What's a girl to do? When you are experiencing pain in the saddle, there's generally a reason for it...and quite often it's a pretty simple solution (or combination thereof) that will help you chase the pain away and enjoy the ride. We put together a handy little list of 8 reasons your "girly bits" hurt when you ride to help you troubleshoot the problem and make some changes so you can ride in comfort.
- You aren't wearing padded bike shorts. OK, this seems like an obvious one, but we are always amazed how many women (and men, for that matter) don't wear padded bike shorts. You may not think you need them, but it will only take one ride for you to feel the difference! A "bike short" isn't merely a tight spandex-like short. A true bike short is made specifically for cycling. It's usually made out of stretchy, form-fitting, moisture-wicking fabric and fitted with an ergonomically-cut, high-density foam pad in the crotch. Don't want to show off your ASSets? Wear your bike shorts under a pair of baggy shorts or a riding skirt (just be sure to choose something with a little stretch in the fabric).
- Your bike shorts are either too big, or too small. In a nutshell, make sure your britches fit! If your shorts are too big, the short will move around and chafing can occur in some pretty delicate areas. If they are too small, they can pinch or otherwise restrict your movement. As a general rule, tighter is better, but just make sure you can move and breathe. Snug is the word, here.
- Your saddle doesn't "agree" with you. Saddles are an EXTREMELY personal thing, so thank goodness there are lots of choices out there in terms of shapes, sizes, and materials. What works for your friends may not work for you. Many bike shops have demo saddles so you can try before you buy. Take advantage of this whenever possible...new bike saddles can be spendy little units, so it's good to be sure the saddle you're investing in works for you. A women's-specific saddle may or may not be the answer for you...many women (including myself) don't use women's saddles. Conversely, there are men who ride on women's saddles. And a "squishy" saddle isn't necessarily better OR more comfortable! Squishy, super plush seats make it hard to achieve proper seat height and can also create pressure points and chafing.
- You aren't using chamois cream. Even with the softest chamois and the ultimate saddle, a LOT of heat and friction goes on "down south". This can lead to chafing and other awesome maladies like saddle sores and infections. Despite what the name implies, chamois cream isn't for your chamois...it's for your body. Applying chamois cream to your lady parts will help prevent chafing and saddle sores, keeping you much more comfortable in the long run. And much like a proper pair of bike shorts, if you haven't been using a chamois cream, you really should start. It's a game changer. Avoid creams containing parabens as this commonly-used cosmetics preservative has been known to negatively impact hormone function, leading to increased risk of breast cancer, toxicity, and skin irritation. Also avoid petroleum/petrolatum ingredients...they are horribly sticky, not so great for your skin, and will break down the foam in your chamois over time.
- You're wearing underwear. Uh oh. "Mean I'm not supposed to wear undies with my bike shorts?". Ummm...no. But that's OK if you have been; it's nothing to be ashamed of. Almost all of us had to to have "The Talk" with another rider about this. "The Talk" usually happens during a group ride when a fellow rider points it out to you when he/she sees your panty lines through your bike shorts. You can thank me for sparing you that embarrassment, especially if it's a guy who's not your BF or hubby that ends up telling you. The takeaway: bike shorts are meant to be ridden in commando.
- You need a good bike fit. A professional bike fit can do a world of good in more areas than just your nether regions. Many people who get a pro bike fit report relief from pain in other areas of their body and increased performance. Most good bike shops will have someone on hand who does bike fitting (for a fee, of course). This usually entails making an appointment, and then you'll bring your bike in along with your riding shoes and shorts. The shop will put your bike in a stationary trainer, have you hop on and pedal, and observe your body position. They will take some measurements and make recommendations about saddle height, saddle position, stem length, bar width, etc.
- You haven't had enough saddle time. As horrible as this sounds, it takes some time in the saddle to "toughen" up the tissue down there. This is especially true for your sit bones. If you are a newbie or just returning to riding, be patient and ease into it. Use the this list to help mitigate any pain issues; if you still have pain. give it a little time. Most people report having far less pain on their bikes after a few weeks of regular riding. Don't overdo it...gradually increase your mileage/saddle time and pretty soon the "newbie pains" will be a mere memory.
- You've had too much saddle time. If 25 miles is good, the doing a 100 miles is better, right? As cyclists, we're all a little addicted to suffering. It's what makes us stronger and fitter. But be realistic...if you regularly ride 20-25 miles, don't expect to pop out a century in 6 hours without feeling it. It's obviously not impossible, but just take some proper precautions to help "baby your booty". Stand up on your pedals every now and then to increase airflow and decrease pressure. Pack a little chamois cream in a small plastic jar to reapply as needed on a longer ride. Make sure you wear your most supportive bike shorts that have proven to be your most comfortable pair...a really long ride is not the time to try out a new pair of shorts.