Thursday, 28 April 2011

Bikes and Bits: Don't get your knickers in a twist!

Lately I have been complaining a lot about my bike, it's too big for me and I get sore wrists and shoulders on long rides. I can cope with this because I'm too lazy to sort out a different bike, I just whinge a lot. However, last year, on a ride to Knowle, I experienced discomfort on my bike which I never want to go through again: an attack of the nether regions! That's right, I got some serious vulva pain and I want to (over)share my experiences of how to avoid it. Riding a bike without giving your sensitive areas proper consideration can be exceedingly uncomfortable and very off putting, so it's worth addressing, especially if you are new to cycling.

There are loads of saddles marketed to women but lots of them are ridiculously huge, jelly like contraptions which are not suitable for long rides. Then there are those that are marketed to women as a confidence trick; they are exactly the same as the boys' version, just a bit shorter in the nose and more expensive. This article, which I think is American, offers lots of good saddle selection and general bike fitting advice. I use a Brooks B17 about which I have no complaints, in fact I have a possibly misguided faith in my leather saddle as helping to protect from vaginal complaints by virtue of it being a natural, breathable fibre? Leaving saddles behind though, in my experience the first thing you need to get right is underwear, whatever saddle you use.

Regardless of what style of pants you wear, the bottom bit of your knickers that sits over your vulva is usually double layered; what I think is essential for cycling is that this double layer of fabric is stitched down on all sides. Sometimes the fabric will be unsecured at one end or at the sides and over time it will crinkle and wrinkle and, when you are cycling, will form an uncomfortable, lumpy layer against your labia. (My downfall on the way to Knowle).

Laura advises that as a teenager, she occasionally made the mistake of long rides in a g-string. Do not do this. The bigger the knicker, the less you chafe. On longer rides, some people have trouble with seams rubbing as well. To avoid this, and fabric bunching up, we usually go for seam free undies. Biking can result in, ahem, a hot and sweaty undercarriage; pants made from natural fibres like cotton and bamboo can help keep things daintily irritation/thrush free. Cotton can be quite thick, however, and so one of the worst 'lumpy labia' offenders. Watch out for that.

Of course, you can always go for cycling shorts, especially if you're starting to go further. They're designed for minimal chafing, and come with a special pad, called a chamoix (because it used to be made of goat leather) that cushions your genital area and bum. If you're shy of the lycra warrior look, they're perfectly comfortable worn stealthily under regular clothes. You might feel like you are wearing a nappy but it won't be obvious to others, we promise. One thing to look out for when purchasing shorts is the elastic on the end of the leg, if it's too tight you get uncomfortable little sausages at the tops of your thighs. Cycling shorts should be worn without underpants, but keen users recommend slathering your bits in vaseline or any number of specialist anti-chafing potions like nappy rash cream.

Hopefully this will help you have a pleasant vaginal experience while out on your bike, although, as far as I'm concerned the mythical bicycle instigated orgasm is a patriarchal fantasy designed to stop women cycling on 'moral' grounds. Sorry girls, can't help you achieve that one!


  1. Laura, I can't believe you used to do long bike rides in a G-string!

    Nancy, impressive genitalia vocabulary!

  2. Yeah, 15 year old me was a dumbass. My charge ladle saddle is female specific, was dead cheap, and has worked fine on the old single speed. It's synthetic, so I have to rely on raw optimism for protection against vulval complaints.