Rituals: Balming The Bag

bag balm chamois cream saddle sores

For me, a ritual is any habit or activity that has been repeated long enough or often enough that it takes on a mystical quality and may defy reasonable explanation.

Cycling, like many high-risk professions (ironwork, saturation diving, child rearing) is not without its occupational hazards.

There are the obvious ones: crashing, getting hit by a car, overuse injury. But then there’s what goes on down there.

Given that your primary point of contact — and the one that bears the most weight — is the saddle of the bike, it is inevitable that a cyclist will eventually encounter some or all of the following:

  • numbness
  • chafing
  • saddle sores
  • “twisted plumbing”

  • hemorrhoids
  • prostatitis

Some symptoms can be caused by time on the bike: too little if you’re just starting out and your butt isn’t used to it, too much if you’re riding hours and hours a day and constantly irritating the skin and sensitive tissues.

Position on the bike is critical. In particular, the saddle should be pitched level. Some guys prefer a slight downward slope, which is fine, though it can put more pressure on your hands if overdone. Just don’t pitch it upward. That will cause numbness and all sorts of problems. Also, make sure you have a saddle that fits your sit bones and doesn’t have too much padding. Finding the right saddle is not an easy proposition. There are literally hundreds of options and no convenient way to test them out. Plus, everybody’s ass is a little different so what works for Tom Boonen or your training buddy won’t necessarily work for you.

Bike shorts with a good chamois are indispensable. You should own several pairs. When I started riding, chamois were made out of real leather. When you washed them, they took forever to dry out and when they did, they were the texture of 180 grit sandpaper and equally effective at removing material. Chamois cream was an absolute necessity. The state of technology of modern cycling shorts eliminates a lot of the risks, although not entirely. Prevention is still the best approach.

First of all, make sure you’re really clean before you get on the bike. There’s nothing more effective than grinding microscopic fecal matter into your skin to give you saddle sores. Shower up or use a bidet, like they do in Europe. If you’re heading to a race or a developing nation, bring baby wipes. Don’t put your shorts on until you’re ready to get on the bike and start riding.

Second, use a good chamois cream. There are all sorts of options out there. I liked Sixtufit Gesass Cream and Assos Chamois Crème, but they were very expensive and hard to come by on the road. For me, Bag Balm has been the stand-by. It’s cheap and available in nearly every CVS, Rite-Aid or farm supply store. Bag Balm is actually intended for dairy cows to prevent or heal chafing of the teats, but it’s evolved to serve other needs. Don’t use Noxema or Vaseline.

Finally, when you’re done riding, get the hell out of your shorts. Contrary to what you may have heard, chamois time is NOT riding time.

If you do feel a saddle sore starting up, treat it immediately with some cortisone cream (but make sure you have your medical certs in order). Otherwise, you may end up with something like this:

saddlesore galactica

Finally, make sure you put the chamois cream on BEFORE the hot cream goes on your legs. I reversed it once. It was the fastest race I ever rode, but I don’t ever want to repeat the experience.

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