Saturday, December 14, 2013

Bum rap

The little helpers
This is one of those abstract, what-if, philosophical posts that will really make you think.

Oh wait, that's a different post… what this post is really about is your bottom. Or, how to condition the part of your body that sits on the bike seat for hours on end. (pun intended)

All this talk about What, the many photos and words describing long rides that are good for your brain. Why not a little How? Because you know you've been wanting to ask about this subject. You know it, I know it, the whole Internet knows it. So...

First, if you want to ride many hundreds of kilometers in one go, your training rides are important not just for your legs but for also your posterior. We call it Butt Conditioning, those hours in the saddle leading up to a long brevet. Very important. Your skin and sit bones and soft tissue actually do get used to sitting on a saddle and being in bike shorts. With repetition the butt gets used to it! Time in the saddle, very important.

And before we get to the items in the photo, let's state the obvious: the right saddle should be your first priority. There is no ONE right saddle. Every butt is different. Sorry, but you'll find Your Saddle through trial and error. The width of your sit bones is one of the variables, and your local bike shop might have a device to measure this. It's a good jumping-off point for experimenting with saddles.

On your next long ride look around at what kind of saddles others have. That's how I found the original Terry Butterfly (I still use it today). Here in California, it might be how you discover Rivet saddles. Deb Banks rode a Rivet Independence on Sydney Melbourne, partly because it's an excellent saddle and partly because Rivet is her company. Order one from her.

So, you have an excellent saddle with many miles spent getting to know each other. Great! Good work! On an actual ride, what else can be done to ensure a happy relationship? Because like any relationship, what you get out of it depends on what you put in.

Everyone's routine is different. Here is mine:
  1. Before packing 4 pairs of bike shorts into my luggage, I butter up the chammies. That's right, I rub Chammy Butt'r (mineral oil in a more convenient form) all over the chammies and let them dry. The oil sinks into the foam chamois so that it's not abrasive to start with.
  2. While the chammies dry I make sure Bella does not eat them. (You might be able to skip this step.)
  3. Just before getting on the bike, I apply Body Glide to the skin that will be in contact with my saddle. Body Glide is paraffin, or wax. It won't prevent serious chafing but it will buy you time. Also, it doesn't have a scent and it's not sticky (so no ewww factor). (In the photo it looks like a deodorant stick.)
  4. On the bike I carry a small tub of Lantiseptic. This is the new Bag Balm, a petroleum based anti-friction agent, shall we say. Hospitals and nursing homes use it to prevent bed sores. The secret sauce is lanolin, which forms a barrier on your skin. It also has menthol. Apply as much as you can stand, periodically throughout a long ride. It's best to find a discreet location, if possible.
  5. The last thing is a film canister…you remember these? Tough and tightly sealed, if you can still find one they're totally ideal for carrying an absorbent powder like cornstarch in your drop bag. Not for baking, no. The real enemy of the skin on a long ride is moisture. On both SBS and Sydney Melbourne, we had rain on Day 1 of a four-day ride! Wet shorts are the thing you really have to worry about. Rain can quickly transform high-end Lycra shorts into sandpaper on your skin. And cornstarch just fixes that. Rub cornstarch on your skin the morning of Day 2 (and 3, and 4) and nothing will stick to it so it can heal. 
Each night after showering I use aloe on any irritated skin, to cool it down and heal while I sleep. Not the crap green gel for sunburns that has hardly any aloe. The real stuff, like Jason. It lives in my drop bag.

Some folks also use a diaper rash cream. Since with moisture and bike shorts we are basically talking about diaper rash, it's worth a try.

The final tip, for you randonneurs who have read this far, is the Secret of the Double Shorts. In the middle of an event even when your skin is chafed, you have to keep riding. What to do? The secret is, wear two pairs of shorts. The one next to your skin goes on inside out (chamois facing away from skin). The other goes on the normal way. So the other riders don't talk about you…no one has to know. No chamois next to the skin! I own a pair of slippery shorts whose sole purpose in life is to save my butt on a 1200K.

Saving your own butt is a big part of surviving a 1200K. There are a lot more tricks, too. Go ahead, if you got 'em, share 'em! Use the comments field...


  1. I found this very interesting. As you know I am new to Audax and long distance cycling, as the SM1200 was my first 1200k ride. My Injury list; Saddle sores, achillies inflamed(day 2-4), Fluid on my knees morning day 4. Numbmess in my left little toe and Right big toe, still to today. The achillies inflamation comes back after every ride now. This long distance stuff is serious. I have a brooks saddle and it is very good. Interesting about the Aloe as I swear by it also.. The cornflour is interesting and the two pairs of knicks. I wear Assos Mille and the chamois is thick and wearing two pairs of them I think would be obvious. I use century cream or the Assos chamois creme and they both seem quite good. I wish my butt would toughen up so I could ride more.

    1. Bummer David! You didn't complain, at least not to me. (I probably would have recommended drugs.)

      The scariest one is your Achilles, that gets inflamed now whenever you ride. What are you gonna do about that? My left Achilles was inflamed after 2011 PBP. It didn't like the cobblestones (my knees don't like them either). On SM1200 we had quite a bit of rough pavement on the descents in the Snowies.

      About double shorts - one pair can be a bit lighter weight. If you don't want that, Deb's trick is to alternate between 2 different brands of shorts you like. Brand X, Brand Y, Brand X, Brand Y.

  2. So you add the second pair of shorts mid-ride? Or you just wear two all day with no butter and only body glide? The aloe trick sounds like a great idea.
    I have discovered DZ Nuts. The women's is okay, but the men's version is fabulous. I have never been happy with the chammy goo until now, and I am a complete convert. The tube even fits in a back pocket/camelbak pocket so it can be reapplied mid-ride.