Chafing is a common problem for cyclists but how much chafing is normal? And what do you do when chamois cream isn’t enough? Many people can ride for hours on end and go their whole lives without being uncomfortable in the saddle. That isn’t everyone’s experience, nor was it my own.
When I started cycling regularly, I experimented with different chamois creams but when I progressed from a bad rash to flinching when I just put shorts on, I realized I had bigger problems than a simple tube of chamois cream could fix. Not only is chafing bad for your skin but it can make riding unbearable. After one year of researching, trying new products, buying new components and riding different set-ups, I finally found comfort on my bike and, trust me, it was worth it. If you suffer from chafe and chamois cream isn’t cutting it, there’s more you can do.
Uncomfortable Yes, Pain No
First, it’s important to know what’s normal. Sitting on a saddle for hours and hours is uncomfortable but it shouldn’t be painful. Not only will the pain take away from the joy of riding but it will sap your power and it’s not healthy. Chafing is a normal occurrence but if it’s not easily resolved or you are in pain, there is a problem that needs attention.
If you have already tried chamois cream and nothing has improved, know that not all chamois creams are created equal. Chamois cream works to reduce friction and assists in protecting your skin against chafe. You may need cream on every ride or only sometimes. I know people who swear by expensive chamois creams likes Assos and others who prefer diaper rash cream, or Vaseline, and even KY lubricant. Experiment by riding with and without it, with water based and non-water based types but just remember it’s a sensitive area so read the ingredients first. You can apply it directly where you need it, or to the specific areas on your chamois.
Bad shorts are bad news. If chamois cream isn’t working, consider your shorts. Poor quality and poor fit can cause chaffing so it’s worth investing in a good pair. Look for female-specific shorts with a good quality chamois (decent padding, breathability, no seams). Shorts should be snug and shouldn’t move around when you ride. Also, especially if you are doing long hours, there is a reason why all the pro’s ride in bibs. Bib shorts have less chance of falling down and moving which eliminates one cause of chaffing. Plus, bibs are more comfortable because they are not restrictive around your middle.
Bike set-up, especially for your saddle, can change your life. An adjustment of millimetres can ease your pain almost instantly. A bad set-up means you’re sitting incorrectly which can increase pressure on delicate tissue and result in chafing. A proper bike set-up not only relieves chaffing but it can increase over-all comfort, lead to more power, and reduce the risk of injury. You can go into a bike shop for a proper bike fit and explain your problems, or, if you have already gone in for a fitting, try adjusting your saddle yourself. Most women prefer their saddles with the front tilted slightly upwards but start with it flat and move millimetres at a time, recording each change.
It may seem obvious, but a poor saddle can cause chafing. Saddle choice is very personal but many cyclists continue to ride on the one that came with their bike. Make sure you are on a female-specific saddle, and try one with a hole in the middle (no pressure, no pain!). If you’re considering a new saddle, a good bike shop will let you test ride one first and guide you towards a saddle that suits your needs. Don’t be alarmed if you have to test ride several, and don’t be shy about telling them you are suffering from chafe. They are riders too. If you think you have the right saddle, make sure ‘s set-up correctly.
If you have done all of the above with no improvement, your chafe could be a sign of overtraining or you could just need rest period to get ahead of the chafe. Time off will let your skin heal properly. Try to keep the area dry at all times and avoid other causes of irritation (ditch the skinny jeans and rock a cotton skirt).
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