Indoor and outdoor cycling are both killer workouts that can either leave you feeling like a million bucks or feeling like you just rode a million miles on a horse—ouch. Despite what most people assume, riding a bike shouldn't feel uncomfortable. But bicycle fit is generally confusing, and with the launch of new indoor bikes in popular studios like Flywheel and SoulCycle, the comfort thing is easier said than done.
Thankfully, most below-the-belt issues can be solved with a few minor tweaks. We went straight to the experts to address five awkward issues caused by a bike, so you don't have to bring them up over brunch. (You're welcome.)
Your lady parts/dude bits are squashed. Ouch!
Problem: If you’re feeling hip pain or like you got punched where the sun don't shine, your saddle might be too high or in the wrong position. TBH, fit problems cause way more issues for our nether regions than saddle shape or size. “Universally, the major mistake when riders adjust their own bikes is putting their seat height too low,” says John Wellmann, Flywheel master instructor. We tend to blame the actual saddle, but really, tweaking the height can make a big difference.
Fix: Get a pro to set your seat height properly. This does not mean the receptionist at the Spin studio. The instructor or an in-house fit expert should be able to help—just be sure to show up early. For a general frame of reference, your leg should be almost completely straight at the bottom of the pedal stroke without pointing your toe, and your sit bones should be where most of the pressure on the saddle falls.
Outside the studio, most (if not all) bike shops will have a bike fit expert in-house. Don’t be afraid to do a mini interview before hiring him or her. A good fit might cost you between $50 to $250+, but it's a worth-it investment that will save you a world of hurt, improve your performance, and keep you from having to buy new saddles and shorts in the long run. And whoever is fitting your bike should make you feel super comfortable, both on and off the bike. (If a bike fitter has you immediately get on the bike without an off-bike assessment, that’s a red flag.)
You're going numb or getting pinched.
Problem: You simply might be putting too much pressure on your lady and dude parts as you grind away, Wellmann says. Or your saddle is too wide or too narrow, and your sit bones aren’t being supported. That means tissue is either oozing over the sides or being compressed into the middle. (PSA: Sit bone width doesn’t have anything to do with your pant size; it’s all about your skeleton.)
Fix: “It takes a few rides to learn that while you are sitting, you should lift through the core so the body is supported and not fully resting into the saddle,” Wellmann explains. But if the issue continues after you start standing more and lessen pressure on your bits, seek help. If you’re riding outside, go get your sit bones measured at your local bike shop to find your saddle soulmate. Most shops have measuring devices (informally called "ass-o-meters"), and all you need to do is sit for them to figure out your width and recommend a saddle. The service is almost always free, and some shops will even let you test a saddle before buying it. In Spin class, you can’t swap saddles, but you can supplement them with gel pads. This will help only if your sit bones are too wide though, since it’ll give you a bit more width.
You're chafing like crazy.
Problem: Your legs look like you ran through a poison ivy patch, and that place where your butt meets your thigh (dat thass) is being tormented. Are these shorts made of sandpaper?
Fix: But seriously, are you wearing cycling shorts or just regular gym shorts? If the latter, swap running shorts for chamois (pronounced “sham-wah" or sometimes "shammy") shorts designed to provide cushioning and fight friction. We like: Specialized Shasta cycling shorts ($60, specialized.com), which are also available in a 3/4 legging length.
Already shammy-ing? Consider adding a quarter-size amount of chamois cream (a lubricant designed to fight friction on the bike) like Chamois Butt'r Her or Original ($17.88 each, amazon.com). Pro tip: Apply directly to the skin that is getting chafed rather than your shorts. That way, you guarantee the right spot gets covered. Lastly, to ease post-ride discomfort, diaper cream (sexy, we know) can really help soothe and banish redness and discomfort. Try: Aquaphor Baby Advanced Therapy Healing ointment ($8.47, amazon.com).
Ugh, ANOTHER UTI.
Problem: Not to be gross, but you’ve created the perfect petri dish in your shorts. Bacteria gets trapped in micro tears in your skin; sweat creates a warm, moist environment; and the results can be gnarly.
Fix: Drop your shorts ASAP post-class. Forget the smoothie bar or recapping the ride with your friends, you want to get out of those shorts immediately. You might also want to consider how you’re washing your bike shorts. First: Wash them inside out. This seemingly minor detail ensures your chamois doesn't get balled up and miss most of the rinse-cycle action. Then, set the water as hot as you’re willing to go: high-quality Lycra can hold up to warm and hot water. Lastly, banish bacteria by either tossing shorts in the dryer or hanging in direct sunlight so the UV rays can go to work. And most importantly, never put on a pair of damp shorts!
You're suffering from saddle sores or butt-ne.
Problem: It’s a pretty simple equation. Bacteria + sweat + microtears from friction = ingrown hairs, pimples, and cyst-like bumps. They're not pretty, they can be painful, and they can ruin the moment you're ready to rock the bathing suit after so many brutal sessions on the bike.
Fix: Start with the above tips and make sure your bike and shorts fit. Next, always get clean right after you hop off the bike. Shower with warm, soapy water, or at the very least, channel your inner infant and use a wipe. To treat a saddle sore, use an antibacterial cream like Neosporin original ointment ($3.97, amazon.com), but if it doesn’t go away in a few days, you develop a fever, or it’s excruciating, seek medical treatment. You may have an infection, or a doctor may need to lance it for you (never try that at home).
Finally, don't forget to exfoliate your legs and bum on the reg. Sloughing off the dead skin that can clog pores, especially when compounded with sweat, will also help you get a closer shave. On the topic of shaving, skip doing so the day of, especially if you have sensitive skin. That could cause ingrowns. Last step: Let it all air out when you can. Opt for loose clothing like an airy dress or breezy briefs post-ride.
Molly Hurford is the author of Saddle, Sore: Ride Comfortable, Ride Happy (yes, an entire book devoted to lady parts and the bike).