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I picked up endurance cycling a few years ago (30 - 100 km rides), and bought a few pairs of padded lycra shorts because that's just the thing to do. I wash them after every ride -- at least soap in the shower, if not a proper machine load -- but I'm finding that I still get a flare-up of jock itch after every ride that takes a day or two to clear with medication.

Over the past week I've been trying the experiment of riding without the padded lycra; just normal shorts, and have had no jock itch whatsoever. I'm also pleasantly surprised that I don't really notice a comfort difference with pad vs no-pad; I guess my sit bones have hardened up :)

Questions:

  1. Is this normal / expected?
  2. Is there something else I should be doing pre-ride to reduce jock itch?
  3. What is the point of padded lycra, and is it worth putting up with infections?
  4. Should I just throw out my lycra and wear simple running shorts instead?
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    I'm wondering if you have an allergy to the material. And note that bike shorts should not cause jock itch, since that's a fungal infection, and the fungus must be somehow introduced. They may, either due to simple friction or the possible allergy, make an existing infection flare up, but anti-fungals should control/eliminate this. – Daniel R Hicks May 12 '20 at 22:05
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    Are you in a position to wear the shorts for a day and not ride? This might help show if its a reaction to the material and not the riding. Could be inconclusive because without working hard you're not sweating, though if the reaction does appear then that will be informative. – Criggie May 13 '20 at 0:35
  • What padding do the shorts use? A better quality, more breathable padding may help. – mattnz May 13 '20 at 1:58
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    Is it a jock itch or a "simple" but strong irritation? did you consult a medician? – EarlGrey May 13 '20 at 8:21
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    Just a question on the side: are you wearing some undergarment under the padded cycling shorts? – Carel May 13 '20 at 11:38
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Normal detergent should be enough even with cold water. I do have sports wash but don't use it every time. Getting stuff properly dry (ideally not machined-dried if you want it to last) is crucial though, and keeping it dry for a while seems to help too. Some sports fabrics can feel dry when they're not completely. Washing stuff out in the shower is a bit of a last resort - OK when touring but not really enough, and hard to get the pads dry in a reasonable timescale. I'd rather wait a day until I've got enough stuff to fill the machine.

I didn't bother with padded shorts until I was doing 70km pushing hard, and now up to about 4 hours saddle time even cheap foam-padded ones are adequate. You seem to be in a similar position, so you could try buying another cheap pair or two, and always thoroughly (machine) washing them and thoroughly drying them. Store your existing shorts thoroughly washed and dried. If you start pushing the distance further you might find you need (gel) padding after all.

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    Thank you, that's very helpful! What counts as "thoroughly drying them" ? Machine dryer? Hang-dry for at least 2 days? – Mike Ounsworth May 12 '20 at 21:11
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    It really depends on the humidity and temperature where you are. I don't have a machine to dry them in, but in winter they dry in little more than a day indoors with a dehumidifier running, and in on a sunny, windy spring day on the outside line they can dry in a few hours. Washing them out in the shower in the evening and putting them back on in the morning is the other end of the scale. – Chris H May 12 '20 at 21:15
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    Avoid machine-drying of lycra, it shortens the life of the cloth. Hang outside in sunlight is ideal. – Criggie May 13 '20 at 0:32
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    @Criggie that's another good point. I had a drier for a few years, but never used it much – Chris H May 13 '20 at 7:09
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    @Criggie : Hang outside and best turned inside out! – Carel May 13 '20 at 11:35
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Definitely not normal nor expected. Do you wash it in any sport specific washing gel or powder? There are such detergents that are designed for the sport clothes that are often washed at lower temperatures (90° would be good against the fungus but would damage the clothes). Some are even manufactured by brands connected with disinfection, rather than laundry (e.g. Sanytol).

Try to have multiple pairs so that you can wash them thoroughly and let dry fully. Try antibacterial chamois cream, but it may not be effective against fungi. There are antifungal preparates that you can use to disinfect your shorts (other than during washing). Some are based on hydrogen peroxide, that could also damage the fabric. Better test on a small spot first.

I used to use normal shorts for a long time, but they are simply not that comfortable. It is a personal choice though, no one can force it into padded lycra. Bad padding can be worse than no padding (by rubbing the inner thighs, for example).

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Another thing that should be mentioned here is butt hair. A significant part of the process of "toughening up" the buttocks is yanking out the butt hair. As you ride it gets tangled together (obviously a bigger problem for guys) and then gets pulled out, and this, of course, causes "irritation" in the area near the butt hole. This might be mistaken for a fungal infection or allergy, and the problem is apt to be better or worse depending on the construction of your riding shorts and your bike saddle.

Eventually most of the hairs in the problem areas get pulled and the butt is considered to be "toughened up", even though the skin is not substantially tougher.

A "cheat" to avoid/reduce this problem is to use a hair trimmer to trim the hairs down there, especially those that are close to the center. (Trimming the scrotum area is generally not necessary.)

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Well, Im not super experienced with road biking, but I know a fair bit about it. There's a lot of standing in endurance cycling, so that could be on reason youre not feeling the difference. As for the jock itch, try using Chamois Cream if youre not using it already. If you are using it, maybe try changing the brand or formula, it might be a allergic reaction. Sorry I cant help more.

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    That very much depends on your riding style. For endurance racing maybe that's the case depending on the terrain, but it's perfectly possible to do 300-400km in a day at a steady pace, only standing briefly for a stretch – Chris H May 12 '20 at 21:12
  • Yeah I totally agree, lots of people ride different. When I said standing, I meant standing up on the pedals like when you're going up a hill. But different things work for different people. – DripKracken May 13 '20 at 13:42
  • You don't have to stand to climb hills though, and endurance bikes ridden in hilly areas often have low enough gears that you can sit and spin. I take this quite far and am more likely to stand on a gentle descent than climbing. – Chris H May 13 '20 at 14:21
  • Im just saying that some people do, everybody rides different. – DripKracken May 13 '20 at 18:00
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I had some similar problems and in the end it turned out to be a problem with the seat position.

As I started to ride longer tours I got more problems like you describe. I started to use Chamois Cream and it was much better.

I met another road-biker who was similar in height, but had a lower seat position. After doing some web research and some measuring I lowered my seat by 2.5 cm. Last week I did a 80km ride without chamois creme without problems.

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Ditch the riding shorts, if you're not having health issues when you don't wear them you've answered your own question. Best of luck to ya!

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