Per the urging of Carl and Alec I have recently set out on a little task that I like to call, ‘The Crotch Chronicles.’ This is a going to be a compilation of things detailing my foray into finding out why my junk hurts so much when I ride bikes. I have searched the interwebs for information, but sadly I have come up lacking. There is plenty of information for men. There is even a whole book for them, ‘Finding the Perfect Bicycle Seat’ by Joshua Cohen PT, MS. This book is very useful, if you’re a guy. However I am a woman, with all of the petticoats and side-saddle riding that comes along with that. So this will be my task, in a multi part series where I try out various saddles and chamois creams, and also talk to experts about the differences between men and women (besides the obvious ones) and what that means for comfort on the bike.
I would first like to cover the basics. The how and why of basic crotch maintenance if you, like myself, enjoy riding bikes enough that your close friends and relatives think you are nothing short of crazy. There are some basic steps that every cycling enthusiast should follow, steps that will help you avoid that awful sensation, you know the one, where it feels like someone has placed a bic lighter beneath your shorts. If you’re in a hurry or just have a short attention span, skip to the end where I lay out the important points with special wordpress bullets.
For starters it’s important to invest in a pair of cycling specific spandex, spandex with a chamois in it. No complaining about looking stupid, or about how your wife our children will mock you, I care not, and your junk will thank you later on in life, or even later that day. Choosing a cycling short can be a daunting process, as there are many makes and models to choose from, as well as many different price points. If you have never had cycling shorts before and you are worried about price, pick something that fits yours price range and just take the plunge. Having them is much better than not having them.
When choosing a short you want them to fit tightly. They should feel like a second skin, not like a pair of baggy shorts. To help with this idea, think of yourself as a hipster kid trying to squeeze yourself into the smallest jeans possible. Tighter is better, and tighter will save you some serious crotch pain down the line. If there is any excess material, especially around the crotch area, that material can bunch and chafe during riding. I’ve had plenty of cycling shorts that didn’t fit, and having shorts that are too big is horrendous, and no amount of bike fit or chamois cream will save you from the chafe demon that will be unleashed on your unsuspecting junk. The basic rule is if you were able to get them on, they’re probably not too tight. So try them on, early and often, and if you happen to purchase them over the internet and they feel a bit loose, send them back.
I’m not going to get into the finer points of choosing a chamois or a brand, I can recommend a few articles, for the ladies, bikeshopgirl.com has a good review of some shorts. In general, the more you pay for a short the nicer it will be. This does not necessarily apply to longevity, but more expensive shorts often come with amenities like higher quality lycra with more panels to enhance compression, fewer seams, no waistband so you don’t feel like you’re being choked. Things of that nature. Personally I prefer bib shorts. While it makes peeing before I start a race more difficult, my bibs are held up by the straps, not the waistband, so when I’m in the final lap of a cross race I don’t feel like I’m going to vomit from the pressure of a short waistband on my stomach…I feel like I’m going to vomit because I’m going so hard, which is as it should be!
So now you’ve got your nice, tight fitting shorts, and you go to put them on before a ride and, WAIT JUST A MINUTE.You didn’t take off your underwear. For shame. All cycling shorts, regardless of ride length or purpose should never be worn with underwear. Wearing underwear under your cycling shorts completely defeats the point of them. Your chamois is meant to facilitate a friction free barrier between yourself and the bicycle seat, it is not actually meant as extra padding. You put underwear into the mix, and it becomes Chafe City, and the last bus has already left. The weave in the cotton of most underwear is not meant to be rubbed against your skin, which is what will happen when you pedal a bike. Oh, and if you throw a hot, muggy day into this cake batter then your trip to Chafe City also turns into a visit to Club Fungus.
Ladies, it is especially important that you heed these words, as our downstairs mixup is kept running properly by a balance of bacteria, and creating an imbalance, through grody underwear or other means, can give you a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI), yeast infection or worse. Guys, you are certainly not exempt from this. You may not get a UTI, but there is definitely bacteria at work down there. A moist, muggy, cramped up piece of underwear is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and fungus. Stop that party before it even starts. If you do not heed my advice, and you end up having an infection party in your pants make sure you take a trip down to the doctor, instead of just eating an apple everyday. These things can and will get worse.
Alright, now that I’ve gotten the underwear off of you it’s time to ride bikes! But wait, what about this chamois cream I’ve heard about, should I use this? Well, there are a lot of different viewpoints about using and not using chamois cream, but I would say that it’s a good idea to use chamois cream. Speaking just from my own experience, chamois cream can be an ass saver. I’m on my bike nearly everyday, and if I don’t use chamois cream in my training it’s very easy for me to get chafed, and once you’re chafed it takes time for that to heal.
The jury is still out on what types of chamois cream (check back for reviews of varying chamois creams, it’s already in the process, so it’s happening) and the method for applying, but I think I can give you a few tips. Chamois cream is extra protection against chafing and saddle sores. Some will say that it is not necessary to use chamois cream on a short ride, as the time on the seat is not long enough to create discomfort. Fie on this. I would go with the ole’ standby of taking preventive measures. You change the oil in your car so the engine doesn’t crap the bed. Same idea with chamois cream, you use it so the party in your pants still functions properly day after day. It’s better to use it every time, than to realize you should have used it when it’s too late.
As for application, there are many methods. Some say apply it to the skin, some say only to the chamois, I recommend a little of both. Slather it on the parts of the chamois that you come in contact with as well as any seams that could irritate you, and then use some more in the nooks and crannies of your body, and the regular problem areas where you sometimes get chafed.
So you’ve gone for a merry ride, only three motorists have tried to kill you, and you’ve arrived back home. What do you do now? Traditional science tells us that you now crack a beer and hang out for two hours in your goods to let everything marinate. New science, from such scientists as Professor Dave Zabriskie, advises us otherwise.
As soon as possible after your ride get out of your chamois. The motto I follow is chamois time is training time. Unhinge that fungus party before it even starts. Oh and be sure to put those shorts directly into some place where you will not be tempted to wear them again. A good recipe for getting an infection in your goods is to re-wear a dirtied chamois. The next step is to clean up down there. You’ve got about an hour before the bacteria starts inviting its friends over. Use an antibacterial wipe or some sort of cleanser if you have to drive home or if you’re planning on having that beer, or get yourself in the shower and use a generous amount of soap. After your shower, dry yourself off, everywhere, especially down there. If it’s handy, some talcum or baby powder will keep things extra dry. This is all in recommendation of Professor of Taintology, Dave Zabriskie by the way. Ladies, I know we don’t have much of a taint but just try to get the powder around and not in. Afterwards, get yourself into something that will air you out, especially if it’s a hot day, like a pair of loose shorts. DZ suggests hanging out naked, but I know my housemates probably wouldn’t be cool with that.
So let’s review:
- Purchase a pair of tight-fitting cycling specific shorts
- Take your underwear OFF
- Lube up with chamois cream
- After your ride, take off those grody shorts and don’t wear them again until washed
- Clean yourself up within the hour and let yourself air out
Well, that’s the basics! Check back for the first installment of The Crotch Chronicles where I attempt to discover saddles, chamois cream, and general methods for being an avid cyclist and a woman that will not cause extreme junk pain. Next time I will also define the term ‘junk smashing’ Stay ‘tuned, it’s going to be wild.