How to Prevent Chafing When Cycling

A guide to stopping annoying chafing and rashes when cycling

As a cyclist, chafing is one of those hidden evils that are lurking away inside your bike shorts. Developing saddle rash or suffering from chafing during a ride can be unbearable both on the bike and off.

The good news is that there are plenty of different chafing and rash prevention strategies you can use no matter whether you’re planning on commuting to work or cycling around the world.

Here's to problem free and rash free cycling.

Saddle Rash- Don't let chafing ruin your bike ride

Chafing can ruin a ride- If you let it!
Chafing can ruin a ride- If you let it! | Source

What is chafing from cycling?

In a cycling related context chafing will generally appear on the inside of the thighs. Chafing is caused as a result of friction created by the inner thigh rubbing against something. This can either be the saddle, the fabric of your shorts or trousers or in one of the worst case scenarios a seam from your clothing.

The constant up and down action of your legs working as pistons to power the bike leads to the friction as your inner thigh rubs with the offending surface. The chafing will manifest itself as an initial mild irritation, with rouge colouration to the affected area and a pain sensation.

In extreme cases where the irritation continues the cyclist may develop a more extreme form of inflammation with a risk of a secondary fungal infection to the area. Such cases often require an extended period of time away from the bike and treatment with a steroid based cream to enhance recovery.

What can you do to prevent cycling related chafing?

There are a number of ways you can minimize the risk of chafing when you're riding. Chafing is a skin problem as a result of a form of inflammation. Therefore as a cyclist you need to consider the following factors which can influence saddle rash.

  • Fabrics in contact with the skin
  • Your position on the bike
  • Your skin
  • Potential lubrication sources.

Saddle rash when cycling takes away from the fun of the trails
Saddle rash when cycling takes away from the fun of the trails | Source

Clothing- It's all about the fabrics and fit in the war against chafing

One of the easiest ways to suffer discomfort during your riding is to wear the wrong shorts or trousers when you ride. The wrong clothing is often the culprit in causing saddle rash.

  • Loose, ill-fitting shorts can bunch together and rub against the skin
  • Ridged seams can rub into sensitive areas causing discomfort
  • Wearing underwear such as boy shorts underneath your shorts can ride up and dig into areas.
  • Cotton clothing can become damp causing additional friction when rubbing against your skin.

Not all cycling shorts have to make you feel self conscious

These Burn shorrts from Tenn offer a relaxed outer short with a specialist cycling related padded liner short for comfort without feeling self-concious.
These Burn shorrts from Tenn offer a relaxed outer short with a specialist cycling related padded liner short for comfort without feeling self-concious. | Source

The importance of your skin in preventing chafing

If you're aiming to prevent chafing from cycling tomorrow one of the first considerations you need to make after your ride is your skin.

A good personal hygiene regime is one of the first steps to preventing chafing in future. Ensure you shower and clean your private areas well after each ride to protect against the build up of bacteria. An additional consideration is using a clean, fresh pair of shorts each ride where possible which will ensure bacterial fungus cannot grow inside your shorts.

If bacteria grows in your shorts or personal areas it can easily infiltrate and further agitate any sensitive areas leading to heightened levels of discomfort.

Getting the right cycling shorts

To the un-initiated there's something deeply wrong about wearing tightly fitting Lycra cycling shorts: Especially with the weird looking padding at the rear which begs you to ask the question. "Does my bum look big in this?”

Snug fitting Lycra cycling shorts offer a relatively close fit which helps to stop chafing between fabric and your skin. Add into the equation the rear padding known as the Chamois due to the leather fabric that they were originally made from. Lycra helps to wick moisture away from the skin also adding to comfort.

Not all cycling shorts are simply a pair of form fitting Lycra shorts. There are other options including padded liner style shorts which can be worn underneath other items or alternately loose fitting mountain bike style shorts which also feature an internal Lycra short yet offer a loose outer for the more self conscious rider.

Bargain padded and comfortable cycling shorts to reduce chafing

Women's Classic Padded Bike Shorts Cycling Bicycle Biking *Made in USA*
Women's Classic Padded Bike Shorts Cycling Bicycle Biking *Made in USA*

You don't need to spend the earth on bike shorts. A well made, comfortable short will provide protection against chafing and saddle rash whilst your concentrate on having fun.

 

A CyclingFitness Tip- Buy the best bike shorts you can afford

For comfortable cycling, whether you simply want to keep up with your children round the local park, commuting to work each day, or wanting to progress toward the elite echelons of the sport- one of the best investments you can make is in your cycling shorts.

Not everyone can afford or justify the purchase of a set of 200 dollar Assos cycling shorts but spending a significant amount of money on your biking shorts will be a sound investment in your health and fitness.

The more you spend the better quality fit and material chamois (padding). You'll find more attention is paid in the seam location and sewing technique which will limit seam rub and friction against the skin.

Excess fabric will bunch and dig into your skin- A good set of cycling shorts will help you remain comfortable for longer.

Tell us about your cycling saddle rash experiences

Have you ever suffered from chafing during a cycling ride

  • Yes- and it was hell!
  • No- I've been luck so far.
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Getting into position to avoid chafing

Have you ever considered that your position on the bike can actually be causing problems for you? The way we sit on our bicycle is vital in our long distance comfort.

Check that your saddle is central.

If your saddle is not quite straight and facing directly forwards you're in a difficult position as the offset could be causing the inside of one leg to rub against the outside of the saddle.

Check your saddle is central before you head out for a ride if you consistently have problems with one side of your sensitive regions.

What about if you're struggling mid-ride?

There can be nothing more uncomfortable than having problems during a ride however that's when you often notice problems. When problems arise through normal riding you're in a precarious position where you need to consider how to proceed with your ride.

When saddle rash hits mid-ride there are a few things that you can try. Simply standing up and pedalling for extended periods can relive some of the pressure from the sensitive and painful areas. Alternately you could try moving further forward or to the rear of the saddle in an effort to take pressure away from the chafing areas.

Loose shorts can be used with an internal liner short with padding for comfort
Loose shorts can be used with an internal liner short with padding for comfort | Source

Can using petroleum jelly (vaseline) help prevent cycling chafing?

If you're looking for a cheap and easy way of potentially limiting chafing while you ride petroleum jelly could offer an inexpensive answer.

There are two options- 1) place a thin layer of petroleum jelly onto your chamois pad on the inside of your shorts. This will provide a slippery surface to help protect against chafing. This might feel rather strange at first but it offers a good degree of protection. 2) Alternately you can apply a thicker coating of petroleum jelly to the areas which tend to rub and cause friction when you ride.

Petroleum jelly is an often which has been used by racing cyclists and long distance touring bikers for years although over the past years more sophisticated products have infiltrated the market to offer more specialised protection against saddle rash.

Reducing friction with chamois cream

Chamois cream takes the simple lubrication properties of petroleum jelly to higher levels, but at a more significant financial cost.

Chamois creams often generally longer lasting performance to offer an exceptionally good barrier against chafing. Generally it is formulated to be applied to the chamois pad or directly to the skin like application of diaper/ nappy cream. It's a personal choice and takes experimentation on what works best for you.

Chamois cream is generally hypo-allergenic and features anti-bacterial properties which are missing from traditional petroleum jelly and can therefore offer longer term benefits to a rider.

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