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RAGBRAI Training: Don't Be a Pain in the Rear

  • 15 June, 2010
  • TJ Juskiewicz

The most common comment I hear from people who do RAGBRAI is not that their legs hurt but that their seat/bottom/derriere/buttocks hurts.  One of the most important reasons for training prior to riding RAGBRAI is to make sure your seat is prepared for hours in your bike saddle. 

With even moderate training, your legs should be able to make the entire ride without too much difficulty as long as you pace yourself.  But there is no getting around the fact that when riding 50-100 miles per day, you will be sitting on your bike saddle for several hours a day.  Several things can happen when your seat is not trained properly.  You may notice soreness under your sit bones after a long ride.  This usually goes away fairly quickly.   The next thing that may happen is chaffing where your seat and legs rub from pedaling.  The worst thing that can happen is development of saddle sores.  These can keep you off your bike and ruin your RAGBRAI.   Here are some suggestions for avoid being a pain in the rear. 

First, you should wear cycling shorts.  These are designed to provide padding to your tender nether region.  The padding also helps absorb perspiration to avoid chaffing and development of saddle sores.  TIP:  DO NOT WEAR UNDERWEAR UNDER YOUR CYCLING SHORTS.  Cycling shorts are designed be worn directly against the skin.  Underwear adds another layer of clothing that can rub and chafe, and even worse, has seams which can irritate your skin.  If you don’t like wearing tight fitting Lycra shorts, there are different types of riding shorts, including baggy shorts.  But they all have an inner lining with a chamois (pronounced ‘shammy’).  In the olden days, shorts came with real leather chamois, but modern shorts have synthetic ones which provide more padding and are easier to clean and maintain.  But they are still called chamois. For a ride like RAGBRAI, you will want at least two pairs of cycling shorts, probably more.  The reason being that after each day you need to wash your shorts.  Due to the humid and sometimes rainy weather that occurs in Iowa in July, you can’t always count on your shorts drying overnight.  So bring an extra pair or two so you always have a clean and dry pair available.  What’s wrong with putting on wet shorts?  It’s not a pleasant to put on a pair of cold wet shorts first thing in the morning and it also subjects your groin area to moisture right off the bat and may never dry out during the day.

Second, ride a lot. Spend a lot of time sitting on your bike saddle.  As mentioned above, this isn’t just about training your legs, it’s training your seat. In many cases, it’s more about training your seat.  Gradually build up to longer rides.  Doing a lot of riding all at once can irritate your tender seat skin.   By gradually building up to longer miles, you will gradually toughen your skin. This is a great reason for riding year round by the way. You maintain your toughened seat skin and don’t have to retrain it each spring.

Third, to avoid chaffing, there are commercial products available that you can use to apply to your skin where it contacts the chamois of your shorts.  There are several brands with rather interesting names such as Chamois Butt’r, Assos Chamois Cream, DZNUTS, Friction Freedom, and Ride EZ Chamois Cream from right here in Urbandale Iowa.  Wipe a thin layer on your skin in your groin area prior to your ride to help provide a smoother ride.

Fourth, keep your groin area as clean and dry as possible to avoid the dreaded saddle sore.  Saddle sores are infections in your skin around your seat area.  These are caused by bacteria getting into your skin and not being cleaned promptly or thoroughly.  These become infected and are usually right under your sit bones where you put pressure on your saddle.  These are extremely uncomfortable and can make it impossible to ride. Saddle sores are so painful they can cause a Tour de France rider to quit the race.  Prevention is definitely the best defense.  Make sure you wear clean shorts every day.  Wash your shorts after each day.  Either bring along a little container of laundry detergent or you can also use shampoo in a pinch.   Just hand wash in a sink, wring and hang out to dry inside out in the sun if possible.  (Be careful with clothslines as they can be hazardous.  Be sure to take down clothslines at night in campgrounds)

TIP: make sure you rinse thoroughly. If it rains and you haven’t rinsed well, your shorts will start foaming.  Watch for this on other riders on rainy days!  You also need to clean your own skin thoroughly and quickly after each ride.  The worst thing you can do is spend the rest of the day in your dirty, wet shorts after you finish your ride.  Shower and change as quickly as possible after you finish riding.  Bacteria love warmth and moisture, exactly the conditions in your shorts after a ride.  When you take a shower be sure to thoroughly clean your groin area.  If you can’t shower right away here’s another great tip that I use.  Bring some individually wrapped wipes and wipe your groin area clean when changing into street clothes.  I use Preparation H Portable Wipes that come in individual packets.  You can find these at your local drug store.  If you don’t have these wipes, you can also use hand sanitizer such as Purell. I suggest you keep a small bottle of it with your bike gear at all times.

Ride on with a comfy bottom  – Coach David Ertl

David Ertl is a USA Cycling Level 1 (Elite) Coach and owner of Cyclesport Coaching (www.CyclesportCoaching.com) . He coaches individual cyclists, the Des Moines Cycle Club Race Team and the JDRF Greater Iowa Chapter for the Ride to Cure Diabetes.  He can be contacted at Coach@CyclesportCoaching.com.


  1. Tracy

    Awesome advice!

  2. Zach

    Thanks for the tips. First RAGBRAI and I’ve been curious on the best way to stay dry/clean/healthy that is also practical for an event like this. :)

  3. Georgie

    You forgot Butt Butter!!! Great advise for our tender bottoms!

  4. John

    I shower in my riding shorts- we both get washed at the same time.

  5. Tim Martinek

    Great Article Dave,
    I was just getting prepared to write about the same subject for my Ride to Cure Diabetes Team. Hard to keep smiling when things are hurting below.

  6. IaMichael

    Question about “TIP: DO NOT WEAR UNDERWEAR UNDER YOUR CYCLING SHORTS”: What do you think about wearing a pair of the underarmour shorts under your cycling shorts?

    Hikers wear two pair of socks so the socks rub against each other rather than one pair of socks that would rub against the skin of the foot. I was thinking that wearing underarmour short under cycling shorts would work the same; the shorts would rub against each other rather than the cycling shorts rubbing against the skin. But, I am new to this so was wondering what the experienced riders thought?

  7. SteveS

    IaMichael, unless the underarmour shorts are also seamless and made from really good moisture wicking material, they will contribute to the chafing and the moisture retention problems discussed in the article.

  8. Rae

    I have the unique pleasure of being allergic to my own sweat. So I have to wear something between my bike shorts and my body. I have found that boy short underwear (for women) actually work the best. I make sure to get the kind without exposed elastic in the waistband and don’t have problems even on 50+ mile rides.

  9. Norman

    IaMichael. Unless you have a specific problem, there is just no need to wear a second layer under your cycling shorts. They are made to be the only layer. This also is one area where you do NOT want to scrimp to save a few bucks. Your shorts may be the most important cycling equipment you have, next to your bike. So get good ones.

  10. linda

    Does good ole corn starch work to help keep you dry? What about Monkey Butt Powder? Also, what do think about using Tucks medicated pads for hemorrhoids?

  11. hemorrhoids

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