BIKEPACKING – HOW TO CARE FOR YOUR BUTT
A big issue for both guys and gals while bikepacking or on a long tour, are saddle sores. Saddle sores, Funky Butt, Crotch Rot, or whatever you call it when your undercarriage gets torn up or irritated after too many hours in the saddle, is one of cyclings most painful aliments, and most common. We’ve all experienced it and wish we hadn’t. With that in mind I decided to write this article “Bikepacking – How to Care For Your Butt” about how to avoid saddle sores and how to keep your downstairs happy while on the bike.
We’ll go over everything from what causes it, to steps toward prevention, to steps on can take while on the bike, and treatment options for when you get saddles sores. Like with most cycling injuries, saddle sores are one that can be almost completely eliminated with some precautionary steps. Keep reading to find out more.
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Causes of Saddle Sores.
The main cause of saddle sores is a combination of moisture, pressure and friction. Saddle sores can be simple red spots where only the top few layers of skin are irritated to something like a boil with a head on it (like a pimple). Both usually the result of friction and bacteria-filled pores. Most times saddle sores form at contact points with one’s saddle (though irritation can occur in other areas of contact with the shorts themselves).
Other major causes include improper bike fit, wrong saddle, chamois quality/fit, not enough saddle time (unconditioned butt), or too much saddle time. Luckily these causes can be fixed with a little time, money, and testing before your big ride.
Preventing saddles sores is going to be different for everyone. With so many factors in the equation, no two people are going to have the same issues and causes. In this section we’re only going to focus on prevention techniques that can be done at home or before the ride. All others, we’ll discuss in the, “On the Bike Prevention/Treatment”.
- Bike fit – A proper fitting bike is not only going to benefit your comfort in the saddle but your overall comfort. See our article on the “Most Common Bikepacking Injuries” for more.
- The right saddle – Take the time to find the right saddle for you. Not the one everyone else uses but the one you find through hours of trail and error. The one that is comfortable and doesn’t cause saddle sores.
- Bibs/shorts – Not all bibs/shorts are the same. Like with your saddle, take the time to find a brand that is both high in quality and comfort.
- Saddle time – Once you’ve figured out the above three focus on putting in the miles. The more you ride the more conditioned your butt will be and this should mean less saddle sores and irritation.
The treatment of saddle sores like most cycling injuries can be tricky. What we mean by this is the treatment usually means time off or taking actions that while on the bike can be difficult to execute. If you’re at home training this isn’t an issue, but if you’re already on a long tour, taking time off, cleaning and keeping the affect areas clean, dry, and medicated can be very difficult. This is why one needs to do everything in the prevention section ahead of time.
Keys to Treating Saddle Sores:
- Clean the affect area thoroughly.
- Keep area dry and clean.*
- Use an antibacterial cream to add healing.
- Time off will allow swelling in affected areas time to come down.
*For years hikers have been removing their shoes during break time, where they clean and dry out their feet to prevent blisters. Being that I’m also a thru-hiker I can say it works. The saying goes something like, “Clean dry feet, are happy feet.”
On the Bike Prevention/Treatment
Once you’re on the bike and on the go, there are a few things one can do to help further prevent irritation and saddle sores. Daily maintenance to keep the undercarriage happy can go a long way in preventing saddle sores. I call mine, “Scathole Maintenance”. It’s a daily routine I preform to help prevent irritation and saddle sores and keep my undercarriage clean, dry, and happy.
My routine is this:
- When I stop to go #2 during the day, I don’t just take the wipe out of the package and wipe myself. I first use the wipe to clean my butt cheeks (sit bone area), removing any sweat, salt or dirt. I also give the family jewels a quick wipe down. It’s not much but removing the sweat, salt or dirt helps keep things cleaner.
- At night when I stop I repeat the above with another wipe so I go to bed clean. I also try to air out as much as possible. If it’s not too cold I might sleep without bottoms when needed.
- I also make a point to turn my chamois inside out to give the it the best chance of drying out during the night.
- While on the bike I try my best to mix up my position. This is good for my butt but also my hands too.
One can also carry two chamois, switching them out to give them a chance to dry. One could also rinse or wash one, while switching them out. Some people ride with wool boxers and baggy shorts (I did this for the AZTR and only had minor irritation). This set up offers much better breathability and carrying two pairs of boxers is much less bulky than two bibs. With proper training one shouldn’t miss the padding of a chamois.
Whatever system you settle on, be sure it addresses the key points to preventing saddle sores: Cleanliness, and Dryness. Having a daily routine like the above one can really help and should make your time in the saddle much more enjoyable.
I’m not a fan of it on multi day rides but for longer rides, chamois butter is a great option to help reduce friction and saddle sores. On multi day rides I feel one’s chamois gets too nasty with multiple applications.
Hopefully, this “Bikepacking – How to Care for Your Butt”, article gave you some ideas on how to make your next ride/adventure more comfortable. Some of the steps can be a “pain in the ass” to do while on the bike but when something as small as a saddle sore can end your ride, do you really want to quit because you didn’t want to take the time out, to do a little maintenance?
Find the right seat, get a quality chamois and a bike fit, keep that undercarriage clean and dry, and come up with your own on the bike routine to do a little daily maintenance, and let the miles come!
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