clothing · cycling · men

Bike shorts, bike seats, and sensitive girl bits

Through my years riding bikes, I’ve had lot of unavoidable glances at men’s bits and bottoms and heard lots of talk about blisters here, chafing there and of course, the inevitable saddle sores.

After races I’ve watched men change beside the trunk/boot of their cars into their regular shorts because it’s bad, and not very comfy, to sit around in sweaty bike shorts any longer than you have to.

I’ve also seen lots of my male riding companions stop for roadside pee breaks and spend a few minutes rearranging their boy bits before getting back on the bike.

(I know talk of “boy bits” and “girl bits” seems cute and coy but I’m actually stuck for terminology other than genitalia which seems a tad scientific and formal.)

And the conversations about genital comfort and bike seat and short choices never lets up. Add bike related concerns about impotence and infertility and you could manage a whole century ride on the subject.

I say this with lots of love, affection, and respect for my male riding companions.

If you’re a woman considering riding with men, you can’t say you haven’t been warned.

But in mixed groups women seem not to do any of these things. It’s as if we don’t have genitalia that might be affected by shorts, seats, riding position. We don’t talk about it around men. Certainly there’s no changing in public after races. And women will ride a long way to avoid peeing by the roadside. I once refused to add 10 km to a ride over a 100 km in order to find suitable shubbery.

In single sex training and social rides things are a bit different. We’ve had lively chats about whether shaving, waxing or opting for full grown pubic hair makes a difference in riding comfort.

Here in middle North America, corn fields help with the problem of road side urination although I’ve had some disappointments in the fall when all the ears have been cut down.

We women chat about bike seats and try out different seats for comfort.

We compare brands of bike shorts and chamois and chat about what works best for long rides, short jaunts, or triathlons.

I wish the women were as open in conversation as the men. Manly discussion of genitals seems to know no bounds.

My advice for women wondering about riding and comfort down there: Try different seats and find one that works (hint: it might not be a women’s specific saddle, see Why “women’s specific” anything is likely a bad idea), money on good bike shorts is very well spent and I find bib shirts work best, change and wash your bike shorts immediately after wearing them, of course don’t wear anything under bike shorts (that’s silly, read why here), don’t put off peeing if you need to go on the road, pull over and pee by the roadside, the world won’t end.

Here’s some resources

A delicate matter: cycling and genital problems

How cycling is different for women

Women only cycling issues explained

Female anatomy and saddle discomfort


Oh, and I don’t recommend stretchy knit hot pants. Image from the Smithsonian’s blog post about hot pants.

19 thoughts on “Bike shorts, bike seats, and sensitive girl bits

  1. Sam, thanks for posting! Having just come back from a long cycling/camping holiday in Scotland (1.5 weeks wild camping and cycling over big hills), I was wondering about a lot of these things. I realized I am the only female-cyclist I know and didn’t even know how to begin researching why my sits-bones are so much sorer than my all-male cycling buddy cohort. GREAT resources in the links. You may have literally saved my butt 😉

  2. Great post!
    And don’t forget chamois cream. It really, really helps.

  3. I will serve myself up for criticism and teasing by being the fearless dude to comment on this.

    First off, I use terms like “girly bits” and “soft-tissue area” interchangeable depends how professional I want to sound. I would agree that choice is the correct way to approach this but I would argue that trying different bike shorts is much more important than trying different saddle. The chamois should be complementary to the riding that the rider is doing. Commuting, entry level chamois; entry road, mid level chamois and so on.

    I agree that while most shops should have a test saddle program and a rider should endeavour to try those saddles to find one comfortable, it should be done as part of a bike fit. Bad foundation, bad posture and the less likelihood you will find a saddle supporting you appropriately.

    1. One of the bike shops in Canberra had a box of seats that they sold for $20. They were seats that people had dropped off when they bought new ones. It was a good way to try out a particular saddle style for longer than a ride around the block. I actually got a nice one that I used for about a year.

  4. Over in forums women cyclists do discuss this from time to time.

    As for peeing..Josie Dew a U.K. worldwide travelogue published author, describes using a Rain cape to help her cover up by the roadside. Brilliant eh?

    It’s a drag to live in the prairies…..often no barriers abound. My partner, he even complains. Even some men are unwilling to let loose with no bush, tree, rock or ditch cover.

      1. I guess..but still needs some bottom exposure by woman, even if only a flash.

        It’s physically awkward being a woman at times!

      2. I vote for less modesty all round. But I get that that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

  5. I’ve lost count of the number of conversations I have had with total strangers, trying to be somewhat tactful about “er, you DO know bike shorts are like a swimsuit, right? You don’t wear anything under them….” and about 80% of the time I get a response like this: o.O (not unreasonably, I suppose! To put it in context a little more, I do work in a bike shop and do fit consultations and introductory cycling classes so it’s not like I’m sidling up to people on the bus or whatever! LOL).

    I think a lot of issues blamed on “bad saddles” can be traced back to poor bike fit in general – especially when the handlebar reach and saddle-to-bar drop are off, because that’s when people start sort of hunching over and it all goes to hell in the saddle department.

  6. You need to come ride with my team. A few of them are just as open about their girly-bits comfort and problems as men. And this is in mixed company.

    One will sit on the edge of her car with a towel draped over her to pee if restrooms aren’t readily available.

    I have learned how to change out of my bib shorts in a parking lot, using a giant towel as my dressing room. I’m not as skilled at getting out of my sport bra, so I generally hide in the car for that part. I’ve seen women discretely changing out of their cycling clothing while talking to a group of men.

  7. I have probably (unfortuately for my coach, who works in the local bike shop) never been backward in coming forward with my problems with my “girly bits”. Before changing to him as a coach i had terrible time with chaffing and blistering. After a comprehensive bike fit and change in seat and position on my bike i am happy to say that i have had no further problems or a need for chafing cream, i also use bib shorts with mens chamois. As a shop they stock test seats and these are available to try. My wee bit of advice is – get your bike professionally fitted….worth ever penny for happy girly bits.

    1. Hi Louise! I actually thought of you as an exception to the general rule but didn’t want to call anyone out by name. 🙂 Miss you!

  8. I lost all my inhibitions about peeing by the side of the road on a (not cycling) trip in Bolivia a few years ago. There, the buses often don’t have toilets so a toilet stop is just a pee-by-the-side-of-the-road stop – suitable shrubbery not always included. It took some getting used to it, but after a couple of stops I was fine. If you gotta pee, you gotta pee.

  9. I don’t ride great distances unless I am in Holland. When I do I find my sit bones are fine but my soft tissue area gets very inflamed. It was a cousin, and hard core cyclist, who told me that her labia minora was an issue with her. It was rather large and even pendulous. She opted to have it trimmed back surgically but before that she had to adjust as well. I won’t go that far but I do adjust appropriately. It was especially good to speak frankly to another woman.

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