Molly Hurford is a writer at Bicycling Magazine and an avid cyclist. After years of riding and racing and chatting with other female cyclists, she decided to write “Saddle, Sore: A Women-Only Guide to You and Your Bike,” a book that answers all of the awkward questions that you may have been too afraid to ask. Topics like saddle sores, chamois choice, periods, shaving and sex are all discussed in the book and on her SaddleSoreWomen.com website. She shares her top tips from the book.
As a female racer, I’ve had years to learn my way around dealing with my “chamois area” while on the bike—and off the bike! And I’ve met plenty of other women who, after a lot of time spent riding together, finally all sat down and talked about what works for us and what doesn’t.
A few of the top tips I’ve picked up:
Quest for the right bike shorts. Most shops only stock one or two women’s styles of bike shorts, and this is a huge disservice. There are tons of great brands out there that aren’t getting talked about, and since every woman’s ‘undercarriage’ is different, a pair of bike shorts that works for your best friend may not work for you. Try out different pairs of shorts and find a chamois (that’s the padded part in bike shorts) that works for you! Invest in a good pair of shorts—this is the number one advice from Samantha Stumpf, a soft goods manager at Park Ave Bike in upstate New York. One good pair is better than three crappy pairs, any day of the week (though make sure you wash it after every ride!). Get something that fits well, where the chamois is comfortable and not diaper-like, something that will allow you to go out and do some serious miles. If you’re riding a lot, if you spent a lot on your bike, don’t wreck it by cheaping out and getting sub-par shorts.
Try bib shorts. Shorts with suspenders may seem weird if you’re just getting into cycling, but women who’ve been riding a long time—both at a pro level and at an amateur level—tend to agree that bib shorts are a vast improvement on standard shorts. For women, bib shorts are more comfortable, avoiding a potentially tight waistband that digs into our stomachs as we ride—regardless of our weight! So, from a comfort level, bib shorts are a great upgrade that can make your ride much better. And from a purely shallow standpoint, bib shorts avoid that muffin-top look that can happen with cycling shorts, again, regardless of what you weigh.
The one everyone jokes about, but seriously, it’s a problem. Repeat after me: You do not wear underwear with bike shorts (heretofore referred to as your chamois—pronounce “sham-ee”). This, and I can’t emphasize this enough, is bad for you. The chamois is there to pad your seat a bit, but also to keep the bad bacteria away from your genitals. All underwear does is trap the bad stuff in there. Gross.
Speaking of chamois… Wash your chamois, carefully. This seems kind of obvious but just make sure that when you’re washing your kit, the inside of the chamois is getting clean, because sometimes it doesn’t get as clean during a wash cycle as you might prefer, especially in a big load of clothes. The second part to this is making sure that your shorts are getting rinsed enough. I’ve had a lot of people complain about getting rashes from their chamois, and nine times out of ten when I tell them to rinse their shorts an extra time in the wash, that solves the problem. Leftover detergent plus sweaty, exposed skin = irritation.
Take care of yourself post-ride. Gynecologist Kristi Angevine lists her top tips:
When they happen, deal with saddle sores the right way. Gynecologist Kristi Angevine explains, “Saddle sores start when friction breaks the surface of the skin enough for bacteria that normally lives on our skin’s surface, to get underneath. This defect plus bacteria forms a sore that can be difficult to care for given its location.”
Prevention of sores is best, but if you get one, here’s how to care for it:
Lastly, and perhaps most subjectively, my final tip is that being girly is OK. I get pedicures and manicures on occasion. I have been known to wear mascara on a ride. I put on dresses after races. And you know what? That’s OK. Sometimes, it seems like the cycling industry and the people in the scene have hard-line ideas of what being a racer or a rider is, and those ideals are at odds with what some may consider feminine. You know what? Screw it. If you want to wear lip gloss, go for it. If you don’t, don’t. It’s easy to get hung up on the politics of femininity and sport, but at the end of the day, do what makes you feel the best. And if that’s getting a manicure, I recommend going with shellac—lasts forever, doesn’t chip on MTB rides, and looks fantastic.
I think one of the coaches interviewed in the book, Peter Glassford, put it best when he said, “Be a female. Embrace that. You don’t need to give everything else up just because you’re a cyclist.”
Have more questions? Check out SaddleSoreWomen.com for more questions, interviews, how-tos, and info on the book.
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