What You Always Wanted to Know About Bicycling But Have Never Asked


Photo courtesy of Damon Bowe and Rose Physical Therapy Group

Photo courtesy of Damon Bowe and Rose Physical Therapy Group

Rose Physical Therapy Group presents Molly Hurford, author of Saddle, Sore

By Carolyne Whelan

Throughout sports, so much gear and advice for women is simply a slightly edited version of a design built from men’s needs— “shrink it and pink it,” as the saying goes. Rose Physical Therapy Group in Washington, DC, invited cyclist and author Molly Hurford to share some of the pain-free cycling tips covered in her book, Saddle, Sore, alongside Peter Glassford of Smart Athlete Coaching. Hurford researched doctors, physical therapists, waxers, apparel and component designers, and other professionals to write her book that dispels rumors and disseminates facts. Here, Women’s Adventure presents some of the best information Hurford has to offer.


There are three types of discomfort on the bike: numbness (probably fit), chaffing (probably friction), and pain (could be either). And the most probable causes of each are remediable. Numbness is probably caused by a poor bike fit; chaffing is caused by excessive friction due to ill fitting shorts or too little chamois cream, and pain could be caused by both/either a poor bike fit, friction, and incorrect form. You should not be extremely uncomfortable while you ride, though. One thing riders often overlook is simply giving that undercarriage some brief relief! Standing isn’t just for that final sprint in the Tour de France: Just a pedal stroke or two out of the saddle every few minutes will help you readjust yourself to the bike and prevent pinching and numbness.


Just because your stand-over height was correct at the bike shop, doesn’t mean your “shrinked and pinked” new whip is tailored to you. A few easy adjustments will give you more comfort and confidence on the bike. Saddle angle/placement (and replacement), angles and sizes of the stem and handlebars, and adjustment of shoe cleats for those who wear cycling shoes are all things you can either do yourself or ask your trusted mechanic. Pay attention to your fit over time, as you and your bike are both affected by those miles in your legs.


The proper width of a saddle is based on sit bones, which is different from hip width or butt size. Most bike shops have an Ass-O-Meter, but it isn’t a perfect assessment because one doesn’t sit on a bike as if on a chair, so use it as a starting point. Try out a few, either by test riding at the shop or borrowing a friend’s saddle, to find what’s comfortable. Keep in mind that saddles feel different depending on the fit of the bike. While a bit of padding offers support, too much padding causes tension for the tailbone and back as your sit bones dig for some stability. For real tenderness issues, riders are better off choosing a saddle with a cut out in the problem area.


The big pad inside bike shorts, chamois are different for male and female, shaped like the opposite genitals from that which their target rider has. (It sounds weird, I know, but there’s a science to it, according to Hurford.) Just as it is with saddles, a thicker pad doesn’t always mean more comfort (i.e. it shouldn’t feel like a diaper). Padding does muffle vibration, but the primary purpose is to absorb bacteria into an inner layer of the chamois, minimizing the chance of a saddle sore or infection. To let the magical chamois perform its sweet antibacterial magic, don’t wear underwear or use a pad (opt instead for a tampon or menstrual cup) while chamoised up.

Chamois cream

Best for longer rides (a day out with the family, century with friends, or just a fun day of exploring your region on two wheels), just a little bit on problem areas will go a long way to maintaining a fun and comfortable ride. Unlike some cheaper alternatives, chamois cream is both antibacterial and a friction inhibitor; plus, won’t stain garments. If you have problems keeping a balancing Ph down there, Chamois Butt’r has released Her’ which is the same size and price as Original, but is Ph-balanced and lavender-scented.

Saddle Sore

These little buggers—caused by friction and bacteria—take many forms, so don’t immediately call your gynecologist if you feel a cyst, pimple, or ingrown hair after a bike ride. The sign it’s a saddle sore is that it will disappear after a day or two if treated right. Don’t pop it! Just take a day off the bike, go underwear-free, and take a cool or warm bath in Epsom salt. No bathtub? Diaper rash cream with a high zinc percentage will also help.


According to waxers and gynecologists, “clean, neat, and dry” is the key to health. Bare is best, from this perspective, but whatever your preference, as long as that rule is abided, there’s no significant risk of infection or soreness. Carrying baby wipes in one’s saddle bag or jersey pocket is an easy way to clean up after a ride. Take off that musky chamois or sweaty undies immediately post ride and for extensive stops: they are now a petri dish of your DNA. Wash those shorts inside-out in hot water, and either toss in the dryer or hang in bright sunlight.

Photo courtesy of Damon Bowe and Rose Physical Therapy Group

Photo courtesy of Damon Bowe and Rose Physical Therapy Group


Click here to visit Molly’s site and purchase her resourceful book.

To read the full DC presentation report, as well as other health, fitness, and wellness tips, visit Carolyne’s blog, Lifting Weights At Midnight. Carolyne Whelan is a lifelong athlete and cyclist, including many bike tours and eight years as a bicycle mechanic. She lives and rides in Pittsburgh, PA, but will travel anywhere for an adventure. Find her on Twitter at @Carolynesutra.

Last modified: November 24, 2014

2 Responses to :
What You Always Wanted to Know About Bicycling But Have Never Asked

  1. Claudia says:

    I’m not surprised that waxers support the idea of “neat.” I asked my doctor (female and a cyclist) about the potential benefits of waxing before a cross-country ride, and she was skeptical, to say the least. I’m not judging anyone’s personal ladyscaping, but are male cyclists also encouraged to stay “neat”?

    1. Claudia, it was actually waxers and gynecologists alike who suggested waxing, because it is the easiest to clean and causes the least skin irritation. The main rule is neat and clean, so waxing is by no means the only way to go, but it makes cleanup easier post-ride, and keeps there from being any snags, snare, or ingrown hairs (when done correctly, versus shaving) that can cause saddle sores or other discomforts. I hope that helps!

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