saddle sores

How to prevent and treat saddle sores

Nothing ruins a great ride faster than discomfort caused by friction or pressure between you and your saddle. There’s a lot going on in your shorts: pressure from supporting a substantial portion of your bodyweight, heat and moisture from exertion and sweat, and friction from spinning your legs and scooting fore and aft on the saddle. Keeping your skin healthy can be a challenge, so here’s what you can do to prevent and treat chafing and saddle sores, and to keep your skin happy.

What is a saddle sore?

A saddle sore is typically caused by continuous pressure and friction from your saddle. This causes damage to the skin that allows a place for bacteria to get in and flourish. Then, a sore manifests as a raised, pink or red area of skin. It may look like a pimple or ingrown hair and contain liquid. Some feel like a cyst or marble under the skin. Another common form of a saddle sore results from chafing that abrades skin and may look like a rash.

What does a saddle sore feel like?

Saddle sores are painful to the touch, even off the bike. And because sores often develop where there is pressure, they can be extremely painful on the bike. This can lead cyclists to alter their riding position to alleviate the pain, which can hinder performance and even cause new sores.

How to treat saddle sores

To treat the occasional saddle sore, a few days off the bike is often all it takes for the inflammation to go down and for the skin to heal. During that time, try to keep the area cool and dry by wearing loose fitting clothing and/or sleeping with no clothing. If the skin is broken, take steps to prevent infection, including washing with soap and water and applying an antibiotic ointment.

Similarly, to treat chafed skin, wear loose fitting clothing to prevent further friction and allow your skin to breathe. Keep the area clean with soap and water to prevent infection. If either a saddle sore or area of chafed skin does get infected, it’s time to visit a doctor. Infections further weaken larger areas of tissue, so you want to act quickly if you’re experiencing symptoms of an infection, which include increasing levels of pain and redness, a fever or chills, and the presence of pus.

Hygiene habits to prevent saddle sores

Taking good care of your skin is one of the best ways to prevent saddle sores. Skin can be damaged by exposure to either too much or too little moisture. If you live in a dry climate, you may consider using moisturizer in this area. If you live in a humid environment, consider loose fitting and/or moisture wicking clothing.

Hair removal is a personal decision and may affect the development of saddle sores differently for individuals. Reducing friction is thought to be one purpose for pubic hair, but some cyclists feel it increases chafing. And keep in mind, hair removal methods can cause skin damage that increases opportunities for bacteria to thrive.

Causes and Remedies for Recurring Saddle Sores

Almost every cyclist experiences a saddle sore or chafed skin every once in a while, and typically they go away in a few days. If you are having recurring problems with the skin on your rear end, crotch, or inner thighs, it’s time to find and fix the source of the problem. The following are some of the common causes and remedies for recurring skin issues in cycling.

Your bike fit:

How you sit on the saddle contributes to the amount of pressure you put on different parts of your anatomy. For instance, an upright cycling position might place more pressure on your ‘sit bones’ (ischial tuberosities). A more aggressive, forward-rotated position may put more pressure on the perineum. Saddle height, angle, and fore-aft position can all affect the amount and location of pressure and friction. Bike fit is always a compromise between comfort, aerodynamics, and power production. If your position on the bike causes chafing and saddle sores, your aerodynamics and power production will almost certainly suffer.

Your cycling shorts:

The construction, fit, and condition of your cycling shorts can make a big difference for your skin. If your shorts are too large or they’ve worn out and become looser, bunched fabric can cause chafing. Sometimes the seams connecting the panels are in places that irritate your skin. And keep in mind that chamois­–the pad that sits between your body and the saddle–come in different shapes, sizes, and thicknesses. Finding the chamois that matches your anatomy and style of riding can make cycling much more comfortable.

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Your saddle:

Finding the perfect width, shape, and padding for your saddle can feel like Goldilocks looking for the bed she liked best. Some will be too wide or narrow, too flat or curvy, and too soft or hard. A saddle that’s too wide can contribute to chafing, as can the shape of the saddle as it widens from the nose to the rear. The curvature of the saddle can lead to pressure points that contribute to the formation of saddle cores. Even the level of padding is highly personal. Some riders prefer a more cushioned saddle while others do better with a firmer perch. Also remember that saddles wear out. They eventually start to sag in the middle, the padding breaks down, and the rails can bend from impacts.


Problems with your shorts and saddle lead to problems with friction. The constant rubbing of skin-fabric-saddle irritates and eventually wears away enough skin to cause an abrasion. A lubricating anti-chafe cream, also known as chamois cream, can help reduce friction and protect your skin. Some people swear by chamois cream and others feel no need for it. Similarly, there are differences between chamois cream brands and ingredients. Many chamois creams contain antibacterial ingredients. Some have ingredients that cause a tingly or cooling sensation. Women-specific chamois creams are often formulated with a lower pH.

Your post-ride habits:

There’s a tongue-in-cheek saying among veteran cyclists that “chamois time is training time”, meaning you’re still training as long as you’re in your cycling kit–even if you’re sitting at the café. The problem is, if you already have the beginnings of a skin issue, staying in your cycling shorts longer than necessary will make it worse. It is better to get out of your kit sooner, either to take a shower or, if you are at an event and can’t shower immediately, clean your skin with wipes and get dressed in loose fitting clothes. If your skin is irritated, consider applying ointment.

Troubleshooting Saddle Sores for New Cyclists

For athletes new to cycling, it takes some time to condition your skin to the pressure and friction inherent in sitting on a bicycle saddle. Your sit bones may feel sore temporarily as you adapt. This even happens to experienced cyclists after a prolonged period off the bike. If you are new to cycling and padded cycling shorts, they are meant to be worn directly on the skin (no underwear). Visit your bike shop or a bike fit professional to start out with a neutral, balanced position on the bike. They may have tools to help you find the recommended saddle width for your anatomy, too. You may need to experiment with a few saddle shapes to determine what works best for you.

Troubleshooting Saddle Sores for Experienced Cyclists

If you have been riding comfortably for years and start experiencing saddle sores and chafing, the first thing to do is think about what might have changed over the past few months.

  • Are your shorts or saddle finally worn out?
  • Did your saddle move, either purposely or accidentally?
  • Did you handlebars or brake hoods move? Changes in reach or bar height can lead you to change the angle of your pelvis relative to the saddle or the fore-aft position that feels comfortable.
  • Are you sitting on the bike differently due to an injury?
  • Did you change laundry detergent?
  • Has the weather changed significantly, or did you move to a different climate?
  • Are you riding more indoors? Your shorts are likely to be more sweat soaked than during outdoor rides, and the rigid position of the bike can change or exacerbate pressure points.

Saddle sores and chafing can be frustrating and painful, but they are temporary problems that can be solved relatively easily. It’s definitely worth the effort, because cycling shouldn’t be a pain in the rear.

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Comments 19

  1. Tea tree oil usually dries up saddle sores within 24 hours. Vermont BG Balm is a great lubricant, better & less expensive than any cycling specialty product. My dermatologist recently recommended Aquafor & I’ve found it useful as a lubricant & as an anti-chafing lubricant.

  2. I’ve done it all over the past 30 or so years … used very kind of lubrication from simple vaseline to the most expensive Assos, even rode for years without anything. I’ve had saddle sores of all kinds at times including chafing, folliculitis and cysts.

    For the past few years I have not had any saddle sores. This is what I think is key (not a medical reccomendation, just anecdotal experience):

    Keep the perineum (bottomside) as clean as possible. I take a shower and wash it well with lots of soap before almost every ride (whether outdoor or trainer). Then I put on a thin layer of triple antibiotic ointment (not cream, the ointment is more lubricating, although I will use cream if I can’t find ointment). Theoretically, this reduces surface bacteria and lessens the chance of infection, even if the bike fit is not perfect.

    It’s worked for me, and the soap and triple antibiotic ointment are cheap and OTC at your local pharmacy or grocery store.

  3. I use Glide before the ride, and some antibiotic cream after the ride and shower on any tender spots that feel like they might turn into a saddle sore.

    The chamois itself matters a lot, too. One brand always gave me saddle sores, while another brand rarely does. I’ve had great luck with Rapha bib shorts over the years. They’re expensive, but worth it.

  4. Thanks, This was an excellent article. I have followed this advice over the years and do not have any saddle sore problems.

  5. Working in a hospital, I have watched many surgeons scrubbing up prior to operating. Trust me, the effort is a workout in itself. Follow their example: every time you shower, particularly after a ride, use a good antibacterial soap and go to work down there, paying special attention to any problem areas. Scrub for at least a minute with a clean washcloth. Rinse well and using a clean towel, dry yourself with the same effort. Using the surgeons method, I have not had a saddle sore in 30 years.

  6. Helpful – I have been fortunate over the years but currently have 2 minor sores, more like a cyst or marble under the skin, I am putting antibiotic and/or skin repair but any other hints most welcome. The skin isn’t red nor broken. Thks!

    1. For those types of saddle sores I use spot acne cream to dry out the cyst. You have to be judicious as it will dry out the overlying skin tissue so I would only put it on sparingly and when you are not riding. I often find the acne cream and reduce the cyst overnight. That and a couple of days off.

    2. I have a cyst the size of a quarter and would double up wearing padded shorts. No more. A couple years ago, we cycled with Ponent Mar in Mallorca, Spain. I love their road cycling bib shorts from Nalini, made in Italy. I choose a men’s small. Love them!!!

    3. Hemorrhoid cream has worked for me for these type of saddle, sores!… Believe it or not… Give it a try… Put it right on the sore.

  7. Good info here. I’ve only had a few over the years, and always do my best to use natural solutions. Coconut oil works pretty well for lube, (it does dissipate over time), and for any signs of issues, Neem oil,(a bit more powerful & does not evaporate as fast), & Tea tree oil can take care of the sores.
    And, as mentioned, getting out of your shorts as quickly as possible after the ride.

  8. Having been through all of the above scenarios over the years, with and without saddle sores, here is my own personal remedy…. and hygiene is key, keep the bottom side clean. I take a shower and wash well down below before I go out. I also put a thin layer of triple antibiotic ointment on right after I put on my shorts. Haven’t had a saddle sore for a few years now.

  9. I’m officially on Team Bag Balm since 1998. This balm was originally made for cows & it has antibacterial properties, a little goes a long way & I only use it for rides 65 miles + (It does contain petroleum). I tried other chammy creams but found the creams not only dry too quickly but i feel like I’m wearing a wet diaper when first applied; I also discovered, for me personally, creams created problems ie skin breakdown so bag balm it is,

  10. When riding indoors, getting out of the saddle, standing on the pedals, for 30-90 seconds every 5-10 minutes has helped greatly. Preparation-H shrinks the bumps…

  11. I have from time to time been forced to use compeed blister bandaids/compresses down south to be able to ride and even be able to sit still on the saddle. They have been of great use and I can strongly recommend if it get really bad.

    1. I was hoping I’d find someone else who would address the reality of not having the luxury of taking a few days off the bike when a saddle sore rears its nasty head (puns intended!)… and who’s used padding as well as the hygienic measures. In my case… actually in my several cases over the decades… I have used Dr. Scholl’s corn pads with great success. “Centering” the cutout on the corn pad around the sore provides some reduction on the pressure on the sore which is quite noticeable right away once on the saddle. And, if you get everything clean & dry before applying the adhesive to the skin, the pad will easily survive even a very long day in the saddle. In fact, you will possibly have to work to peel it off after the ride… to clean up properly.

  12. I have had some bothersome sores over the years. In addition to antibacterial creams, I have found that a hemorrhoid cream/ointment (on the sore) seems to help the best.

  13. I’ve had success using a good (high % lanolin) A&D ointment, both for preventing irritation and for treating a saddle sore once it’s developed. Keep the sore lubricated with it for a day and you’ll see significant healing and may be able to ride without too much discomfort.

  14. Good timing on this, indoor cycling has been the biggest cause of my saddle sore. Always use chamois cream, and move around, and quickly showering after.

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