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.
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.
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.
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.