14 ways to avoid and treat saddle sores from bicycling

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Warmer weather and longer bike rides are right around the corner for many of us, which means sore, blistered butts are also around the next bend.

It’s easier to get an idea how to avoid saddle sores when you understand what causes them. Basically it all starts with logging miles.

Three stages

Even for cyclists who distribute their weight between the handlebars, pedals and saddle, there’s a good deal of friction between the butt and the bicycle seat that irritates the skin. This is bad enough, and you’ll want to start treatment right now.

Next, bacteria (staphylococcus) works its way into the damaged hair follicles down there and folliculitis forms. That’s something that feels like acne on your butt. You really don’t want that.

Finally, abscesses can form. These hot, pus-filled bumps mean your bike trip is over, because you’re heading to the doctor for antibiotics.


How to avoid these conditions:

1. Keep it clean down below. Bicycle touring and camping is not conducive to cleanliness, especially in areas that are out of sight. Wash up in service stations during the day or behind a tree at night.

2. Reduce the friction by not having the seat so high that you rock back and forth when you pedal.

3. Good cycling shorts. You want chamois against your skin; no underwear or anything else that can cause friction.

4. Take off those cycling shorts when you’re done. Your butt is a living, breathing petri dish after a ride; get out of those shorts and get cleaned up.

5. A clean pair of shorts everyday.

6. Apply Vaseline on the part of your shorts and your butt where you think you’ll develop saddle sores or where expect rubbing to occur. There are other fancy products out there, but Vaseline works and is available anywhere.

7.  If redness or irritation begins, call in the Bag Balm. This lanolin product was developed for overworked cow teats and is available in most pharmacies, and feed stores. It comes in a small metal tin, and it’s cheap. Make sure you clean up the irritated area, then slap some of this on in the evening, topped with Vaseline.

8. Consider smearing some antibiotic ointment on the area to stop infection. Cleanliness is best.

Personal note

Before getting into some other suggestions I’ve heard, let me share my stupid mistake but excellent recovery from the Seattle to Portland in 2003, when I bicycled down in one day and back to Seattle in two.

I made the incredibly bone-headed error of using a new pair of cycling shorts for the 200-mile leg. When I peeled them off in Portland, I had a painful welt on each cheek where the stitching in the chamois had just about rubbed me raw.

I applied a 1% hydrocortisone creme and Bag Balm after my shower. Reapplying the Bag Balm in the morning, I was good to go for the two-day ride back to Seattle.

Other suggestions

9. Hydrocortisone creme. This might speed the recovery process, but I’ve read it doesn’t work for everyone. Over the counter is usually 1% strength. Follow directions.

10. If you start out clean and apply Vaseline everyday, you can get away without putting on clean shorts daily, I’ve read. I wouldn’t want to test this myself.

11. Use baby wipes to clean up. This is another one that may work for some, but not others. Some people react to the alcohol in the wipes and the alcohol can dry out the skin. However, there are wipes that use aloe vera.

12. Wear two pairs of cycling shorts and switch the second day. I would think this would feel like riding with a diaper, but I’ve read where one long-distance rider suggests it.

13. Diaper rash ointment. I’ve seen this stuff clear up some pretty nasty business on a baby’s behind, you’d think it would work on adults too. I believe A&D Ointment was the cream of choice around here.

14. Experiment with other products. In addition to basic Vaseline and Bag Balm, there are other biker-targeted products out there. Some of these include Assos Chamois Creme (which is said to prevent fungal and bacterial infections) and Chamois Buttr.

Another personal note

When bicycling cross-country in 1984, we ran into an older couple who were finishing up their TransAmerica ride. In conversing with the couple, we learned they were just starting in the middle of the Appalachians after pedaling about 3,000 miles the previous year.

They had interrupted their trip when the husband developed saddle sores that digressed into abscesses because he didn’t probably care for them. He ended up in a hospital emergency room; end of cross-country adventure.

Don’t let that happen to you. Keep yourself clean and lubricated down below, and if sores or folliculitis develop, treat it immediately.

See also Road Bike Rider.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.bikingbis.com/2012/07/24/14-ways-to-avoid-and-treat-saddle-sores-from-bicycling/


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  1. Carry on the excellent blogging! Much appreciated..

    • Chris on July 11, 2012 at 11:29 am
    • Reply

    My doctor, who is also a triathlete, suggested I use benzoyle peroxide (acne medicine). I purchased a very large tube of the 5% bp cream, placed it on a large, waterproof bandaid and put it on my sore. It was just about gone after 2 days. Make sure you wash the area each night, dry it completely, then apply the cream and bandage. Keep it bandaged overnight and repeat the process in the morning until the sore goes away. Good luck.

  2. -Ditto on the acne cream, I use it preventively after long rides/touring as one of my thighs is larger than the other and always rubs. It can bleach your clothing, so be cautious.
    -I usually mix about 25% Bag Balm with Buttr for touring.
    -Burt’s Bees Diaper Ointment for after the 100+ degree or wet touring days, no matter what.
    -If you’re prone to getting abscesses, getting an antibiotic before leaving for a long tour relieve alot of headaches in case it starts to form (esp if traveling out of the country…)

  3. Have you tried 2Toms ButtShield. It works wonders to prevent saddle sores.

  4. Always wear clean shorts for each ride. If you seem susceptible to saddle sores, you may find it helpful to wash your crotch with antibacterial soap and warm water before lubing up. Dry your skin well first.

  5. Nice guide on how to how to prevent cycling saddle sores. I’m not sure I could go for the 2 pairs of shorts options- that just seems like someone who’s using poor quality shorts with a mediocre chamois.

    There’s nothing like riding in a pair of assos shorts with their mille pad for comfort.

    Nice post

  6. Thanks for this.
    I found this by googling “Staphylococcus bicycle”.
    In India right now and had to stop for a few days to cure a huge staphylococcus acne on my butt. It’s not the first time. I had two boils (furuncles) cut out already from my butt. Staphylococcus attacks me whenever I am exhuasted, which happens quite often considering I am cycling the world…
    I wrote down the names of some products from your post. As for chamois cream in Australia I bought the “OZ butt cream – for comfort down under” haha. It does help. If you have any more tips for me to get rid of the problem or treat it quicker I am open for suggestions. Please let me know by email.

    • Damon on June 6, 2016 at 11:28 pm
    • Reply

    I find bruising is the biggest problem, plus I get whacked on my gooch(I’m a dude, it hurts.)
    I’m a bit of a hippy, into my natural remedies and all that. Gave cycle sore a try and it helped. Not sure how good it is on staph, probably not very. But it helped with the bruising. I got it from cyclesore.com.
    Hope this helps

    • Ryn Jones on August 1, 2018 at 7:33 pm
    • Reply

    Wow great info! Thank you very much. I got this symptom from 1 3 km rain ride after a full day of work outside in 30 degree heat. Didn’t help that I stayed in wet underwear once home and then transitioned to bathing suit. Bath suits suck for healing this. Vaseline and frontal star fish to the rescue… hopefully! TMI I know :)

    • Mark on August 16, 2018 at 3:20 pm
    • Reply

    Try some chamois creams. They definitely help.

    • Alexandra on August 22, 2018 at 6:14 am
    • Reply

    Did you buy the Original Bag Balm, or the First Aid?

    • Fantuz on April 25, 2019 at 1:23 pm
    • Reply

    Eating fruit, starches, grains and sugars will exacerbate the soreness because of inflammation. With a high animal fat diet I don’t suffer anything near what I used to. Big difference for me.

    • Miki on June 22, 2019 at 5:50 pm
    • Reply

    When my sons were babies and had diaper rash I would use a blow dryer (not too hot) and it healed their red bottoms very quickly. I now do the same for my irritated tush after long rides and it definitely helps!

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