As seen in The Racing Post – Oct 2016
It is said that the number one point of comfort on the bike is between the butt and the saddle. There are hundreds if not thousands of different saddles and cycling shorts out there. Their design, shape, padding or lack thereof all play a part in the comfort on the bike. These characteristics may or may not be a solution to a problem that many cyclist face at one time or another – saddle sores. It is easy to blame the saddle first since it really is the point of contact. However, the saddle and shorts may or may not be a contributor to the problem of saddle sores. I would characterize saddles sores are the result from either pressure, friction or both. A pressure sore results when there is a notable amount of pressure on tissue for an extended period of time. Saddle pressure can be measured whereas friction – to my knowledge – cannot be measured.
Saddle sores may be the result of one or more factors. I find the number one cause of saddle sores is a functional or skeletal leg length discrepancy – LLD. A functional LLD is more common than a skeletal discrepancy. A functional discrepancy is when one leg presents shorter than the other but is not caused by a bone length difference. This may be introduced in a variety of ways unrelated to the bike equipment itself including but not limited to pelvic alignment, scoliosis, bilateral strength differences and the flexibility and range of motion of the back, hip, knee and foot. Bike equipment itself may also be a factor in producing a functional LLD including cleat position, shoe sizing, bent or broken saddles to name a few.
In addition to LLD, there are other factors that can play into saddle sores including the saddle design, bar drop and reach, hygiene, riding environment, your weight, cycling shorts as well as many more. The saddle you are on may just be the wrong design, shape or width for you. For most, hygiene is not a problem. With that said, after the ride is over take your cycling shorts off, clean up a bit down there and put some street clothes on. Your nether region will thank you. The environment also plays a factor. Do you only get saddle sores when you ride a trainer? In the summer? I was recently working with a client and we were able to get him into an awesome position on the bike. He was performing well until he hit his trainer. His trainer environment did not provide a level platform which cause him to lean a little bit to one side resulting in – you guessed it – a saddle sore. The environment created a functional LLD. As my weight has changed, so has my saddle requirements. No longer can I ride a narrow superflow saddle like I was once able to do. Within my fit studio, I have had the opportunity to run tests where we have isolated the changes to the cycling shorts. I found 30+% difference in pressures solely related to cycling shorts. Some brands just work better for some riders. Clothing size also plays a part. Cycling shorts that are too loose or too tight can affect pressure and friction.
When tackling a saddle sore problem, we have to physically review and measure objectively what is going on both on and off the bike. If you have not had a saddle sore problem in the past, don’t be quick to throw away your saddle, all your shorts and begin playing the saddle swap game. Believe it or not, your saddle sore may be more related to your environment and activity off the bike than the bike itself. If you have read my previous articles, you know my stance on reviewing your fit at least on an annual basis to accommodate both good and not so good changes to our body.
Saddle pressure mapping is a way to measure pressures your body is putting on a given saddle. It is effective on determining potential saddle hot spots and help determine a more appropriate saddle. It is not the end all solution to a saddle problem. However, as part of a comprehensive fit, it provides valuable data on the number one point of comfort on the bike.
Finally, friction. There is no doubt that chamois cream does help with friction down there but it does not relieve pressure. Frequently, I see riders attempting to address a pressure problem with cream. I prefer to use a little chamois cream for friction. It is best to use products designed for cycling. Be sure to review the ingredients. I do not recommend products that will block pores or that contain harmful chemicals. Would you put motor oil down there? A little bit of a good cream can go a long way. You are not icing a cake when applying chamois cream. Most friction problems occur in the crease of the leg and the perineum. Focus your cream application there. Saddle design, shape and padding can also have an effect on a friction problem.
Prevention of saddle sores starts with an honest assessment of your body, equipment and environment along with your position on the bike.
Master Retul Bike Fitter
Advanced Pressure Analysis