In a survey of RBR readers, saddle discomfort and saddle sores were the most frequent physical problem while riding. In another study of amateur endurance cyclists more than 60% reported butt pain and of these cyclists about 50% had to alter the riders riding style or temporarily stop riding.
Saddle problems are of two different types:
1. Discomfort as a result of pressure on the sitz bones. Of these cyclists with butt pain about 70% of the discomfort was due to pressure on the tissue on the sits bones. The over time the pressure could result in a sore similar to a bed sore.
2. The other 30% had irritation due to shear and friction in the crotch.
What Can You Do To Avoid Problems?
1. Get a bike fit. Riding around Boulder, CO I see riders sitting too upright so most of their weight is on the saddle. About 30% of your weight should be on the handlebar and 70% on the saddle.
On my website you can read about bike fitting at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine.
2. Choose the right saddle. Butts are like faces — very individual. Ask 10 roadies which saddle is best and you’ll probably get 10 different recommendations; none of which may be correct for you. Your saddle should be the right width for your butt so that your weight is borne by the sits bones not the soft tissue around them. If your saddle is too narrow your weight won’t be properly distributed. If it’s too wide it results in friction in the crotch. Specialized makes a tool to measure the width of your sits bones. Check to see if your local bike shop has one. Some roadies choose very light hard saddles to save weight. If a saddle is uncomfortable the rider won’t train as much and the loss of fitness will greater than the benefit of the light saddle.
What Can You Do To Avoid Pain On Sits Bones?
3. Ride butt miles. The more you ride the tougher your skin gets. This is one of the benefits of logging those endurance kilometers in the spring. When I started riding in the 70s the advice was to log at least 1000 kilometers on my fixed gear before switching to a bike with gears. Those early kilometers toughened my butt, the climbing build stronger legs and the fixie improved my spin. Sports science has progressed over the last 40 years and we no longer recommend riding a fixie; however, riding plenty of base miles is still important.
For more information see my column Is It Necessary to Build an Aerobic Base?
4. Develop leg strength. Ideally instead of sitting on the saddle you balance on it with most of your body weight borne by your legs. This is another benefit of strength training in the winter. If you didn’t do strength training last winter don’t add it to your training regimen now! You might develop in injury called spring knee, which is due to too much overload on the knee.
For more information see my column The Coach Injures Himself! How to Avoid Spring Knee.
5. Practice standing. Pressure on the sits bones reduces blood flow dramatically, which is what causes injury. Whether you have legs of steel or not standing for 30 – 60 seconds every 10 – 15 minutes relieves the pressure on the sits bones and allows normal blood flow.
6. Use padding judiciously. A padded saddle may seem like the obvious solution. Too much padding reduces the stability of your buttocks on the seat. This may result in more rocking side-to-side, which causes shear in the crotch. The shear and resulting friction may cause irritation in the crotch.
What Can You Do To Avoid Problems In The Crotch.
7. Set your saddle at the right height. This is another reason to get a bike fit. If your saddle is too high you’ll rock side-to-side increasing the shear force and friction on your crotch. You should be able to pedal with your heels on the pedals without your hips rocking. Tuck in your jersey so that the top of your shorts is visible. Ask a buddy to ride behind you to see if the top of your shorts is moving up and down. If the shorts line isn’t stable your saddle may be too high. Also ask your buddy to see if one side of your shorts drops noticeable. This probably means you have a leg length difference. If you suspect your saddle height is incorrect get a bike fit.
8. Try a saddle with a cutout. A cutout redistributes pressure in the crotch and may relieve pain.
9. Get the right shorts. Because butts are individual different shorts work for different riders. Invest in good quality shorts that will fit better and last longer. Beware of shorts that have extra padding.
10. Use the right lube. Different cyclists swear by different lubes. I follow the advice of my cycling friend Bernie who is also a dermatologist. He recommends either pure petroleum jelly or CeraVe. I prefer petroleum jelly because it’s inexpensive.
I hope these 10 tips help you have a great summer of riding.
My eArticle Butt, Hands and Feet describes in detail how to prevent and how to treat pain in these pressure points. The 12-page article is $4.99.
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.
My wife is an Oncology certified RN. Years ago she recommended using a product called BAG BALM as a riding lube. They use the product with chemo patients to sooth the skin around their ports. BAG BALM comes in a bright green can with a cow’s head on the lid. Originally developed in 1899 in Vermont to treat dry, chapped, irritated skin it is made with lanolin and petrolatum I have been using it for years with excellent results regardless of ride length. It can usually be found in most drug stores (Walgreen’s, CVS, etc.).
Doug Kirk says
Bag Balm is great stuff. Highly recommended. Also it come in two sizes and the smaller one if ideal to take on long rides
As a relatively new rider I found this article both timely and helpful. I recently read on PEARL iZUMi’s website (https://blog.pearlizumi.com/chamois-school-301/) the following: “Bottom line, don’t use chamois cream on a PEARL iZUMi chamois” (their emphasis). That’s contradicts everything else I’ve been told. Thoughts?
Jim Langley says
Don, I followed your link and read what PI is saying and it sounds to me like their main point is that when you use creams on THEIR chamois, it results in THEIR chamois becoming moist/wet which they say can lead to chafing and rashes. They point out that their chamois is a special material not designed or intended to be lubricated with creams. So, if you’re riding in PI shorts with their chamois designed not for lubes, you should follow their advice and see how it goes. But, what they’re saying is for their shorts, not all cycling shorts. Hope this helps,
Thanks Jim. That’s how I was reading it too.
Charles Beck, DO, FAAO says
I developed my own method for fitting bike years ago and learned quickly that the angle of the saddle (nose up or down) plays a vital role in actually staying on the saddle (and not sliding around, which leads to chaffing). Saddle height plays a significant role in breathing! Saddle nose alignment to the bike frame is also vital. A difference of one degree left or right from the riders midline (not necessarily the bikes) causes a significant weight shift (and will affect turning radius).
Cool article. Thanks for sharing.
Matt K says
I used chamois creams for years, Bag Balm and diaper rash cream and plain petroleum jelly. But i still got rashes and saddle sores occasionally. So i quit all creams and have had zero problems since. For me the creams increased friction because the chamois would slide on my skin instead of staying in one place. And they clog up skin pores and fabric making fir better breeding of bacteria. Try using nothing.
Eric J Pedersen says
Odd. When I was finally able to find Pearl Izumi’s blog (link above did not work) at their official website,
I read this:
“Should you need a little extra relief, our advice is to apply chamois cream directly to your body and only in the creases, not slathered on the surface of the pad.”
I found during a recent ride when I went cream-free for a change, the synthetic PI “chamois” stuck to my skin, which was uncomfortable. I’ll continue to use butt cream.
Bob Krzewinski says
Rob, you blaspheme, LOL.
I kid, I have a few recumbents, and a road bike.
Put many miles on my Aero, and climbed a few passes.
tony m says
I’ll reiterate the importance of saddle width. I’ve been riding Prologo saddles for 10+ years and have them on all my road bikes. Late last year, one of them broke and needed to be replaced. I figured I would get fancy and try to measure my sit bones to buy the proper width saddle (prior to that, I didn’t even realize Prologo offered different widths). It looked like I was around 140mm, so I bought a 141 saddle. It was a little different design, with a slight channel in the middle (all of my other saddles are standard). I could never get comfortable and figured it was the channel. But when I looked at my other saddles, they were all 134mm and all felt fine. I’m back on 134 now and all is well. I did buy a saddle with no channel, but I’m convinced the width was the issue.
A bike fit which provided a “proper” width saddle, and from there I also moved to Selle SMP saddles (ones with padding) and found their sculpting to help tremendously on long rides by allowing me to shift pressure points slightly. I ride with PI shorts and do use a homemade cream;:coconut oil mixed with Tea Tree oil or another astringent to minimize any “meanies” down there. Never had a problem with the chamois pads. Sweaty? Yeah, that happens but their shorts also tend to aerate to a degree so I’ve never had a water or sweat logged chamois even on century rides. Damp, yeah.
Bag Balm is funny though. I used to ride at times with a group known as the “Bag Balmers”. Their jerseys front and back, were exact replicas of the Bag Balm can top. I took it to mean they all used Bag Balm as their chamois cream. I went out and bought a can. Viscous, sticky and stinky with sulfur which is the medicated part., Yuck, but hey “they” use it. So I pasted it on… like I said, sticky.
“Whoa, what is that smell?” “Smells like Bag Balm!” “Man, are you using it as a chamois cream?” “No, no dude. We only use it when we get a serious chafe or saddle sores.” So, I made my first “pot” of the Coconut Oil mix. I’ve still got my tin though and use it when chafed. Your “crew” must be more forgiving!
I’d be cautious with Bag Balm. This stuff was pushed a lot a few years back & I tried it. It’s great for chapped hands. But, it’s greasy & I found it very hard to was off my skin & very difficult to wash out of modern fabric/foam type chamois. Gummed it up.
John Lynn says
Here is one remedy for pain on your sit bones: get an Infinity saddle, which has the entire interior of the saddle cut out. Your weight is on your butt’s surrounding tissue (i.e. fat), with virtually no pressure on your sit bones. For people like me with an inflamed bursa on one of their sit bones, it is nothing short of a miracle. While this handmade saddle (designed by a chiropractor) is relatively expensive at about $300, believe me, it works. One thing to note with this saddle: you should use bike shorts with minimal or no padding, such as those used by triathletes. Thicker padding on typical bike shorts causes chafing and is not recommended.
Will Haltiwanger says
I try to avoid products with petrolatum. See quote below. Instead I use pure lanolin for pressure points.
“petrolatum can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Studies suggest that exposure to PAHs — including skin contact over extended periods of time — is associated with cancer. On this basis, the European Union classifies petrolatum a carcinogen and restricts its use in cosmetics. PAHs in petrolatum can also cause skin irritation and allergies.”
Steve McDermott says
I ride 150-200 miles a week 12 months a year (I live in Arizona). I use store brand Creamy Diaper Rash Ointment. You can get it at the grocery store, in the baby diaper department, for less than $3 for a 4 ounce tube and a tube lasts a long time. Just put in the areas where you experience redness. You only need a small amount and I’ve never had an issue with skin irritation in my crotch.
Greg Titus says
Chris Horner recently put up an informative and entertaining YouTube video about having a pain-free saddle experience:
It may be a nice alternative to what anyone out there is doing (or not doing) now. I’m now using his recommendation for the Noxema product and so far, so good.