Rapha Manuals: Protect Your Peach

The most important contact point between rider and machine is that between our behinds and our saddles. To help you sit comfortably, follow our tips for taking care of ‘down there’.

25 July 2018

In the lead-up to the 1976 Tour de France, the five-time winner Eddy Merckx seemed unbeatable. But his campaign for victory was famously thwarted even before the first stage, resulting in withdrawal from the competition. The cause? Excruciating saddle sores.

Our behinds are a key source of power on the bike. Every pedal stroke starts with the gluteus maximus muscles firing into the saddle to propel us forwards, so it makes sense that we need to look after the delicate skin ‘down there’. Protect your peach.

The trouble starts when the repeated pedalling motion exerts pressure against the skin’s surface, causing the tissues underneath to slide in opposite but parallel planes. Team GB triathlete and senior nurse, Tracey Hare, says that this is medically known as shearing:

“When you have movement of the tissue under pressure, and you get moisture from sweat and bacteria on the skin, it makes the skin really vulnerable.” Not dissimilar from a bedsore, that familiar numbness on the saddle can eventually become a saddle sore: tender and inflamed skin that can ruin a ride.

As with most things, prevention is better than cure. In the 1930s, resourceful road riders are mythicised to have ridden with a choice steak on the saddle. Then, once tenderised and – presumably – well salted, they would fry it up for an evening meal. The science may have moved on since then, but even today professional riders still struggle with sore points. Rapha recommends finding out what works best for you, and here are some tips to get you started:

Leave your underwear at home

The materials of the chamois pad of cycling shorts is designed to be worn next to your skin. Make sure the shorts are snug enough that they hold the pad close to you and it doesn’t bunch up or sag. This will help cushion your sit bones from road vibration.

‘Down there’ skincare

Shaving or waxing can lead to nasty ingrown hairs so is best avoided and there are many products designed to protect skin. Originally used to soften the leather on the chamois pad, chamois cream protects the skin from friction and chafing. Rapha product designer Jon Freeman says: “there is a period of time when you first get into cycling where you’re adapting to a pretty unusual platform to sit on. Skin has to toughen up a bit and chamois helps you through that.” The best chamois creams are moisturising and anti-bacterial to keep you comfortable, especially in very hot or wet conditions. Rapha’s is made with shea butter and natural aromatic herbs inspired by the scents of Mont Ventoux, a spiritual homeland of road cycling.

Are you sitting comfortably?

Often, beginners will go for the biggest, most padded saddle but, Freeman says, “they’re usually too wide or have too much padding, leading to increased contact area with the skin and a build up of heat and friction. That leads to chafing. Saddles can also be too narrow, causing numbness and general discomfort. The sit bones need to be properly supported, lifting everything else off the saddle so you don’t get pressure where you don’t want it.” Rapha saddles offer two widths and foam densities to give different riders the correct support based on their size and weight.

Dial your position

Your position on the bike is often at fault for a pain in the backside. Trying out a few saddles or going for a professional bike fit will help, but otherwise try sliding the saddle forwards or backwards. Often a quick win is to tilt the nose of the saddle down slightly so it’s positioned at a less intrusive angle. Or try shorter or longer stems to adjust your reach down to the handlebars.

Stand up

As you ride for longer, remember to stand up out of the saddle for 30 seconds now and then, allowing the blood flow to recirculate and reduce numbness, particularly on hilly days.

Whip them off

As soon as your ride is over, jump in the shower and clean up. Bacteria and sweat left on the skin will make you at risk of developing small sores. Put your bib shorts in the wash and pull on a fresh pair for the next ride.

Building on fourteen years at the forefront of cycle clothing design, Rapha’s new range of saddles have been constructed to partner perfectly with our bib shorts for ultimate comfort at the primary contact point between rider and machine. Find your perfect perch from which to take flight on two wheels.

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