Bike Seat Pain for Women: An Awkwardly Comprehensive Guide to Finding Solutions

Ladies, we need to talk about your crotch. And my crotch. Because I feel your pain.

Truly I do. Having put over 8000 miles on my touring bike in the last ten months, 3500 of those miles packed into 30 loooong days of racing across America, my nether regions are well acquainted with the intricate issues of female bicycle seat pain.

Women hardly have a monopoly on saddle soreness, if the complaints of male cyclists I know are any indication. But, we women have a few extra issues to deal with. Our saddle pain is often a bit more complex… and hard to talk about in mixed company.

So whether you’d like a little extra comfort on your neighborhood ride, less pain during your next century race, or are wondering if saddle sores might be a deal breaker on a long-distance bicycle tour, read on for a comprehensive resource on overcoming bicycle saddle soreness specifically for women.

If it ever seems overwhelming, always remember this: It IS possible to get comfortable on a bike. And it’s worth the effort.

A Note on Terminology

For brevity I’ll be using terms like “women” and “female” to refer to people with vulvas, because this is what most readers are familiar with. However, I acknowledge that gender and physical anatomy are not always so closely correlated. For example, some people who identify as male have vulvas, and some who identify as female do not, and some people don’t identify as either male or female. So to be clear: this article is for people with vulvas who ride bikes, and that’s that.

A Very Personal Survey

As part of researching this post, I asked a few hundred female cyclists some very personal questions about their bodies, bikes, and experiences. The most helpful results from that survey are woven into the rest of this post. If you’d like to dive into the details, see the survey results here.

Types of Bicycle Seat Pain

If we’re going to fix our bicycle seat pain, first we need to get clear about what kind of pain we’re dealing with and what causes it.

Bruised feeling around your sit bones

Believe it or not, this is actually a “good” type of pain. As you’ll see below when we talk about proper riding position, your bones should be taking most of your weight, so this means you are doing something right.

This bruised feeling can be quite uncomfortable but will likely go away with time as your body adapts. If it doesn’t, you may just need to find some bike shorts with light padding in the sit bone area and you’ll be good to ride forever. Lucky you!

Chafing and saddle sores

Saddle sores and chafing are two of the ways that skin gets damaged from contact with your saddle. Often they happen when skin rubs on clothing where there is greatest pressure from the saddle, or between skin and skin where pressure causes it to rub together.

Note that a little bit of chafing is normal when you’re first getting used to riding a bike. For many people the skin will naturally toughen up and the problem will go away on its own, or with the help of a little chamois cream.

But for some people, unfortunately, it gets worse. If it gets bad enough, there can be blood and/or infection. Not a good thing.

Fortunately there are many ways to help prevent this type of pain, from easy solutions like chamois cream to more technical ones like bike positioning, both covered in detail down below.

Soft Tissue Pain

Here’s where things get even more “interesting” for us ladies. In discussion about bicycle saddles for women, “soft tissue” is often a euphemism for “lady parts” which is yet another euphemism for vulva: labia, clitoris, and all the soft and tender bits that get squished between a bicycle seat and our pelvis when we ride. The issues can manifest as chafing, numbness, or “just” extreme discomfort from pressure on tissues that aren’t meant for it.

Men can also have soft tissue discomfort, but because of the way they’re built, it’s not usually in such exquisitely tender areas. I’ve been told, not that I can personally verify, that men are able to “adjust” themselves so that the critical bits don’t get squished. Still, everyone can struggle with problems caused by pressure on important nerves and arteries in various soft tissue in the groin area.

Innies vs. Outies

There has been some minimal research showing that women with specific types of bone structure and genital shapes are more susceptible to soft tissue pain. In particular, women who have an “outie” genital shape are more likely to experience soft tissue pain than women with an “innie” shape (see this article for background). My own survey confirmed this.

The survey also found that the combination of outie genitals with an aggressively forward-leaning posture is the trickiest, with almost every rider in this category reporting significant soft tissue pain. Saddles with a cutout helped a tiny but, but it’s clear that some major engineering improvements are needed in the women’s saddle world before this problem will be solved.

Soft tissue pain can be eased by fine-tuning bike position, using chamois cream (if the issue is chafing), finding the right bike shorts (often less padding is better), choosing a saddle with a cutout or split nose, and often a combination of all of the above. Keep reading for all the nitty gritty details.

Pubic Bone Pain

Forward lean can also lead to your pubic bone, which is further forward in your crotch area, resting on the nose of your saddle and taking more weight than it should. This obviously puts a lot of pressure on the soft tissue caught in the middle, and can also cause a bruised feeling on the bone itself.

Riders with this problem might benefit from a split-nose saddle, more padded shorts, fiddling with their saddle tilt, or strength training for the lower abdominal muscles to keep the pelvis from tilting too far forward while riding.

Time to Adapt

Before we dive into more costly options, it’s worth noting that some types of bicycle saddle pain get better over time on their own.

Just like our muscles get used to the work of pedaling more, the tissue in our saddle area can get used to sitting on a bicycle seat for longer periods of time. If you’re new to cycling, give this a try before you run out and buy a bunch of new equipment.

Ideally, after waiting for the pain from a ride to subside, you’ll go for another ride and experience slightly less pain. Keep repeating this and you’ll soon notice you can ride farther and farther with less and less pain. Even on a multi-day tour without full recovery time, your body can adapt as long as nothing gets too out of hand.

It’s normal to both gain and lose this adaptation with time if your riding patterns change. Expect to work back up to it if you take some time off from cycling.

This is all fine and dandy, you say, but what if my pain doesn’t decrease when I ride more? Well, then it’s time to make some changes. Read on!

Multi-day tours like the Carretera Austral are great for getting used to long days in the saddle, but can be miserable if you have bigger issues, like bike fit and positioning.

Bike Fit and Positioning

An expensive saddle and a vat of chamois cream won’t fix your bike seat pain if you don’t sit properly on your bike. You’d be surprised at how adjustments far from your saddle can make all the difference in its comfort.

Here are the three big ones every rider should get familiar with, BEFORE deciding they need a new saddle.

Seat Height

It’s important to get your seat the correct distance from your pedals, otherwise you’ll risk saddle pain as well as various other injuries, not to mention lack of pedaling power.

To find correct seat height, sit on your bike (rest one side against a wall or have a friend hold it upright) and put one pedal in its lowest position, closest to the floor. With your heel on that pedal, your leg should be straight. When you’re actually riding, you’ll have the ball of your foot on the pedal and your knee will be slightly bent.

It’s worth repeating the process (heel on pedal, leg straight) on the other side to double check, once you’ve adjusted your seat, to make sure you’ve kept your pelvis level in the process. If your seat is too high, you’ll find yourself swaying your pelvis from side to side as you pedal, which can most definitely cause saddle soreness.

Seat height is a really simple adjustment to make. I’ve done it by the side of the road many times. If you’ve never done it before, check out this quick guide, or this one.

Seat Tilt

This is how much the nose (skinny part at the front) of your saddle tilts up or down. The right adjustment here is a matter of trial and error and can be quite subtle. Almost no one likes the nose of their saddle tilted upward, and usually the best position is level or tilted ever-so-slightly down.

A bit of personal experience here: it can be tempting for us ladies, if dealing with soft tissue pain, to tilt the nose dramatically downward in an attempt to get it further from that soft tissue. Don’t overdo it here.

I was surprised to find that a level saddle, which encouraged proper riding posture instead of forcing me to constantly fight a forward sliding motion, actually did a lot to reduce my soft tissue pain. If you’ve been riding a forward-tilted saddle and aren’t comfortable, be sure to try level even if it seems counter-intuitive.

Seat tilt can be a little fiddly to adjust the first few times, but here’s a good short video showing how to do it. It can definitely be done mid-ride if you’re searching for on-the-spot relief.

Handlebar Height

The correct handlebar height depends on your seat height, riding style, and of course your individual body.

For most recreational riders who aren’t competing for speed, there’s little to lose by going with a slightly higher handlebar height. This is usually a more comfortable, upright position that allows more weight on the sit bones and causes less soft tissue pain for women. If you’re struggling with saddle discomfort, raising your handlebars even just a half inch may help.

Here’s a good video explaining how to adjust handlebar height.

On a road bike with drop bars, rotating your brake hoods up and back has a similar effect.

Professional or DIY Bike Fitting

Standard wisdom is to visit your local bike shop for a fitting, where they’ll check your position on the bike and make adjustments. For serious riders this is certainly good advice, but casual riders may not want to fork over the cash. Here’s a pretty good article to get you started on the DIY approach, with some details about what to expect from a professional fitting as well.

I recommend this DIY approach for casual riders who aren’t ready for a professional fitting: take a multitool (I like this one from Park Tool) with you on a long leisurely ride and make experimental adjustments beside the road/trail as you go. It’s much easier to feel the difference in a small adjustment when you’re already a bit tired or sore. Plus you’ll get better and more confident at making adjustments to your bike, an important skill for any rider.

Do practice at home first though! Otherwise, don’t blame me when you’re hitchhiking home because you took something apart that you can’t put back together. If you’re hesitant to start fiddling with your bike, I beg you, at least give it a try! Here’s a post about all the bike repair tasks I taught myself how to do at home, with tips to help you get started.

Woman mountain biking through grassy hills
A comfy bike fit is also essential for fully enjoying gorgeous green fields of wildflowers.

Padded Bike Shorts

Those tight, padded, diaper-like things you see cyclists wearing? They’re not just for fashion, as stylish as they may be.

If you’re serious about overcoming persistent saddle soreness on your bicycle, at some point you’re going to need to try a real pair of bicycle shorts.

The main feature of bicycle shorts is padding in the crotch area, called a chamois (pronounced “shammy” for those of us who don’t speak French). The chamois is designed to provide some padding and eliminate any seams or rough spots that might rub in bad places.

I literally can’t think of an item of clothing that requires a more personalized fit, so expect a bit of trial and error. Some generally respected brands to start with are Pearl Izumi, Louis Garneau, Gore, and Sugoi. My own current favorite, for whatever that’s worth, is the Louis Garneau Women’s CB Carbon 2 short. The padding doesn’t bunch up like my older Pearl Izumi’s, and seems to be lasting a long time.

Pearl Izumi chamois selection explained. P.R.O. is the top-end option, recommended for riders who spend a lot of time on the bike. Image courtesy of Pearl Izumi.

Good bike shorts aren’t cheap, so let me tell you what I’ve learned in hopes of shortening your trial and error process.

Don’t wear underwear with bike shorts.

Trust me. They’re meant to be worn solo. Chafing is a common problem otherwise.

If you’re wondering how to deal with your period in this case, I highly recommend trying a menstrual cup for cycling (and everything else!).

For those who really prefer to wear underwear with their bike shorts (perhaps you can’t wash your chamois every night on a multiday tour), a few survey respondents recommended thin women’s boxer-briefs like these.

More padding is NOT always better.

If soft tissue pain (pain in your lady parts) is your main issue, heavily padded shorts can actually make this worse by putting more pressure on that tissue. Ideally, you want shorts that lightly pad your sit bones but don’t have too much padding in the middle / crotch area. You also want to make sure the sit bone padding is actually under your sit bones; not all shorts will align with all pelvic shapes.

For example, for me personally the Pearl Izumi “PRO” women’s shorts were a worthwhile upgrade over the less expensive “Elite” and “Select” versions, which both had a thicker chamois but actually caused me more soft tissue pain.

Watch out for seams in bad places.

This is another way more expensive bike shorts generally differentiate themselves. I had chafing from the seams around the leg openings while touring until I upgraded to a smoother option.

Tight is good.

You want your shorts to fit like a second skin, so they don’t move around when you pedal. If they move against your skin, they’ll eventually cause chafing.

When putting your shorts on, always pull them ALL the way up.

Sometimes this takes some squirming, but you want the material to go all the way into the creases where your legs meet your torso, and you don’t want any feeling of fabric binding around your legs as you move. Grab some fabric around each thigh and pull it upward, or drop into a few deep squats to get things in the right place before hopping on your bike. This helps prevent fabric rubbing against your skin with each pedal stroke, causing chafing.

The padding wears out over time, unfortunately.

If you’ve been using the same pair for hundreds or thousands of miles and it’s starting to feel a little flat, it’s time for a new pair.

Alternate brands and models on consecutive days.

If you ride often, especially on a multi-day tour or bikepacking trip, try to find two models that both work for you and alternate between then. The idea is that each will irritate you in slightly different places, and by alternating you give those places more time to heal.

You can wear other pants or shorts over them.

Cycling shorts are tight and padded for a reason, but if you’re not into that look, you can always rock a pair of baggy mountain bike shorts over them. Personally I’m all about it. These Club Ride Savvy Shorts are my absolute favorite (cute cut, very comfy, pockets in all the right places), and I’ve also used these Zoic Navaeh MTB shorts (or these longer ones for bike touring in conservative countries).

Chamois Cream

What causes painful chafing? Friction. What causes friction? Things rubbing together, like your clothing against your skin, or your skin against your other skin.

If you’re already riding in bike shorts with a smooth chamois and things still don’t feel good down there, it’s time to get serious about reducing friction.

What reduces friction? Chamois cream. It’s basically a lubricant designed to help things stay all slippy-slidey down there. Not everyone finds it helpful, but for those who do, it can be a game-changer.

How to use chamois cream? Just slather it on anywhere you feel irritation or chafing. This might be where your sit bones or the creases of your groin touch your bike seat, in between your butt cheeks, all up in your lady bits, or literally ANYwhere else you have issues. You can apply it directly to any rough spots on your chamois or shorts too.

Apply liberally, and reapply as often as needed. After going to the bathroom is always a good time since it tends to get wiped off, but yes, you can reapply on the side of the road! Turn your back, stick your hand down your pants, and you’ll be done before anyone notices.

Which chamois cream is best? There are a LOT of options on the market, many with amusing names, and I suspect most of them work for most people.

The most popular, and my own personal choice, is Chamois Butt’r. They have a women-specific version, Chamois Butt’r Her, with female-specific pH balance. So far I haven’t noticed any difference between them. I find the little packets really convenient; I keep an open one in a plastic bag and it usually lasts me 2-3 days while touring.

Other popular recommendations from the survey results are Assos and Hoo Ha Ride Glide (who could resist a name like that?).

Choice of Bicycle Saddle

Your saddle, or seat, is often the first place people look when trying to solve bicycle seat pain. It’s also one of the most expensive changes you can make, which is why I discussed the cheaper options like chamois cream first. If you’ve tried the tips above, given yourself some time to adapt, and still aren’t comfy on your bike, it might be time to look at your saddle.

Less expensive bikes often come with stock saddles that are basically intended to be replaced if you’re going to ride a lot. Survey results showed that riders whose saddle came with their bike were significantly more likely (60%) to say they were unsatisfied with their saddle, compared to riders who had chosen their own saddle (38%).

So if you’ve covered the basics above, or if you can tell right away that your saddle isn’t the right size or shape for you, it’s time to delve into the world of saddle choices.

Correct Saddle Fit and Width

When correctly positioned on a saddle that’s right for you, the bones of your pelvis – specifically the sit bones – should be taking most of your weight. This keeps the pressure on your skeleton, which can handle it, and off the surrounding soft tissue, which can’t.

When riding in an upright posture, your sit bones (ischial tuberosities for those who are anatomically inclined) should be taking most of your weight. These are those bony protrusions that are the closest your skeleton comes to making contact with a chair when you sit.

As you start to lean further forward for more aggressive riding, your pelvis rotates forward, and the bony surfaces called the inferior pelvic rami (plural of ramus) start to take on the weight. The space between them becomes narrower the further forward you lean.

Having a good mental picture of all this can help you troubleshoot your bike saddle pain issues more effectively. For a much better explanation I highly recommend you watch this short video, complete with a model skeleton, before reading on. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

The important factor here is saddle width. Generally speaking, riders who sit upright on their bikes will need wider saddles and those who lean aggressively forward will need narrow saddles. But sit bone width is also a very individual factor; cyclists who measured their sit bones for the survey reported numbers from 120 – 168 mm!

For example, here are two saddles designed for two very different riding postures:

This narrow saddle is intended for the more forward-leaning posture commonly used in road riding:

This saddle, much wider at the back, is intended for the upright posture used on casual cruiser bikes:

When you sit on your bike, if the saddle feels like it’s pushing up between your sit bones, it is too narrow! This is more common for riders who sit very upright, since the bone support structure is at its widest in that posture.

On the other hand, if your saddle supports your sit bones but chafes the insides of your thighs where they meet your pelvic region, it might be too wide or not tapered enough for your body. This will be more common for riders who lean forward, since that leads to narrower bone structure supporting more weight. Some chamois cream on your inner thighs may or may not help, but is definitely worth a try before you change saddles.

Some bike shops can actually measure your sit bones (don’t worry, it’s not as invasive as you might think!) and tell you which saddles are in the right range. Another option is to take a saddle into the changing room and “try it on” to see how it lines up with your body. If it seems promising, then try it on an actual bike.

Soft or Hard

Before you reach for that ultra-plush cruiser saddle or gel seat cover, know that softer is not always better, especially for long rides. Soft seats allow more movement, which can cause more chafing, and can also put more pressure on soft tissue as the sit bones sink into the padding.

There’s a reason many long-haul bicycle travelers (myself included) swear by classic Brooks leather saddles. They’re hard, but they mold to your bones over time, making them hard in just the right places.

My Brooks B17 in action in Vietnam

Cutouts

You’ve probably seen at least one saddle with a cutout – an indentation in the middle to relieve pressure on delicate bits. Does it really help? No one knows until they try.

You might think having more space down there will fix everything, and for some women it does. Those with “outie” genital shape are especially likely to find it helpful, as are those who ride in a more aggressively forward-leaning posture.

But for some people a cutout just concentrates pressure on a smaller area, or creates more edges that can lead to chafing. The cutout shape can make a big difference too; not all cutouts will be right for all riders.

If a cutout doesn’t provide relief in the soft tissue area, a split nose or full-length cutout is a logical next step. Saddles like the Selle SMP TRK and ISM Pn3.1 extend the cutout channel further forward to reduce pressure in more places, while still offering the bike handling control of a normal saddle nose.

Specialized is also trying to tackle the soft tissue issue with its Mimic technology, which is definitely worth a look for those still suffering with a cutout saddle.

Women-Specific Saddles

Many manufacturers make women-specific bike saddles, which is a great thing. However, know that simply being women-specific is NOT enough to ensure a great fit for you personally. There’s still a wide range in personal variation, and a saddle that’s perfect for one woman might be a torture device for another.

It’s often assumed that women need a wider saddle than men, due to the wider width of our sit bones, related to the whole childbearing thing. So women’s saddles typically have a wider back and then taper more dramatically toward the front. But actually, there are plenty of women who have narrower sit bones than plenty of men. The difference is only meaningful if you measure lots of people and then average them.

So if your sit bones are not particularly wide and the saddle engineering isn’t particularly detailed, you may be just fine with a “men’s” or “unisex” bike saddle.

Try Before You Buy

How do you know if a saddle is right for you? This part is challenging. For many riders, especially well-trained endurance cyclists, the biggest issues won’t show up until deep into a long ride.

Some bike shops will let you try a saddle for a few weeks before committing, though this doesn’t apply to leather saddles because of how they’re designed to conform to the rider’s body. Others have a “saddle library” where you can borrow a number of models for test rides.

You can also try buying used on eBay to save a few bucks, and/or sell your lightly used saddle there if it doesn’t work out. Maybe you can borrow from a friend or a helpful rider in your local cycling group.

Try asking your local bike shop for their ideas too. Even if they don’t allow you to try before you buy, they may have other thoughts on how to increase your odds of a good fit.

Core Strength

Since proper bike fit is a dance between bike and rider, we can’t expect the bike to do all the adjusting. As riders we have a lot of control over how we sit on the bike, even without loosening any bolts.

Core strength is huge in terms of bike positioning. I don’t mean how many situps you can do or whether you have a six pack. I mean functional strength in your transverse abdominus and lower abdominal muscles, allowing you to control the tilt of your pelvis while your legs are spinning in circles and you’re eating a granola bar with one hand while avoiding potholes and keeping one eye on traffic.

If you’re lacking this type of core strength, your pelvis will tilt forward more than it should while riding. This can cause that dreaded soft tissue pain and rob you of power in your pedal stroke.

To understand the proper use of your core muscles while riding, think about pulling your bellybutton in toward your spine and curling your tailbone under, rounding your lower back slightly (or at least not arching it) as you ride. You should notice a difference in how your body feels on the saddle as you do this. Maybe you’ll also notice an increased feeling of stability and strength in your legs.

To make this position strong and automatic, work on strengthening your transverse abdominus muscles, lower abs, and also glutes. These muscles work as a team to stabilize your pelvis while biking and doing pretty much anything else. Your entire body, not just your crotch, will thank you for keeping them strong.

These resistance bands are possibly the best investment I ever made in my functional strength. Sometimes I throw one in my pannier or seat bag on multi-day rides just to make sure my glutes are still paying attention. This post on simple home workout gear might help too. And for those willing to spend a few bucks a month on high-quality online fitness instruction, I’m currently digging Peloton for their massive library of yoga and strength classes (including some killer core workouts).

Female bikepacker taking snack break

Hygiene

Let’s not forget good old fashioned hygiene. Not only will these tips help reduce saddle sores on multi-day rides; they’ll help prevent yeast infections and urinary tract infections which can sometimes be triggered by long days in the saddle.

The general goal, probably not too surprising, is to keep things clean and dry to prevent growth of things we don’t want growing. This gets more difficult on multi-day trips like bikepacking or touring, but it’s still worth striving for as much as conditions allow.

Change out of your bike shorts as soon as you’re done riding. Change into some breathable underwear to let things air out (I love merino wool panties for this purpose while traveling on my bike).

Shower or wash as soon as you’re done riding. If you’re camping on a bike tour or bikepacking trip, wash your crotch area and anywhere that’s chafed even if you’re not able to take a full shower. In a pinch, a few squirts from your water bottle will do. Do this away from water sources like streams and lakes as part of leave no trace ethics.

If water is really scarce, baby wipes can work, especially these luxurious shower wipes (I know they say they’re for dudes, but trust me, they are awesome). Wipe front to back to avoid moving bacteria from the back to the front, where they can cause infections.

Wash your bike shorts before wearing them again. I know, on bike tours or bikepacking trips this can be hard. Rinsing them out in a motel sink is just fine (use a gentle soap if possible). If camping and water is scarce, try to at least rinse off the chamois. Better yet, heat some water with a camp stove and wash the shorts fully (away from the water source – leave no trace!).

Let your bike shorts dry before wearing them again. I know, this can be hard when camping in cold or humid climates. If staying in a motel, a fan or heating/cooling system (anything that circulates air) can help. If you bring two pairs, you can strap one to your bike and let it dry in the sun the next day while wearing your fresh one.

Yes, I’ve broken some of these rules on tough multi-day rides when I didn’t have enough time, energy, or water to follow them. Endurance bikepack racing, for example, is often a single-chamois kind of situation. So far it’s worked out fine for me. But some women are more susceptible to issues than others, and it’s better to be careful when possible.

It’s easy to let hygiene slip a little bit while bikepacking… It’s not the end of the world, but do your best.

Hair Down There

Like most things bicycle saddle related, the optimal state of your hair down there is a personal decision. Among the survey respondents, answers were remarkably evenly split: 25% of women who shaved or waxed their pubic hair said it made riding MORE comfortable, while 25% said it made riding LESS comfortable, and 50% said it made no difference.

The closest you can get to a universal truth here is probably this: short scratchy “stubble” never did anything to increase anyone’s comfort. So be careful about your timing if you choose to remove hair.

While Riding

Even with all the above variables tuned just right, it’s normal to have some discomfort if you’re really pushing the time you spend in the saddle. When I raced my bike across the United States, there was just no way to feel totally comfy after sitting on the thing for 16+ hours a day.

Ideally, this type of discomfort is manageable and doesn’t derail your ride. Here are a few tips and observations to help you deal with it.

Short breaks help a lot.

If you can take the weight off and let some blood flow back into squished tissue for even just a few seconds, riding will be more comfortable (for a little while at least). On rolling hills this is easy; simply let your legs take more weight while you’re coasting downhill. On uphills you can stand out of the saddle for a few pedal strokes to get some relief.

Consistent flat riding is the worst for me in terms of saddle soreness, so I make sure I stand up for a few seconds periodically, coasting as far as I can before slowing to the point where I need to pedal again, and repeating a few times.

If these mini-breaks aren’t providing relief anymore, it may be time to get off the bike for 15 minutes and take a snack break. This obviously won’t work for competitive racers, but for the rest of us, it can be totally worth the improved comfort on the remainder of the ride.

Stronger legs can reduce saddle pain.

When I’m feeling really strong and coordinated on my bike, my saddle area hurts less because my legs are taking more of the weight and my core is more engaged. Getting stronger is a slow process, but this is something extra to look forward to for those who put in the time and effort (in addition to being able to ride farther and faster!).

In the survey, a third of the women who’d tried strength training said it improved their saddle comfort somewhat or a lot.

Rougher and less consistent terrain can be better.

When I ride more dirt and gravel than pavement, like when bikepacking and mountain biking, my saddle issues are usually better. It seems counter-intuitive because it’s bumpier, but the greater variety in body position keeps any one spot from getting too sore. If you’re intrigued by this idea, for saddle-related reasons or otherwise, this bikepacking guide for beginners might pique your interest.

It turns out I’m in the minority, because survey respondents were actually more likely to say rougher terrain made their problems worse! However, a few (9%) did find improvement with off-road riding, so it may be worth a shot. Plus, it’s lovely to get away from all the traffic on the roads.

Nothing helps saddle soreness more than spending time out of the saddle…

Treating Saddle Sores and Chafing

I sincerely hope this article improves your saddle soreness situation! But sometimes, even with a decent saddle, shorts, and bike fit, we can still have issues. If you’ve already got some skin irritation down there, here are recommendations from the survey about how women can soothe and heal saddle sores and chafing once the damage has been done.

  • Chamois butter can soothe irritated skin, in addition to reducing the irritation in the first place.
  • Neosporin / antibiotic ointment helps keep open wounds from getting dirty or infected, and can be soothing too.
  • Zinc oxide / diaper rash powder can help soothe irritated skin from chafing or heat rash.

Advice from Cyclists to Cyclists

I can’t think of a better way to end than by quoting some advice directly from the cyclists who responded to my survey. Though many are still struggling with painful issues, their responses radiated persistence, optimism, encouragement, and an obvious love of cycling. Here are just a few of their responses when asked what advice they would give to other riders struggling with pain:

“Don’t give up on cycling, keep looking until you find one that doesn’t cause pain. Don’t put up with pain, it shouldn’t be part of cycling.”

“Keep trying new saddles and bike fit. The seat or fit is the issue NOT YOU.”

“Find a really good fitter, have some uncomfortable conversations, and keep trying.”

“You’re not alone. Each person will have different answers so you have to trust what you feel more than anyone’s advice.”

“Stick it out! Riding is super fun! But pain does suck.”

“Read, research, don’t keep quiet!”

In Conclusion

I know that was a lot of information. If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this, my cycling sisters, it’s that you have options. You don’t have to simply endure the pain.

While riding a bicycle will never be as comfy as sitting on a plush couch (if it is for you, please share your secrets!), it should be possible to manage your issues well enough to meet whatever your personal cycling goals are.

Also, if you have a cycling man in your life who doesn’t seem to fully understand your distress, have him take a look at this article written by an empathetic male cyclist.

Saddle soreness is different for women, it really is. Let’s get the word out and help more ladies find a solution, so we can all enjoy the marvelous freedom of experiencing the world on two wheels.

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Hi there, I’m Alissa. I’ve biked over 10,000 miles (enough to stop counting) in nine countries and still haven’t kicked the bike travel bug. Pavement and panniers or singletrack and seat bag, I love it all. On my bike I feel free. Learn more or say hi.


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15 thoughts on “Bike Seat Pain for Women: An Awkwardly Comprehensive Guide to Finding Solutions”

  1. Awesome tips thank you. Most of them I knew about as I do get alot of saddle sores and tried to find out what to do. Some info is new and very interesting. Awesome. Great stuff on your tour

    Reply
  2. Thank you for all the tipps! I think, it should me much more normalized to talk about soft tissue pain. Things like longer inner labia or just different anatomy makes problems different in different people with vulvas…

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  3. Thank you for writing this, it helps quite a bit. I have just started riding, mostly road with a bit of mountain, and my sit bones are just dying! I am only able to really ride once a week for a few hours, then they have just had enough. But, instead of running out to buy another saddle I’m going to take your advice and get a bit stronger, build up some “butt callous” and see if that helps. I’m happy that you mentioned right away that if you have bone pain then you’re doing something right, so good news to start! We shall see how it goes…

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  4. Thank you fkr the tips. The vulva of my vagina is swollen and irritated. I went to the bike shop and the guy recommended me a $50 saddle seat. I will pick my bike up tomorrow and try it. I’m a road bike begginer. I hope it doesn’t hurt anymore otherwise I will have to stop riding my bike. I’m a tall girl 183cm, and with very wide hips. So will we see how I go with the new saddle seat.

    Reply
    • I hope the new seat helps! If it doesn’t, I really hope you’ll try some bike fit adjustments before giving up riding. Sometimes a more upright posture, or changing seat tilt and position forward/backward, can help a lot. I also wholeheartedly recommend chamois cream for that particular problem. Don’t give up! 🙂

      Reply
  5. I am a casual bike rider. I left cycling a while ago after kids. But I now want to take it up again. I was experiencing soft tissue pain but I largely think it is because of the very narrow cycle saddle I have. I will try to adjust height of the seat and handle bars first. But the saddle also needs to go!

    This was by far the most comprehensive and informative article I have read on cycling for females. Thank you for sharing. Encouraging. And inspiring. Wish you the best for your future cycling miles and adventures.

    Loved bathe quotes at the end of the article. MORE POWER TO YOU!

    Reply
  6. On seat adjustments you forgot the rails which allow the seat to move closer to the handlebars or further away. This can also help with leaning and leg extension. There are test ride programs and some companies have a comfort guarantee (Cloud 9, Terry) there may be others. Good luck.

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