Bike Talk: The Female Saddle Issue Debate

23 August, 2017

You may have read in a previous blog post on Things Only Cycling Babes Know and wondered what I meant by #9: "Not shaving "lady bits" is the best prevention for saddle sore..." It has become well known in the community that female cyclist suffer most from saddle issues such as saddle sore, labial swelling, numbness, and infections like Vaginitis and UTI's. While these affliction's are quite common in female cyclists it seems too embarrassing for our community to speak up about it. While there are different thoughts of cause and effect of female grooming and saddle issues, it's important that our community has a dialogue about these issues that affect our bodies health on the saddle so that we can  help each other find solutions.

There seems to be two minds about female grooming and saddle issues, the first being that grooming is correlated to saddle issues and the second that grooming is not correlated to saddle issues but rather hygiene. The first thought, spurred by British Cycling, has their olympic women's team taking world-class expert advice to advise against bikini waxing, shaving, and hair removal creams. The rule to not groom was encouraged when the team had been suffering from saddle soreness and warned that a lack of pubic hair was contributing to this issue - a problem hampering the team's performance. Apparently, not grooming has lead to better performance and less saddle issues.

The second thought of saddle issues comes from a term the women's cycling community has liberally used to describe saddle discomfort as "Flap Mash", taken from Emily Chappell's article in Casquette magazine, The Truth About Saddle Sores. In the article, Chappell interviews journalist and writer of Saddle, Sore, Molly Hurford, who's professional investigative conclusion has lead her to believe that grooming is not the issue while its more about labial asymmetry and keeping yourself clean by getting out of your shorts soon after a ride and avoiding chamois cream if you don't groom all your hair.

Personally, I have no issue with pubic hair but I do think it has become a political statement and for others a fashion statement. I also believe there is a societal obsession with making women's bodies "better" or "cleaner" for public consumption. The beauty industry has tapped into this offering loads of products and services to achieve "perfection" and the cycling industry is no fool to this either. While women's cycling products are coming up by the dozens, I do not doubt marketing strategies to appeal to saddle comfort while also trying to keep their female customers happy. I'm not arguing that we should go au natural but rather that we take precautions on caring for our lady bits that can affect our overall health and enjoyment on the saddle.

If you are suffering from saddle issues, don't ignore it. Regardless of what school of thought you side with, what's important is to help you address these issues. Here are some ways to help you manage your lady bits health on the saddle.

Chamois cream:
Using a lubricate like chamois cream helps to reduce friction between our skin and cycling shorts. You can find women's specific brands of chamois creams that are developed specifically to help women maintain a healthy pH balance while fighting bacteria build-up. I personally am a fan of HER Chamios Butt'r and apply on my chamois and areas of the groin that may rub on the saddle or shorts. I've been using this product for years now and have never had an issue but every woman is different, so try a few till you find what works for you! For more on chamois cream, read up on the Best Chamois Creams from TWC.

I hear from a lot of women that they suffer from inner-thigh chafing. This happens when the sides of the saddle rub against delicate skin. You can address this by using anti-chafing gels such as Lanacane that provides a barrier on the skin from bibs or shorts rubbing on the skin. Also keep in mind that shorts with seams can also create chaffing and rubbing so try to look for shorts that don't have seams around the chamois and your sensitive areas.

Quality Chamois and Kit
From the positioning of the chamois in the shorts to the seam positioning and fit, all these can have a major impact on saddle comfort. A common mistake by cyclists is that they wear underwear under their shorts. This prevents the technical fabrics in the chamois from functioning properly and will trap moisture to the skin, risking bacterial infection so go commando, this is what chamois is for. When looking for quality chamois, look for seamlessness and take note of zig zag threading in the chamois. Machines For Freedom claims that "polymide-carbon threading makes chamois fabric ultra fast drying, bacteriostatic, and reduces heat gain during long hours in the saddle." I would also add that their bibs are my absolute go to's, quality doesn't even go far enough about how great they are from how they look, feel, and perform on the saddle.

Grooming is a personal choice. While waxing or shaving may look nice on the beach, it can become a nightmare for irritation, friction, snagging, chaffing, and infected bumps. While it seems that maintaining a trimmed nether region is preferable to avoiding saddle issues according to Total Women's Cycling on the subject intimate grooming, if you're going to shave or wax, keep in mind to take care of delicate skin after removing hair to avoid follicle infection with a layer of antibiotic ointment and don't forget to apply chamois cream on the chamois and on your lady bits too.

Saddle Fit
Prolonged pressure between the body and saddle is obviously an issue for "Flap Mash"and while resolving it with our bodies natural barriers is one way to handle it, perhaps a change in saddle and positioning on saddle is needed too. Although finding the perfect saddle is a challenge, there are numerous bike shops that have saddle libraries for you to test. Keep in mind that although one saddle might work for a handful of ladies, it may not work you. I highly recommend getting a saddle fit along with a bike fit. This will help you manage your sitting position (60 degree horizontal recommended) on the saddle and save you a lot of trouble from these afflictions.

As one woman out of many, my saddle experiences have not been as bad as many others for all the years I've been riding. I have a before and after cycling personal routine to keep my lady bits healthy from diet, supplements, and hygiene and it has served me well for many years. One issue I use to come across more as I started road cycling is numbing before I bought my Selle Italia Diva Flow. I've seen many women with this saddle and they also boast great comfort on it. For most of the part, your saddle comfort is based on the type of riding you do so do your research and start here on How To Choose A Saddle.

So, to groom or not to groom? While saddle issues are no fun, it's important that we learn to care for our bodies on and off the saddle. The debate between grooming is one that will linger between experts, journalists, and the industry but it's up to us to decide what is right for our bodies. Their is no one-size fits all solution and while speaking up about our personal afflictions is embarrassing, it can provide great comfort knowing how to care for yourself and that you aren't the only woman that suffers from these issues. As far as if you should groom... well, that's up to you.

Image Courtesy @MachinesForFreedom
Amy said...

Great post! Another point that I don't seem to hear discussed much as far as the Lady Bits are concerned is the bike itself and how it fits. Totally anecdotal, but I know it was a game changer for me. Finally having a frame that fits me perfectly has basically eliminated any issues with my bits. And I'm riding on a saddle that had previously been problematic on other bikes! There's just so many factors and so much experimentation to go through to find what works.

christina torres said...

@Amy : I absolutely agree! Being petite women, it's already hard to find a bike that fits, even harder because our reach is so short our seated position becomes more aero. After getting my new road bike, having it fitted along with my saddle was a complete game changer!

Great input for a good topic in a follow up post!

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