Warning – Do not read this if you are – under 18, of a squeamish disposition, have an undercarriage made of granite or you are a man. On second thoughts, if you are a man and work in a cycle shop, then maybe you should read on because when a woman comes into your shop and says she’s struggling with saddle discomfort and you tell her –
“Don’t worry, I understand, I’ve had the same problems myself.”
trust me when I tell you that you don’t, you really, really don’t!
When I first signed up for the charity cycle ride, the furthest I was venturing was a steady 7 miles along the river bank on a very old gifted bike. As the reality of a 250-mile ride from central London to Paris began to sink in, or should I say, fester, it became apparent that I was going to need a better bike.
My husband (a Tour De Armchair rider ) insisted that I needed a drop handle, road bike with slick tires and disk brakes while I had my heart set on a pretty hybrid with flat handlebars and yes, possibly a front basket, after all, I would have things to carry and I hoped that there might be a spot of French shopping to be had.
To add weight to my argument I needed the word of a professional so I trailed round every bike shop in my area and trawled the internet for evidence of others having made epic trips on pretty, pink hybrids. Unfortunately, everyone seemed to agree with Wiggins, not Bradley Wiggins but my Husband (and me for that matter) who for our sins, share a name with the Sir of British cycling. It was with much regret that I finally bowed to the superior knowledge of the nice chap in the bike shop and became the reluctant owner of a carbon frame, drop handlebar, Liv Avail Advanced, road bike, with the slimmest and what I would describe as baldest, tires I had ever seen!
I had been warned and fully appreciated that it would take time to get used to my new riding position but with years of horse riding under my belt, I reckoned my well-hardened backside was, at last, going to prove an advantage. Oh, how wrong could I have been! My mileage began at a steady ten miles, gradually increasing to a respectable 20 and it was about then that the pain began. I’m not talking bruising, pinching or irritable rubbing here, I’m talking raw and bleeding and the stinging was like my knickers were soaked in vinegar!
Keen to get some riding experience, I joined a ladies only group, going along for the riding experience and the sociability but most importantly, to interrogate the other women on their nether regions. Each Saturday morning I had just a couple of hours in which to chat politely about their families, jobs, home life, bla bla bla, waiting for my window of opportunity to dive in with “So, how are you finding your lady garden/ twopence/minge/minky, or whatever seemed an appropriate term. Thankfully, nobody was ever shocked or offended by my question, in fact, I was amazed by the number of people harboring similar problems and their relief at being able to talk about it. It wasn’t just the numbers either, it was the varying levels of discomfort that these poor women were putting up with! They agreed with me, that finding an answer to the problem wasn’t easy when the only ‘experts’ to talk to were men. Instead, they suffered on in silence, too embarrassed to speak up.
Evenings were spent poring over the internet, searching for the holy grail of saddle sore cure’s only to discover that even the elite women cyclists were suffering from the most horrendous saddle sores that they even went to the extent of surgery ‘down there‘! It was only when team coaches were trying to find ways to shave seconds from the women’s times that they realised there was more to female saddle sores than just a bit of chaffing or their own shaving habits. Women had been too embarrassed to mention the long list of discomfort they experienced that ranged from ingrowing hairs to vaginitis and labial hypertrophy. Now, with medals to be won, it was time for this to be taken more seriously.
Consequently, things have come a long way in a short time and there are now many women-specific saddles out there but actually, it really isn’t that simple, it’s not all about the saddle.
For me, it was the most sensitive of the soft tissue being put under too much pressure. To try and give you an idea of my suffering, think of that overripe tomato you have sat on your kitchen windowsill, you know the one, it’s not bad enough to throw away but it’s gone a bit soft and squishy. OK, now imagine picking it up and smashing it onto the hard kitchen floor. Yes, that’s about it, that overripe tomato now has a big split in the skin and the inside is exposed, raw and oozing – and that’s what became of my precious Lady Garden! Split, bleeding and oh, so f***ing sore!!
There’s a list of things the nice chap in the shop will tell you to try,
- Go commando
- Use chamois cream
- Use well-padded shorts
- Use thinly padded shorts
- Wear bib shorts rather than regular cycling shorts
- Ride more (yeah right, if only!)
- Get a bike fit
- Try a different saddle
- Adjust your saddle up
- Adjust your saddle down
- Improve your core strength.
- Don’t shave
- use more / different chamois cream
I tried all of these in varying degrees but mainly number 6 and I can tell you, I rode as many eye-watering miles as I could to try and break that bitches back.
The ride from London to Paris ride was still months away but with things the way they were, I could honestly not see how I would ever meet the challenge of riding 90 miles a day for three days on the trot when currently, 30 miles and a week to recover was my pain threshold. I wondered if I might be able to get hold of some sort of topical anesthetic that would at least get me through day one, after all, once out of the country, no-one over here would know whether I did the rest of the ride on two wheels or in the back of a french jalopy
The summer was now giving way to autumn and my feelings towards the road bike had not grown one iota. My bike balance was no better and the prospect of riding in traffic, bad weather and dark nights finally brought everything to a head. I refused to ride the bike until summer returned. So what did the husband do? He bought me another bike. Now I was the not so proud, owner of a Liv Gravel bike. This, I was told, would give me the practice I needed but with the advantage of being able to dodge the traffic by getting onto cycle paths and by-ways. Yeah, lucky me! (not!) I faked glee and tried to hide my total lack of enthusiasm towards my Christmas gift.
And so began my winter of discontent. Occasionally riding the road bike on a turbo trainer in the safety of my front room and rides along the cycle path with the gravel bike. As it turned out, I found the turbo so mind-numbingly boring that I actually began to enjoy riding my gravel bike and went out whenever the weather would allow. To my amazement and great relief, it seemed that the advice of ‘ride more’ was paying off. No, I wasn’t going much more than 20 miles but I was far steadier now and could even manage to take one hand away from the handlebars. I felt that I was actually improving and began to believe that everything was going to be alright Hurrah! Paris wasn’t going to be a doddle but it looked like I wouldn’t be needing my own anesthetist to travel with me.
Or so I thought……..to be continued.