For many recreational cyclists, the worst part about getting back on a bike is the inevitable saddle soreness. Depending on how long you've been away, it may only take a few minutes before pain in the rear starts taking the joy out of your ride. Fortunately, it will get better with time. The more you ride, regardless of physical exertion, the longer you'll be able to sit as your tissues adapt to the added stress.
A Short Order
One way to reduce saddle soreness is by wearing cycling shorts. You will notice a huge difference when you stop using shorts over cotton underwear. Cotton absorbs and holds sweat, leading to a very chafed bottom.
I recommend using bib-shorts. This style, which has built-in suspenders, usually fits better than traditional shorts and does not shift while riding. When the chamois moves, it causes friction. Friction can cause irritation, chafing and eventually saddle sores.
It's important to clean yourself right after a ride so organisms don't start to grow and multiply. Make sure your bottom and crotch are as clean as possible before a ride to help prevent organisms from growing in the first place. For long-distance rides, cyclists might consider changing shorts at various points to help cut down on possible infections and chaffing.
It's important to remember that when you stop riding your sweat starts to dry. Because it contains salt, sweat will turn into solid crystals that start to sand the skin. The longer you're on the bike, the more you will need to apply chamois crème. Reapply when you stop to help decrease friction and keep a barrier from the potential salt crystals. Most crèmes on the market work pretty well, but try a few and see what works best for you. I do not recommend Vaseline. It is hard to get out of clothes, clogs pores, and stays on the hands, which can get into your gloves and cause a big mess.
The Right Saddle for Your Ride
Research has shown that traditional saddles compress various nerves and blood vessels. Over the past few years, saddle manufactures have been trying to decrease the pressure to these areas, and many companies now sell saddles with an open channel down the center.
Riders should also pay attention to saddle size and cushioning. There is a reason other than weight that you don't see huge saddles on the pro tour. Having a large area of contact with the bike increases the potential for pressure, which in turn causes nerve and blood-vessel issues. You want your sit bones and some buttock tissue to receive most of the pressure from the seat, not the area were most of the blood vessels and nerves connected to your genitals are located. Some companies, such as MoonSaddle, have taken this idea to the next level when designing seats.
Serious amateur riders and enthusiasts who spend long hours on their bikes need a comfortable, light saddle that eliminates all numbness. This cuts down the risk of damage due to repetitive micro-trauma.
I sometimes hear or read advice telling people to lower the tip of their saddle. This may help, but it creates an entirely different health issue. This adjustment changes the biomechanics of the bike. Riders can develop knee pain or other issues, which often leads to more bike adjustments and so on and so forth. The end result is an ill-fitting bike that causes more harm than good. The saddle should remain level, allowing the rider to slide a bit back on long climbs and allow the body to utilize fresh muscle fibers.
So what saddles are best for you? Experiment before choosing one. See if you can get a loaner saddle from your local bike shop. I use two different versions of the Selle SMP, a minimalist Stratos for my racing bike and a Glider, which has a bit more padding and is wider, for my touring bike. This saddle has a huge gap in the middle of the seat as well as a curved overall shape to help eliminate the pressure of the nerves and blood vessels. Its front is bent forward for added control when climbing or descending. In addition, the back portion of the saddle has a drop-out to prevent the tailbone from hitting the seat on uneven surfaces or hard bumps.
I just finished the 1200-kilometer Paris-Brest-Paris ride without any numbness whatsoever. Selle Italia also makes a few models I think are good alternatives for riders that experience numbness. In addition, Specialized has a broad range of sizes and gender-specific saddles developed by Dr. Andy Pruitt, one of the most knowledgeable professionals in cycling on body position and injury.
The best way to deal with chafing and saddle sores is to treat your bottom like a baby's. Use Destin, Balmex or any ointment with zinc oxide. In addition, using triple antibiotic plus a pain reliever on long rides is helpful. Remember, be picky when choosing your saddles, shorts, and creams; keep that area clean and you will find your rides to be much less of a pain in the butt.
For answers to women-only cycling issues, visit Gale Bernhardt's column here.Dr. Rick Rosa, D.C., D.A.A.P.M., is a practicing chiropractor based in Maryland. He is the owner of Rosa Rehab in the Washington, D.C. area, and has worked as a team doctor for a wide variety of champion boxers and cycling teams. For more information, visit his website at www.recoverydoc.net .