Embarrassing cycling problems, and how to prevent them

Cycling isn’t always smiles and summer Sunday countryside rides. And when it isn’t, it has more issues than a hormonal teenager. We go through these ‘problems’, to not only warn you, but help you to overcome them

Nobody’s perfect. For the majority of us, there are always going to be little bodily flaws we would like to fix, and slight tweaks we would like to make to ourselves.

More often than not, of reurse, we can cover up our insecurities. But when we jump on a bike and wrap ourselves up in Lycra it’s a different matter, and things may take a turn for the worse. There is just no hiding. It’s just you, the Lycra and the bike versus the world, which can be a scary thing — especially if you have some anxieties and inhibitions.

That extra roll of flab, which can be hidden away in a baggy t-shirt, now looks like a spare car tyre wrapped around your waist. Sunshine is always a good thing on holiday, but does it cause more harm than good when cycling?

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A pair of big boobs may suit bedazzling, bikini wear on the beach, but when you’re out and about on the bike, are they something you could do without? And should that stinging, numb sensation in your bib shorts really be a cause for concern?

Whatever your problems might be, whatever it is that keeps you awake, worrying at night and whatever it is that’s holding you back from cycling; fear no more. We are here to help.

So we’re going to hold up to the light some commonly experienced problems, showing you in the process that these foibles needn’t hold you back and how you can improve them for carefree riding.

Let’s proceed from the bottom up...

Saddle sores — a pain in the butt


Saddle sores have only one goal in life. To make your time on the bike a misery — we wouldn’t wish one on our worst enemy! They’re uncomfortable, painful, and in some severe cases, can lead to illness.

>>> How to prevent saddle sores

With only three contact points between your body and the bike, (the other two being the hands and feet), you won’t find these sores anywhere else, and it can be embarrassing to admit to a friend or fellow cyclist about these problems. It can be even harder showing them!

The worst thing to do, when confronted with a nasty looking thing taking refuge on the inside of your leg, is to ignore it. Don’t just pretend it isn’t there in the hope that it will magically disappear by itself.

If you do, what started out as mild discomfort could turn into infections and force you to take a substantial amount of time off the bike.

Things to do and never do after cycling

Luckily, there are a few ways to prevent saddle sores from occurring:

  • Take a break. If you start to feel something bubbling away downstairs, it’s time to stop cycling. Riding on already developed sores can lead to infections and increase the risk of the sores spreading more.
  • Have a wash. Common sense, people! Boils love hot, steamy environments, and there’s nothing more hot and steamy than your crotch area after a ride. Wash thoroughly before and after and make sure you dry yourself.
  • Dressing up. Buy a high-quality pair of shorts with a padded chamois sewn in. Never wear underwear under your shorts. Women, opt for a one-piece cut that eliminates seams on the midline.

Uncomfortably numb

If you’ve ever ridden a bike, which we suspect you have, the chances are you’ve experienced a bit of a tingle downstairs, and a few numb moments. However, fear not. It’s not the end of the world, yet!

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Sitting on a bicycle for long periods of time exerts high pressure on the perineum — the area between the genitals and the anus — as this particular area is full of nerves and blood vessels.

Excess pressure here harms the nerves and temporarily impedes bloodflow, causing tingling, or numbness, and in some cases, penile numbness.

And unfortunately, you bigger guys (body weight that is) have an increased chance of developing numbness. Saddle design is also a contributory factor.

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The good news is that every cyclist who experiences this will have warning symptoms before the problem becomes serious. So until things start to tingle, you’re in the clear. However, when that day does come, try these tips to help remedy the problem:

  • Take a break from riding, or try upping the amount of time you spend riding out of the saddle.
  • Use a saddle with a cut-out centre section to reduce pressure.
  • During rides, change your position by shifting forward and backward.
  • Check the saddle height and angle. Experiment to find an angle and elevation that reduces the pressure.

Top tip

Avoid well-padded saddles. You’ll actually feel more pressure and numbness when you sink down over the course of the ride!

Well, can it?

Gas panic

First of all, if you ever hear anyone saying that they don’t ‘break wind,’ then they’re bigger fibbers than Pinocchio!

Blowing off, farting, squeakers, trouser trumpets, windy pops or whatever you want to call them, are natural, so don’t be embarrassed — the average human produces about half a litre of gas a day, distributed over an average of about 14 ‘incidences.’

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Yes, it is unpleasant, especially if you happen to be down wind of someone who is constantly tooting their horn, but it’s something that’s pretty much out of your control. And despite what some people think, exercise doesn’t make you do it any more or any less.

Our  top tip is to just do it, ignore it and get on with it. And if the worst does comes to the worst, bare-faced denial is probably still the best course of action.

However, please ensure it is just wind. A more vigorous release may be a little harder to conceal!

Get those muscles sorted

Excessive sweating: the smell of success?

Just like passing wind, it’s not very pleasant. But once again, it’s something out of our hands.

Think of your body as a motor car. Now, what happens when there is no water in the radiator? The car heats up, smoke and steam fills the car and you have to come to a stop. It’s exactly the same process with regards to the human body.

In fact, it’s more crucial. If you don’t sweat, you could run into serious problems. It controls your body’s temperature, and if you become excessively dehydrated, your sweat response will diminish, leaving you open to heatstroke — which can be fatal in the long-run.

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So don’t be embarrassed that you sweat. The only thing you should be worried about is if you have enough fluids onboard to help replenish what you have lost.

And before you say it, sweat itself doesn’t smell — in fact, it is odourless. It’s the bacteria on your skin, just like in your shoes, that causes the smell.

Sweating is something that every human body needs, and did you know, it not only keeps you cool, but fitter people generally sweat more?

So shove that in someone’s pipe next time they mock you for sweating like a tandoori-orange, sizzling, shrivelled, sweating footballer’s WAG on a beach in St Tropez!

Breast beating


For some of the guys out there, it’s hard to imagine what all the fuss is about. But for the women with, ahem, ‘plenty of front’, it can be a source of considerable pain and embarrassment on the bike.

In fact, in some severe cases, it can cause repetitive stress to the shoulders and neck, open up risk to spinal deformity and can also affect posture.

Cycling alone causes some stress to the body, mostly to the lower back and neck. Now imagine an extra weight pulling your chest down — the stress will be magnified.

To overcome this problem, many doctors recommend purchasing customised bras or sports bras that are designed to distribute the substantial weight of large breasts across a larger area, thereby reducing strain and improving overall breast positioning.

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Our own Rebecca Charlton falls into this category and gives us her views on what it feels like to be in this minority group:

“Looking around at most bike riders cleavage isn't really the norm. Our pro male idols certainly don't display 'moobs' and light and lean is seen as desirable in endurance riders, both male and female.

“A large chest does present a few issues and can make you feel like you don't really fit in with the cycling fraternity.

“Firstly, boobs in general do not really go hand in hand with an aero position.

“Secondly, you look promiscuous for simply ventilating your jersey. Full zips are a great technical feature but flashing flesh beckons a ‘wahay!’ from onlookers and doesn’t really boast the look you may be after when out on the bike.

“You learn some great tricks though, and a good sports bra combined with a high-necked base layer helps to create a more athletic silhouette and gives the illusion of a more petite chest.

“Good clothing really does help, and although a little bit more expensive, it will make bike riding a heck of a lot easier, and will make you feel like you’re not going anywhere, if you know what I mean. Mid-ride, indecent exposure really isn’t what you want!”

Smelly feet


No matter how hard you try, smelly feet are something your nose will never get used to and it can be terribly embarrassing — after a long ride, there’s nothing worse than taking off your cycling shoes and then sensing a warm, dank aroma wafting throughout the air.

Bromhidrosis, is the official name given to the scourge of chronic foot odour, and is caused by the sweat glands going awry.

These sweat glands are made up mostly of two main glands, the eccrine and apocrine glands. The eccrine glands cover the whole of the body and help cool the body by making us sweat.

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However, the apocrine glands, which are more concentrated in the feet and hands, aren’t involved in the sweat cooling mechanism, and are the culprits when it comes to nasty niffs.

If these apocrine secretions mix with the normal bacterial flora on the skin, an eye-watering pong results.

Luckily, you don’t have to be a doctor to recognise the symptoms of bromhidrosis. If your feet stink, and the smell doesn’t go away, you have fallen victim — however, it is not always the result of the feet sweating after exercise, or dirty feet.

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The key to overcoming this problem is to keep your feet dry. After a ride, make sure you wash your feet and dry them thoroughly. According to research, the micro organisms that cause your feet to smell thrive within moist areas.

So wear clean socks, buy well-ventilated shoes and if your shoes do become wet, get them clean and dry as quickly as possible. If this isn’t possible before you ride again, wear different ones!

Top tip

Athlete’s foot is caused by a moisture-loving fungus that grows between your toes. Keep them as dry as you can.

Feeling flushed?


Cycling in hot weather

It seems that most of us cycle outside. There are many hazards from spending so much time in the great outdoors but the one we often forget is the sun. Even on those cloudy days there is still a high level of UV exposure to contend with.

And although it can be tempting to make the most of the sunshine when riding and dreaming about luscious, tanned oiled arms and legs, the reality of crisp, blistered skin stinging in the shower is all too common.

This can not only result in some embarrassing tan lines but also premature ageing and at the very worst cancer — sunburn doubles the risk of developing skin cancer.

Sunburn is a type of burn like any other. It typically takes four to eight hours to develop after sun exposure, so if you feel it starting when you are riding, it is imperative to take action. Simple cooling measures and cooling moisturising creams can help to ease the symptoms.

However, with sunburn as with many ailments, prevention is much better than cure, and it is important when cycling to reapply a high SPF sun cream regularly due to the length of time we spend exposed to the sun. The most common area of the body for women to get a malignant melanoma (the most dangerous type of skin cancer) is the legs, so make sure you take extra care to cover the back of those calves.

Even with liberal applications of sun cream most of us will end up with the cyclist’s tan.

Top tip: Purchase some fake-tanning products! OK, you may lose some dignity (especially if you’re a guy) at the counter, but you’ll lose even more if you somehow become topless and have arms browner than a bronze Adonis and a torso whiter than a pint of milk!

For more information about skin care and skin cancer check www.cancerresearchuk.org.

The original version of this article was written by Robert Hicks & Phoebe Sneddon