Taking Care of the Nether Regions While Cycling
There’s a lot to learn about cycling when you first get started and although your bike shop is an incredible resource for most things chances are fairly high that you aren’t going to feel very comfortable asking the 20-something kid working the sales floor very many questions about how to take care of your girly parts while riding. I had a few great coaches early on who shared some critical information but I also learned a lot from some painful chaffing and a round or two of antibiotics.
Bike Shorts Matter
I had decided to go for a quick ride down a gravel trail with my friend Andre and since we were stopping for dinner on the way back, I opened for my workout tights instead of bike shorts. Big, HUGE, terrible mistake. The entire ride was miserable and even though we only went about 6-miles, I felt like I had ridden almost 60 in the nether regions.
A good pair of bike shorts is a great investment, especially for riding off-road. There are a few key things to know about bike shorts:
First, the padding which is referred to as the chamois. The chamois is a padded section that is sewn into the crotch of the shorts. It protects against rubbing and alleviates pressure. Contrary to what you may believe, thicker is not better. I actually look for a pad that doesn’t have any seams sewn into the pad and has antibacterial qualities (more on that later).
Yes, you’ll kind of feel like you’re walking around in a diaper or bad maxi pad the first few times you ride, but the comfort you’ll gain from a good pair of bike shorts will be worth it.
And when I say good, you may have a bit of sticker shock. A good pair will likely run you between $70 and $100 with bib shorts being closer to the $130-180 range.
Regular bike shorts pull on just like any other workout short while bib shorts are going to have what looks like a pair of suspenders that pull the shorts up and keep them in place.
I’ve only recently started wearing bib shorts and I can’t tell as much of a difference but I have other female friends who swear by them. Regular bike shorts are definitely going to be a bit more budget-friendly (and give you easier access to the bathroom) as you get started.
Another short that you may find in a store is called a tri-short. This is going to be designed for triathlon and won’t have any type of chamois in it. Typically it doesn’t have stitching on the seem that crosses your girly parts so it will be slightly more comfortable than regular workout shorts but it’s really designed for people who are racing triathlon and prefer not to swim or run in a chamois.
You also want to make sure that your bike shorts fit snuggly. When I was training for an Ironman and doing lots of long bike rides, I had a pair of shorts that no longer fit me properly but they had the best padding so I decided to wear them for a 6-hour bike ride. The chaffing I experienced was something I never hope to see again in that region. Make sure everything feels tucked in and snuggled up down there…think about the way the panties you wear under a pair of nice slacks would fit rather than the way your grandma’s panties would fit.
Speaking of panties - they are a no-go under bike shorts. Over the years I’ve discovered that there are two types of people when it comes to workout tights - those who wear underwear with them and those who don’t. If you have always worn underwear under your workout clothes, it’s time to be liberated. You don’t need any other material adding to the chaffing and panties are not designed for performance like lycra is.
Add Chamois Cream
Chamois cream is this magical little invention that helps eliminate friction between your skin and your clothing….think KY-Jelly for your shorts. You don’t need a lot and after a ride or two, you’ll find the magical spots that you need to hit. I have a great saddle and high-quality bike shorts but I always get a little bit of rubbing on one spot on my right side. When I add the chamois cream, I’m golden! And, yes it is common to see people sticking their hand down their shorts right before a ride to apply said cream….always be wary of handshakes at group rides.
Now for some information that may be considered TMI by many of you. Sometimes you need to tuck things in before you start a ride. It just makes everything more comfortable. I did not know that women are innies or outies when it comes to the labia region until I started talking to more women about issues with saddle discomfort. Since I’ve started having those conversations, I’ve found that most women don’t know that either. If you don’t know what I’m talking about google it (don’t worry, a medical diagram, not porn should come up). If you fall into the outtie category, you’ll understand this paragraph.
Pick the Right Saddle
Chances are the saddle that comes with your bike won’t be the right saddle for you. Your saddle should help you distribute pressure evenly across your pelvic bone and sitz bones as a new rider. The more aggressive you get in your riding position, the more your weight will shift up toward your pelvic bone. I find that most women do well with the Selle Diva Flow Saddle but it is a personal preference. Try to find a bike shop that lets you return the saddle or offers saddle trials.
Change as quickly as possible after finishing a ride
There’s nothing worse than finishing a ride and then sitting in sweaty bike shorts for the drive home. First, it just feels gross but second, you’re holding sweat and bacteria close to your body. It’s a good idea to get out of those shorts as quickly as possible. Often, you don’t have access to a bathroom at the end of a ride or you don’t want to try to change in a gross park bathroom. I have a towel with a velcro strap at the top that I bring and then shorts with the built-in underwear. It makes changing in the parking lot a breeze. I can typically be out of my bike shorts within 2 minutes of getting to my car and it feels great.
Getting the right gear can be expensive. If I had to make the choice, I’d first invest in bike shorts and chamois cream and then a saddle. Sadly, a good pair of shorts and a good saddle will both cost you about the same amount of money. If you get on a new saddle and find the right shorts and still feel uncomfortable, find a bike fitter with whom you feel comfortable talking about these issues. Often the angle of the saddle can be adjusted to help you distribute weight more evenly.
Often we just need to build up our ‘saddle skin’. My first 2-3 rides always feel fairly uncomfortable. If I go much beyond that and things don’t feel good, I start looking for ways to fix it.
In the end, your bike should feel comfortable and allow you to be in the saddle for longer periods of time. Don’t be afraid to have conversations with the women around you and ask them what works for them. It’s fairly likely that they had to learn from some saddle discomfort.