Whether you’re new to cycling or a seasoned pro, you sometimes pay for that time on the seat. Painful red bumps, sometimes referred to as “saddle sores,” can develop on your thighs and groin area. They may seem like a natural part of riding a bike, especially when you travel longer distances. However, there are ways to prevent them.
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First, it’s important to understand the root causes. It’s easy to assume that friction from your bike’s seat is the problem. But this is a slight misconception, says Michael Schaefer, MD, Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Musculoskeletal Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
He says that the roots of the problem are threefold:
“These are different kinds of sores. Sometimes, they are deeper, under the skin like infected hair follicles, clogged pores or deeper abscesses,” he says. “But all of them can have the same root causes, and that’s what guides prevention.”
You don’t have to ride for long to get saddle sores. Even if you’re just starting out with short trips, they can appear — especially if you don’t have the right bike setup.
Dr. Schaefer offers five tips to help prevent cycling saddle sores and make your bike rides more comfortable.
1. Choose a bike seat that fits
Finding a well-fitting bike seat is the first step to keeping saddle sores at bay.
Bike saddles have different shapes and contours to accommodate how different cyclists ride and sit on their bikes. Your local bike shop can help you determine which seat will work best for you, Dr. Schaefer says.
2. Dress properly
Managing moisture and germs in the saddle area is very important. This helps keep pores clear and clean and helps avoid infection.
Make sure you wear clean bike shorts each time you ride and remove them immediately after cycling. Wearing well-ventilated, breathable shorts and undergarments after biking allows the area to dry out thoroughly as well.
3. Adjust your bike seat to help distribute your weight
Because pressure is also one of the culprits behind saddle sores, make sure you adjust your bike seat to fit the way you ride.
The saddle can move forward, backward and tilt, so take time to figure out what works best for you.
“There is a common misconception that you get saddle sores from not having enough padding on the saddle,” Dr. Schaefer says. “But more padding isn’t usually the answer. It’s the way you distribute the pressure through the whole body.”
Make sure about a third of your weight is on the saddle, another third is on your hands and the rest of your weight is on your feet, he says.
4. Invest in good gear
If you are a recreational cyclist, investing in the right gear can help reduce saddle sores.
A simple fix is to purchase a good pair of bike shorts with a built-in pad known as a chamois, Dr. Schaefer says.
5. Change positions frequently during your ride
Dr. Schaefer recommends standing up while riding to take a break from the saddle. If you are particularly prone to saddle sores, standing up as often as once every two minutes is a good idea, he says.
Managing saddle sores over the long haul
Over time, you should develop calluses in the saddle area, which is actually a good thing. It will enable you to ride longer and more comfortably without saddle sores, Dr. Schaefer says.
When you do get them, however, it’s best to take a break from your bike to give them time to heal. If you catch them early, they typically go away after a few days off the bike, but deeper sores may take few weeks, he says.
See your doctor if you notice that they return frequently; last more than two weeks; or if you have pain that dramatically increases, fever and red streaks at the site. These are all signs of a possible infection.