How to Prevent Chafing and Saddle Sores

Written by : Mr Mamil
Last updated :

Disclosure : I may earn an affiliate commission when you purchase through links on this page.

Ask any experienced cyclists about chafing and saddle sores, and most can tell you their horror stories. Many factors cause chafing, and it’s hard to pin down on one. In many instances, it’s a combination of factors.

It’s part and parcel of cycling and one that all cyclists will experience in their cycling journey. 

On this page, I’ll discuss the steps you can take to prevent (and minimize) chafing so that cycling would remain enjoyable, fun and injury-free.

Use chamois cream

Also known as anti-chafing cream, chamois cream is designed for cyclists. It’s either thick or viscous with anti-bacterial properties to minimize friction between the chamois (cycling pads) and the skin in the nether regions.

These days, men and women-specific chamois creams contain slightly different ingredients. There are also chamois creams with chemical and paraben-free and organic ingredients to cater to a broad range of cyclists.

Wear bib shorts

Bib shorts provide padding and support to both the upper and lower body when you’re riding on the bike.

The bib straps hold the lower sections of the shorts in place, while the chamois provides padding for your sit bones.

Using the right padded cycle shorts without underwear is important”. 

Pradniya Pisal, consultant gynecologist at London Gynaecology

Depending on the season, you have options for either bib shorts (summer), bib knickers (autumn/fall), or bib tights (winter). These days, there are also men and women-specific bib shorts.

Wear proper size bibs

Bib shorts are meant to be worn like a second skin. It should be tight-fitting but not to the point that it restricts your movements.

Too loose and it will rub against your skin as you pedal. Too tight and it might hamper blood flow to your legs, causing numbness.

It’s also crucial to wear shorts that fit you properly. If you’re between sizes, I’d actually recommend you go for the smaller size, because when you’re pedalling in shorts that are slightly too large on you, the material will shift about and can cause friction.

Jasmijn Muller, Ultra endurance cyclist

Don’t wear undies

Wearing undies is arguably the most common mistakes beginner cyclists make.

Cycling-specific shorts, also called bib shorts, are designed to be worn without undies. The chamois (pad) should be next to the skin to provide padding and absorb sweat and moisture.

The undies sit between the skin and chamois and cause friction as you pedal. There are no other ways around this, and you’ll need to get comfortable with going commando while cycling.

Check your saddle position

Saddle positioning can significantly affect how you feel on the bike and your riding performance. Ask any experienced cyclists, and they’ll tell you that they can feel even the slightest change (eg: 1 to 2mm in height) in saddle positioning. 

The first thing a professional bike fitter does is lock in your saddle position. A not-so-ideal saddle position can lead to many problems beyond chafing, such as knee pain, numb feet, and numb hands.

If your saddle is too high, your hips will rock back and forth, leading to chafing between the inner thighs. If your saddle is too low, you’ll be putting unnecessary pressure and weight on the sit bones. It has to be just right.

More reading : What Affects Saddle Height?

Change your saddle

Saddles are very individualized, and there is never a universal one that fits everyone. Saddles come with various shapes (flat vs. contoured), lengths (short vs. long), and padding levels.

In many cases, it takes a period of trial and error in terms of money and time to find one that suits you best. In fact, many experienced cyclists are still finding the ideal saddle for themselves.

If you’ve found a saddle that doesn’t cause you any problems, then it’s best to stick with it. Otherwise, consult your local bike shops, borrow other models from your cycling group, or get a professional bike fitter’s advice if the budget allows. 

The saddle too narrow, the saddle doesn’t relieve soft tissue pressure, or the saddle is the wrong shape for the rider’s position.

Matt Gehling, bike fit specialist at Trek Bikes

Wash your bibs after every ride

Just like other good cycling habits, wash your bibs as soon as you’re home. It might be tempting to wait for the next laundry cycle. Experience tells me that this is a bad idea, especially if you just did a sweaty ride.

The chamois absorb salt and sweat, and you’ll need to get rid of them as soon as you’re home to discourage bacteria growth that can cause skin irritation and chafing.

Sweaty bib shorts are the perfect breeding ground for bacteria that causes all the problems we’re talking about here. As soon as you get home, put your shorts in the washing machine and shower straight away.

Pradniya Pisal, consultant gynecologist at London Gynaecology

Rethink about hair removal

Cyclists are fond of shaving and removing hair from their lower bodies. Most shave their legs, but it’s subjective regarding how high up the shave is. According to AsapSCIENCE, 75% of people who shave their pubic hair experience itching, and 40% experience a rash.

Unknown to many, one of the primary purposes of body hair is to help with the transport and evaporation of sweat from the skin, leading to reduced friction. That’s why there is hair on high friction areas such as the armpit and groin areas.

If shaving around your genitals is causing you chafing and discomfort, you might want to reconsider this decision.

We know many people won’t want to go au naturel, but it’s a good idea to remove your hair less frequently and do so carefully.

Phil Burt, former Head Physiotherapist at British Cycling

Take a break

Sometimes you’ll just need to take it easy. If you’ve done a long ride the days before, it’s time for a recovery ride or even recovery days. It’s okay to stay off the bike for a few days to heal the chafing. 

Give your local GP a visit, and they will probably prescribe you some creams to apply.

It’s not a good idea to continue riding on through the pain. After all, we’re not professional cyclists, and we’re in the sport for the enjoyment of it.

More reading : How to Recover Faster After A Long Ride

Get a professional bike fit

If you’ve tried all the above and still fail to overcome chafing, then perhaps it’s about time to consider consulting a professional bike fitter.

A full bike fit session will last between 3 to 4 hours and usually costs from $200 onwards.

Ask around in your cycling group for recommendations if they’ve done a bike fit in the past. Be prepared to spend more than just the bike fitting fees, as you might be advised to change a few things on your bike, such as the saddle, pedals, or handlebars.