Whether you are new to cycling or have been cycling for a while, you have probably experienced some saddle pain, or issues in your “nether regions” from long hours in the saddle. Typical issues include chaffing, sores, subcutaneous cysts, and numbness. It is a common, recurring theme among cyclists. Below is a “checklist” to help you identify the possible causes of saddle discomfort. There could be others, but these seem to be the most common.
Start with the simple adjustments first
Outdoors vs. indoors riding: many people find that riding on a trainer indoors hurts more. That is because the rider does not move around in the saddle much during an indoor session. Outdoors there are many reasons to constantly change positions on the bike, such as when drafting, climbing, descending, stopping at traffic lights, etc. Make sure you move around and stand up on the bike from time to time indoors as well.
Type of saddle: you may want to try different types of saddles. Many local bike shops have saddles that you can borrow and test for a week before buying. While you are at the store, get your sit bones measured to have an idea of your ideal saddle width to narrow down your choices. Favorite saddles among the ladies are Noseless ISM/Adamo, Infinity L2, Cobb. For those do it yourselfers, watch this video to properly measure your sit bones.
Saddle position: if you are confident that you have a good saddle, but still have issues, you might be surprised to learn that simply tilting the nose of the saddle down by a few millimeters can magically solve the problem. That was the case with me, after trying everything else! Other adjustments to the saddle are height and distance from the handle bars (too far forward or too far back). Here is a good video that explains how to position your saddle.
Regardless of saddle issues, every cyclist should get a proper bike fit at a reliable bike shop. Bike fit can be basic (typically offered free of charge when you buy a bike), or more sophisticated, such as the ones below:
Professional fit, which usually takes 1.5 hours and includes a full flexibility assessment and standing observation to determine the best position. Next the cyclist rides the bike on a trainer and the fitter makes any adjustments needed, checking the fore and aft position of the pedal/cleat interface using a level and plum bob, handlebar drop and reach and seat fore and aft.
Professional RETÜL fit, which takes about 2.5 hours and it involves the use of 3D technology to see these precise biomechanics while the cyclist is pedaling. This allows the fitter to see dynamic mechanics such as knee extension (from side view) in relation to knee wobble (from front view). With the data provided by the Retül system, the fitter can use his bike fit training and expertise to make the best decisions on adjustments to bike, cyclist and/or other equipment.
Reassess the fit periodically
Perhaps your saddle and bike were comfortable, but not anymore. Over time, with use, the saddle might slide down a little so that its height is no longer what it should be for you. This can cause saddle and other pains, such as in the neck and knees. Know the measurements if your bike and check it from time to time or after a long ride on a particularly rough terrain. You can mark your saddle height and position with black electric tape. If the tape is moving, sliding or buckling, reassess the situation.
Everything fits, but it still hurts. Now what?
Suppose you tried all of the above and it got better, but you are still having issues in the saddle area. Some other things to consider are:
Type of bib shorts/shorts: there are many, many brands. Here you might also need to try a brand or two to see what works best. Make sure the padding is smooth (no stitches), wide or narrow enough for you, and it fits snugly into your body. Wash them according to the manufacturer’s instructions and appropriate sports detergent to preserve their characteristics. Most cyclists I know prefer the Rapha and Assos brands. Good cycling gear is very expensive. However, Rapha and Assos have good year-end sales. For the best deals, buy your summer gear at the start of winter, and winter gear at the start of summer. Also, Assos has a Factory Outlet here: https://www.assosfactoryoutlet.com/ They sell last season styles, odd sizes, and excess inventory up to 50% off.
Chamois cream: this special cream is applied directly to the skin and/or to the chamois in the bib shorts/shorts. It helps avoid chaffing by creating a protective layer in the skin. Some brands are better than others and last longer than others. Examples of chamois creams are DZnuts, Mad Alchemy, Chamois Butt’r, and my all-time favorite, Assos. Watch out for chamois creams with menthol. I’m not exactly sure why some products add it, but it can cause a burning feeling in your skin if you have any abrasions down south (I know from first hand experience). Button Hole is one product that has menthol, and although some cyclists like it, I would not recommend it.
Do NOT use underwear under your cycle shorts.
Do NOT use underwear under your cycle shorts. Believe it or not, this is a common question among new cyclists and an absolute no no. The other day a gentleman showed up for a group ride with a pair of sweatpants under his cycle shorts for leg warmers. You should not do this either.
Don’t give up!
Lastly, it takes time to get used to many hours in the saddle, and there are some “growing pains” associated with that. It’s not just your legs that need to get used to riding more, it’s your “nether regions” as well! You will build resistance – and perhaps some scars – over time. So keep riding!