After finishing my first ever three week bike race; which happened to be the Tour de France, my number 1 fan - grandma never asked me if it were tough gruelling or dangerous. She was mostly concerned about if I had a sore butt. I mean so many hours on the saddle each day, how do you do it pain free?
Well that’s a good point and not an easy question to answer in a few sentences. In my opinion it’s a combination of various things that ensure you can survive riding long distances butt pain free.
My first tip is find a saddle that suits you. Back in the old days a hand crafted leather saddle was the norm. Typically a Brooks saddle would mould to the contours of your butt and after a few months of riding would be broken in - as comfortable as can be. My dad would tell me a hand crafted leather saddle would last for years or until you crashed and destroyed it. Then you would be in tears not from the crash, but for the fact you would have to wear in another leather saddle. This could mean a few months of uncomfortable riding until you had broken in the saddle again. Well today there is no need to break in a saddle. Leather is too heavy and with today’s synthetic materials: gels and memory foams there is no need for leather. I personally use the SAN Marco short fit saddle with its open channel I find that the cut-out or channel improves blood ﬂow preventing numbness and provides relief from pressure on the perineum. The open structure (channel) is a big plus definitely for men and I’m guessing it would be an advantage for women too. Note that this is not a gender specific saddle. The memory foam and ergonomic design ensure I don’t slide around on the saddle and can comfortably stay seated even on the longest of climbs. Butt pain free.
A good pair of Knicks
I have been using Santini Knicks for a long time now. They have been around since 1965 so they have had plenty of time to perfect the cycling bib. I use the Redux Istinto bib Knick with its C3 gel chamois it’s porousness allows the chamois to breath and the thin gel liner has shock absorbing properties. The Lycra fits like a second skin so there is no chaffing and the materials used are lightweight and breathable. So in my opinion, you always buy the best Knicks available. There is no use in going cheap on Knicks because down the track being cheap will only bite you in the butt.
Chamois Cream. Or a cut of Lean Beef thanks
Chamois cream is not only for racers. It’s for anyone who rides a bike and suffers from discomfort. But to be honest even the most seasoned professionals who don’t suffer from discomfort most still use chamois cream.
Back in the day when my dad was racing Six Days he and his team mate would use Udder balms. Yep! The ointments farmers use to milk the cows, as there weren’t real chamois creams available back then. If that failed - you had real problems then. Plan B was to go to the local butcher and ask for a cut of lean beef and place that on your chamois. That doesn’t sound as crazy as you may think. It’s basically meat on meat and if you're in pain you will do what needs to be done.
Well times have changed and chamois creams have come a long way since then - so no need to run to the butcher. Look for a chamois cream of the highest quality ingredients. I have been using a Belgian brand - Morgan Blue. They have been around for a while, being a product solely used by professionals to begin with. Later found it’s way onto the shelves of the retailers. Look for ingredients with anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Morgan Blue use Saint Johns wort herbal extracts and Vit E as their main ingredients all natural all the better. Make sure the cream is easy to spread liberally on your chamois.
During the early days when I was clocking big K's each week I would use chamois cream daily. I then stopped using it after retirement but for the past few years I found myself becoming more sensitive and even with the few Km's I ride each week, I find my rides are far more comfortable using a quality cream spread liberally on a quality chamois. This combination makes a world of difference.
A Bike Fit
You may have found the best saddle and the best Knicks for you, and potentially even have started to use chamois cream. But if your saddle is too high and in general and you don't adjust your position, you still may find you have issues. So seek out an experienced bike fitter. Bike fitting it’s not about finding the most aerodynamic race position. It’s mainly to ensure you can ride long distances as comfortable as possible. So an experienced eye together with the latest bike fitting technology can make all the difference. That is, if tips 1-3 aren’t working for you. In short, even the world's best Pro's suffer from saddle sores / discomfort. Chris Froome a 4x Tour de France winner had some of his greatest battles - not against his rivals on the Mountain slopes, but his biggest battle to overcome was from saddle discomfort. Chris eventually found solutions which were a little unorthodox. Like his riding position, which he was forced to change. He rides a little low in the saddle and little too far forward making him look quiet awkward on a bike. But it works for Chris. Once Chris was pain free he became almost unbeatable. So who cares about aesthetics and rules when your comfortable on a bike, you are able to ride to the maximum of your ability. In turn, producing the most power and simply enjoying the ride. That’s what cycling is all about.