If you’ve not ridden a bike for a while, you might expect it to be a bit of a pain in the bum while you get used to it. If that soreness persists after the ride, then you’ve got saddle soreness, a pain anywhere in the area of the sit bones, tailbone or the perineum.
Pressure or friction from the saddle and/or your cycling shorts is to blame and body heat and sweating also contribute. So it makes sense to start prevention measures by getting the shorts and saddle right.
Cycling shorts should always be worn without underwear to reduce chafing and, it goes without saying hopefully, they should be clean for the same reason as well as hygiene.
Ensure a good fit to prevent friction and choose a good quality chamois so it wicks away sweat. Bib shorts will move around less as the braces hold them in place which is especially important for people with narrow hips.
Even with all of that in place, what was working before might not be working now. So check shorts for wear as either the shorts or the chamois might be thinning and creating extra friction
Surprisingly, a hard saddle is more comfortable than a soft one even though it might take 10-15 rides for your bottom to grow more tissue to protect the area. By then, you’ll be glad you didn’t choose the soft saddle as the sit bones sink into those creating unwelcome pressure.
A gel saddle might be tempting but, for road or mountain biking, the gel absorbs body heat. The resulting warmth exacerbates sweating and, therefore, friction.
Saddle width is also important as too narrow or too wide for the sit bones will hurt after a while. Women tend to need a wider saddle as their sit bones are further apart.
Lastly, make sure the saddle is positioned horizontally – use a spirit level if neccessary – and make sure it’s at the right height and setback for you.
If the saddle soreness has come on recently, the problem might need a physio.
Believe it or not, even pro-cyclists can experience saddle soreness. Girona-based physiotherapist Kat Stene, who treats pros including Mitchelton Scott Womens Team at her Força 13 clinic, still sees saddle soreness in her clients, despite their rigorous training and years of riding.
She looks at saddle soreness as a diagnostic tool. “If someone has never had a saddle sore and they’re starting to get one,” she says, “it means they’re rubbing on one side more than the other. And that often means their pelvis is rotated or twisted or their body is out of balance. If you weren’t getting saddle sore before, why are you loading one side of your saddle more to cause that friction?”
While a physio isn’t going to massage your sit bones, they might take it as a sign something has changed in your body and do further examination of your hips and pelvis.
Getting saddle soreness checked out could mean avoiding worse injuries later on.