Q:

Will the wrong bike seat affect my love life?

With the recent New York Times article, "Serious Riders, Your Bicycle Seat May Affect Your Love Life," many cyclists are looking into ergonomic seats. For serious cyclists, what are the options? I've seen a number of hornless seats, but those aren't a good choice for descents! Margaret Berkeley, California

Oct 13, 2005
Outside
Outside Magazine
A: Oof—excellent question. That piece got pretty good exposure, so to speak, but to recap, it cited studies of bicyclists and said that male bicyclists are at real risk of saddle-induced impotence (women can suffer injuries as well, but the results are of course different). The problem is that most current saddles can place pressure on a nerve and artery that supply blood and sensation to the penis. About 5 percent of all serious male bicyclists (those riding several hours a week or more) can expect moderate to severe erectile dysfunction. Mountain bikers can suffer even worse, such as trauma-induced calcium buildup in their scrotums.

This notion first came up in 1997, and since then several manufacturers have devised supposedly "safe" saddles that have a V-shaped groove from fore to aft, designed to relieve pressure on the key area. A good example of this: WTB's Speed V Comp ($40; www.wtb.com). Trouble is, there's not a lot of evidence these work—it's the nose of the saddle that does the damage. They may even make things worse.

The good news in all of this is that only a small percentage of men are affected, due to anatomical differences or the fact one rider may weigh more than another. As for myself, I spend probably ten hours a week in a bike saddle, sometimes more, and I can say with complete confidence that... [censored to spare readers details they don't want to hear].

Several doctors who have studied this problem are advocating the use of nose-free saddles, so all the weight of a rider is on the sit bones, not the crotch. An example of this is the Easyseat saddle ($30; www.hobsonseats.com), which has two padded lobes on which the rider sits. People who use them like them very much, but serious riders may find the seat position disconcerting. And they're not practical for mountain-biking, where the saddle nose helps give a rider control and balance, a problem to which you allude.

So "solutions" are in short supply. Mainly, use caution. Male riders need to be wary of any feelings of numbness in, um, sensitive parts. My own belief is that setting the saddle in a neutral (level) or slightly nose-down position can help. I'd also say that if you haven't yet run into any problems, you may well be in that majority that never will see a difference in their performance.

Recumbent riders, start your gloating...

Getting paddled by your saddle? Get a covetous look at the mother of all seats in the 2005 Buyer's Guide.

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