Put a group of women mountain bikers together, and there is one topic that will be sure to come up: the lady town, vagina, girl parts, hooha, whatever you want to call it – we all have it, and unless Iâ€™m missing something, we all ride with it in full contact with our bikes. Sometimes, Iâ€™ve heard girls bring it up with the casualty of ordering coffee, sometimes if comes up in hushed tones, sometimes we talk about it in circles until someone finally addresses the elephant in the room.
This year I decided to take on the (big for me) challenge of training for and racing BC Bike Race. Let me tell youâ€¦ if you arenâ€™t already intimately acquainted with your girl parts and you want to be – try that. I will admit, the beginning of bike season for me is always marked by some discomfort in these parts, but this year presented a whole new level of complication on that front (no pun intended). This year involved hours upon hours of indoor trainer work, riding in the most awful of conditions, and never being off a bike seat of some kind for more than 48 hours in a row.
This year I had more than the normal number of questions about my vagina and I asked everyone I could what their secret was to avoiding the dreaded saddle sore. The thing that astounded me the most was, the more women I talked to, the more I realized that we all have our own approach and most of us are just kinda guessing. So I thought, for the sake my own girl town and the sake of girl towns everywhere, Iâ€™d get to the bottom of thisâ€¦ or at least try! To get the best information I could, I conducted an anonymous poll of several awesome bike shredding women I know and asked them very personal and awkward questions.
Then I emailed a few pro riders and teams to see if any of them would talk to me about their lady parts. Miraculous, Kristy Scrymgeour, a two time Australian national champion and the owner of the Specialized-Luluemon team, actually agreed to talk to me. Below is a compilation of that information, and while not all of it is holy grail style truth, I think itâ€™s a pretty good start. Think of this as couples counseling for your bike seat and your hooha.
Letâ€™s start with the proven truths of vagina love and cycling:
1) Never, ever wear underwear with your chamois. If your chamois is see-though, put something on over it, not under it.
2) Wear a chamois, and make it a good womenâ€™s specific one. A chamois (pronounced â€œshammyâ€) is a protective weight distributing layer between you and your bike seat, that helps reduce the vibrations and bumps of roots and rocks, regulates moisture and reduces friction and abrasion â€“ all good things rights? If you donâ€™t have a chamois, or you donâ€™t have good one, go to a better bike store and try a bunch on. Ask for advice from a knowledgeable sales person to make sure the fit is right. If you arenâ€™t sure, then go a few times and keep trying them on until you find the perfect pair. A good chamois isnâ€™t cheap, but it is a worthwhile investment. I personally spoil myself with one new pair of Rapha chamoisâ€™ a year. These are expensive shorts, but they are the most comfy ones for me, and I make sure to wear them on my longer rides. Chamois are meant to be worn one at a time, if you need two then perhaps get a better pair of chamois shorts or a softer seat.
3) Bibs baby! If you arenâ€™t riding with a chamois already, anything will be better than bareback. But if you are, or you want to do it right, try bibs. Bibs add the extra vertical snugness to your kit and keep the chamois in the right position. A moving shifting chamois is no oneâ€™s friend and can cause chafing. You want your bibs to be snug (but make sure you keep circulation!) and like a second skin. Kristy swears by bibs, and she would know.
4) Butter it up. Use chamois cream, especially when itâ€™s hot out. Cream will help prevent the chafing or hot spots that you either know all to well or have been blessed to have missed thus far. It might feel strange at first, but before you know it youâ€™ll feel odd without it. I like the Sportique Century Ride Cream, which I decided to try after Kristy told me thatâ€™s what her team uses. A lot of ladies also really like Hoo Ha Ride Glide (itâ€™s got a fun tingle!). For a helpful guide on how to apply chamois cream, see: www.bicycling.com/training-nutrition/injury-prevention/how-politely-use-chamois-cream
5) Most importantly, get a proper bike seat that fits YOU. This is perhaps the most important thing you can do to love yourself. A bike seat should be measured to fit your sit bones, which are the bones that actually take the weight of your upper body on the seat. The width of your butt does not necessarily determine the width of your sit bones, and vice versa. If your seat is not the proper width, the weight of your torso will drive though other parts of your body that are not structurally equipped to take that weight. If you get numbness, butt pain or just a really painful hooha, seriously consider going to get a proper seat fit. Most good bike shops will have a butt cushion or assonometer (yes, this must be a technical term..) for you to sit on that measures your sit bone width. Try and get your seat at a shop with a wide selection of womenâ€™s specific seats and someone who is knowledgeable – this is worth shopping around for. I have tried various seats over the years and I love, and keep going back to, the Specialized Ariel. Personally, I find the Specialized womenâ€™s seats to be the best of the best, but some other ladies also have had success with these models: WTB Diva or Speed She, Specialized Milano, or Fizik Arione.
6) Get a bike fit. If things are still hurting, you might be in the wrong position or too stretched out and therefore rolling forward on the seat. A bike fit is good for a lot of things, including your hooha.
Now, the more speculative advice:
In chatting with several women, one of the things I found the most interesting was the sheer variety of home remedies and preventive steps that they take to keep their lady parts in check.
1) Hair management – this was a common theme, and I heard this pretty consistently. Keep it trimmed and hairless on the sides, using whatever method works for you. A few ladies recommended laser hair removal.Â Â Also make sure you stay on top of exfoliation. Ingrown hairs are so much easier to get (and consequential) when riding a lot. Use a puff, an exfoliating glove or a liquid exfoliantâ€¦ whatever works for you.
2) Hygiene – never ever re-use a chamois without washing it (epic bike trips and emergency scenarios excepted.. but be warned..), and once you are done riding get out of it, clean yourself up and keep the downstairs dry and clean. If you have issues with fungus etc., this is especially important! You could try keeping baby wipes handy and a change of shorts if you want to hit the pub after riding.
3) Core Strength – Kristy suggested that some women have poor posture on the bike causing us to roll forward on the seat or sit too upright, putting pressure on the downstairs, largely as a result of a poor core. So ladies, do your planks, pump that iron, and do it for your vagina! Plus a strong core will crank your riding up a few notches and make those uphill switchbacks feel like a breezeâ€¦ sort of.
4) Magical tinctures – Not a single person I talked to recommend the same product! Here is sampling of what some people use to manage issue when they crop up: wash yourself with selsun blue to prevent fungus, traumeal, polysporin, vitamin E cream, topical colloidal silver, acne cream, papaw ointmentâ€¦ you get the picture. Iâ€™ve started using the Assos post-ride â€œnormalizingâ€ cream and it seems to help. I like to call it my post-ride vagina healing cream and its been known to come out in parking lots after a ride; I used it religiously during BCBR. Kristy said she and her lululemon riders rely on Lucas Papaw ointment to address saddle sores when they come up. I havenâ€™t tried this yet, but I plan to order some and see how it goes.
I hope this has contained a nugget or two of useful information for you, and helps you get a step closer to that harmonious place where your lady parts no longer dictate how often or how long you ride. If you have any tips you think Iâ€™ve missed, or secret remedies that you want to share, weâ€™d love to hear them!
Words by Karin Grubb
Karin is a Muddbunnies Specialized Ambassador, an outstanding lady who goes over and above. She leads other women on rides, races her bike, and enjoys many different cycling disciplines – always well spoken and with a smile on her face! She is the definition of an all around advocate for women in Cycling