert advice based on your skin type (e.g. sensitive skin vs. dry skin). This can help nip the problem in the bud for good — so if that’s you, it could be the solution you’ve been searching for.
And if your saddle sores become infected (yellow pus, excruciating pain), or you’ve had them for weeks, you should visit a doctor for advice. But for most cyclists, at-home remedies will treat most saddle sores.
To summarise: prevention is better than treatment
Prevention is better than treatment, but at some point or another, you’ll get a saddle sore or two. But you can prevent saddle sores — to some extent — by practising proper hygiene and making a few tweaks to your set-up (saddle choice and tilt, clothing, and so on).
And, as previously mentioned, we recommend applying an antimicrobial chamois cream before riding (if you’re prone to saddle sores), especially before a long day in the saddle.
Can I still ride with a saddle sore?
Yes, you can ride with a saddle sore unless it is so painful that you physically can’t ride. In this case, take 1-2 days off the bike and rest up.
Is Sudocrem good for saddle sores?
Sudocrem is antibacterial and may reduce your risk of infection and will reduce pain. Apply after washing the affected area to keep it clean.
Can you use Vaseline for saddle sores?
Vaseline is better suited to prevent saddle sores (like chamois cream) rather than to treat them. An antibacterial cream such as Sudocrem is a better option for treating saddle sores.
Should you squeeze a saddle sore?