Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Riding with saddle sores - What's the solution?

Over the just past Labor Day weekend, Sam and I had an extra long set of days together because he had a couple of days off at the end of the week leading up to the holiday. This allowed for a lovely five-day weekend -- a luxury we rarely experience. But what to do with this time? There are always projects around the house that need to be done, but instead we decided to try for a ride-every-day-together extended weekend.
On Wednesday, the day just prior to the start of our intended riding festivities, I ventured out alone on my newer road bike to give it another test (looking forward to writing about this soon after having a few decent tests now completed). All went well on that ride and I ran into a friend near the end, which made for a fun cycling finish. I'm breaking in a new saddle on this bike, however, and that's always a bit of a concern as I tend to end up with saddle sores during the initial couple hundred miles on new leather.

Thursday, we decided to ride the tandem -- the new one, that isn't really so new any longer (again, there's a post in the works to discuss this bike that we've had in our possession for several months now), so we didn't take it too far. Still, it was great to be out together at the start of our long weekend of riding together.
Unfortunately for me, there is also a new leather saddle on this bike that needs to be broke in, so once again, the saddle sores were becoming quite apparent, despite keeping the mileage on the low side.

Undeterred, I was personally determined to keep riding through our long weekend. When Friday morning rolled around, Sam suggested that we take our mountain bikes out and give them a shake out ride. Sam had bought me a frame and we'd recently finished building it up so I was anxious to do more than a couple of miles around the neighborhood. I assumed that a mountain bike ride would be shorter (silly me!), so I wasn't particularly concerned about the fact that this new-to-me bike has yet another new leather saddle on it that needs break-in miles.
What I had guessed would be a 10 to-no-more-than-15 mile ride turned into about 30 (which is a long mtb ride for me personally!), and the saddle sores that had started to develop were now in full-force. I winced every time I was on the saddle for the last 10 or so miles of that ride. Although I enjoyed the ride, being together, and the bike, my soft parts were not at all pleased with me.

On Saturday, I was not looking forward to getting on any bike and having to sit on a saddle, but I really wanted to keep riding. We ended up on a tandem that day and I did my best to enjoy the ride, despite being in pain throughout our time riding.
Sunday morning, we both got dressed and intended to do a longer-mileage ride on the tandem. After getting out to the bike though, I knew that I was in trouble. Not only were the saddle sores completely inflamed, but my hip and pelvis issues had started up (I presume due to constantly shifting my body while riding to keep from rubbing the saddle) and I knew deep down that there was no way I was going to make it through a long ride.

We debated completing a short ride, but I feared that if I didn't give my body the rest it was asking for, I wouldn't be able to do a longer ride the day following, so Sam ended up going for a ride on his own and we planned to do a longer mileage day on Monday.

My regular routine when riding anything other than short distances or around town is to use some kind of cream or glide on my chamois to prevent the saddle sores from ever starting. However, in this particular scenario, there was no escaping the reality that I need to break in a few new saddles and I know that is quite often a trigger for me to develop saddle sores (thankfully, it's a rarity for me to have need to break in a new saddle - I just happen to be in the midst of breaking in three at once right now). Usually, I'd just stick to short distances until the saddle has conformed a bit, but because of our goal to keep riding, it just didn't work well in this instance. Since the glide did nothing to prevent the problem, it then became a situation of dealing with and healing what had developed.

On Monday when we headed out, I went through my usual application to the chamois, but also added A+D directly to the affected areas (I've read that Bag Balm works well and had ordered some, but it wouldn't arrive in time to work for this situation). I think having the day off in between was definitely beneficial, but obviously the sores were still present and easily-agitated.

I was shocked that after completing a 50+ mile ride with a fair amount of climbing, I had actually been able to survive and was in very little pain. Granted, it wasn't the longest ride by any means, but it was significant enough that I was surprised that the sore spots were relatively okay.
In reality, I know the best means of dealing with saddle sores is prevention. If I never have to find a solution in the first place, that would be ideal, but saddle sores are going to happen from time to time and it got me thinking about what the best methods are for dealing with the issue once those little buggers are present.

It seems as though (for me) the best method to get them to heal up is to obsessively bathe and to stay off the bike, but since that isn't always possible, I started wondering what others do, particularly those who have to be on a bike for long distance rides -- whether brevet, touring, or endurance racing?

I've read a variety of solutions such as using Vaseline on the affected area, Bag Balm, wearing double sets of padded cycling shorts (layer closest to the skin worn inside out to prevent additional chaffing issues), bandaging the area (again to keep the sores from rubbing/creating friction - though I'm still not sure this is entirely practical, particularly for females), and obviously, keeping the area clean (including the shorts being worn) is important.

The A+D combined with chamois glide seemed to do pretty well for me, but I'm curious if there are other methods that work well. What solutions have you used to help speed up the process of healing saddle sores and/or have you found a solution that allows you to keep riding with these spots when staying off the bike isn't an option?

Ultimately, Sam and I enjoyed a fun, long weekend of riding together, but in the event we're ever blessed with this amount of time to ride together again, or if I'm riding alone and develop problems, I'd love to be prepared if saddle sores make their way into riding plans.  So, please do share if you've had success with a product or method for keeping the pain out of saddle sores.


  1. Sorry to hear of your recent bout with saddle sores... they are tough! I have not had to deal with these much, but lately when I have felt like I'm developing a raw spot I use zinc oxide, such as Desitin cream, when I'm first starting the ride. In your case, you might have benefitted from using second skin, too, since it sounds like yours had really come on. Some randonneurs also like to use Lantiseptic. That is a very thick cream that can be helpful when dealing with saddle sores, but it is so thick it can be difficult to work with. Also, don't discount having the right chamois/shorts combo. I switched to Boure this year and have been very happy with them on long rides. Good luck figuring it all out.

    1. MG, thank you for this info! I don't generally have lots of problems with saddle sores, but this little bout has made me think I need to be prepared. :) The chamois/short combo may have been partially to blame for the initial kick-off into this round too (I was commenting to Sam that the shorts were on the big side (which is a rarity for me) and they were sliding around a bit more than I'd prefer - so, your suggestion to make sure it's the right combination and fit does not fall on deaf ears (or blind eyes, I suppose).

      Thanks again! All great suggestions.

  2. Oh and when I suggest the second skin, you would use that by itself and not in combination with Desitin on the trouble spot.

  3. I wish I could be a source of saddle wisdom for you, but (butt!) I too have suffered with the same discomfort, and only time away from the bike has worked magic. I've never been able to tolerate padded shorts (too sweaty) as it is, for better or worse. It sounds though, that once your 3 saddles are broken in, all will be well again.

    1. Agreed. I'll be happy when the saddles are broke in (or I can switch them out for used saddles, which would be ideal). :)

  4. I’m so glad you raised this subject. I have had absolutely no luck with dealing with a sore once it develops. As others have said, keeping it clean (I use tea tree oil) + time off the bike seems to be the only solution. What does work for me is stopping them before they start. For that, I do two things. First, before the ride, I make sure I have the right shorts and use chamois cream. Second, after the ride, I get out of my sweaty shorts immediately and take a shower. If I feel like one might be coming on, I use the tea tree oil preemptively. Oh, and I never wear regular brief-style underwear on a bike, even for short rides, like my commute to work. I seem particularly prone to sores right along the elastic line, so I wear boxer briefs pretty much all the time now.

    Well, that may have been TMI! But (or Butt, as Annie says), you raised the subject. 😀

    1. Yes... I'd much prefer to never get them at all. It's interesting to read about the different methods people use to either avoid or deal with them after they arrive.

      If I come up with some sort of magical concoction for relief, I'll be sure to share with all. :)

    2. Oh, I should have thought of this before. The best solution I’ve found for riding while I have a saddle sore is to switch to the recumbent. I can keep putting on as many miles as I want with no worries because the contact points with the bike are completely different.

    3. Another excellent point. Sometimes just changing the position with a bike change can make a world of difference!


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