Hygiene for cyclists

Cycling involves a lot of hard work and things working smoothly. You can expect to get sweaty and dirty, and it's good to reduce friction as much as possible. While cleaning and lubing your bike may sound familiar, you must not forget to clean and lube your body.

Yes, I said, "clean and lube your body."

Aside from simply being sweaty and smelly, all of the sweat, bacteria, and friction caused while riding can lead to one of cycling's fiercest opponents: saddle sores. Also known as crotch rot, this condition is, at a minimum, uncomfortable. At their worst saddle sores are swollen, painful, interfere with riding, are infection risks, and can require a visit to the doctor for "draining". They result from a combination of rubbing on your skin; sweat, salt and dirt; and moisture. Basically, cycling results in conditions that mimic a boys' high school locker room at the end of football season ... in your pants.

With fair warning about the dangers, here are a few tips for avoiding saddle sores that also keep you mountain rain fresh and in good graces with those following you in the pack.

Wear your cycling shorts, jerseys, undershirts and socks only once, then wash.
I have heard of and smelled people who don't adhere to this principle. I guarantee that in addition to offending my sense of smell during a race, they are also well on their way to squirming uncomfortably as they attempt to avoid aggrevating saddle sores. Just because clothes are dry does not mean they are clean and bacteria free. Even if you have to wash out cycling clothes in the sink by hand with hand soap, it's better than riding in dirty shorts. But always plan ahead so you can ride in clean, dry clothes.

Chamois time does not equal training time.
No matter what my brother tried to tell me about spending time in cycling shorts leading to better fitness, it's just not true. Cycling shorts should go on just before you ride, and they should come off as soon as you are done. If you are traveling to and from an event, that means taking a change of clothes with you and changing at the event unless your trip is only a couple of minutes long.

Butter up your chamois.
Not literally with butter, but products like Chamois Butt'r, Assoss Chamois Cream, and Udder Balm all soften the material in the pad of your shorts, reducing the friction on your skin, and some even act as an antibacterial agent. Sure, after successfully completing potty training, putting goop in your shorts might seem a little backward, but once you try it you will find that some schmear in your shorts beats a dry chamois any day.

Trivia. The skin of the goat-like animal named chamois—used in cleaning because it does not leave streaks—used to be the material that formed the pad in cycling shorts. Think about having dried leather in your riding shorts and you know where chamois cream originated. It's just as useful today.

Shower or clean shortly after exercise.
Getting out of your riding shorts quickly will help, but you also then need to clean your crotch, too. If you're at home, take a shower. If you're at a race, though, bring clean clothes, a water bottle, wash cloth, small towel, some soap, and maybe rubbing alcohol. Use the wash cloth with soap and water (or rubbing alcohol to pack an extra punch and level of cleanliness) to wipe away the sweat, dirt, and nasty bacteria that leads to crotch rot. Then put on clean, dry clothes. And keep your privates out of public view during all of this—bike races should not double as exhibitionist conventions.

Boxers or briefs? Boxers!
This one is biased toward the guys, but the idea here is to keep your crotch area clean and dry. The tighty-whiteys don't do this as well as airy boxers, but like a good diaper, if what you wear keeps you clean and dry, it's all good.

These tips won't guarantee that you will avoid all saddle sores. Juniors, you may find you have less problems with saddle sores than senior riders, but start practicing good habits now rather than experience the crotch rot that may develop at any time. Some shorts and chamois just bind and cut into your skin in malicious ways (don't be afraid to stop wearing shorts that are chronic offenders), and the more you ride, the more likely saddle sores become, but at least you will have a fighting chance.