The human body was never designed to sit, let alone sit on a bicycle seat. For many cyclists, the bike seat – or saddle – is a source of pressure and pain in the groin that affects their reproductive function, for both men and women. The solution to this problem may lie in the design of the bike saddle itself that eliminates the “nose” or the forward part of the saddle that protrudes between the cyclist’s legs. But the “noseless” saddle is the source of much controversy in the cycling community.
The problem stems from the pressure that the nose of the saddle puts on the nerves and the blood vessels of the perineum, the region between the genitals and the anus. Even though we may not be designed to sit, humans do have bony protuberances at the base of the hips called the ischium or the “sit bones”. Ideally, all of your weight should be resting on the ischium. However, depending on how your bicycle seat is adjusted, 25% to 40% of your weight could be resting on the nose of the bike saddle causing up to an 80% reduction in blood oxygen to this vital region of your pelvis.
The result is pain, numbness and sexual dysfunction of the genetalia. Unfortunately, most men are reluctant to self-report erectile dysfunction, but researchers at Yale University found that more than 60% of women riders using traditional bike saddles reported symptoms of genital pain, numbness and tingling. Additionally, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found in a study of male bicycle police officers who switched from traditional saddles to noseless saddles for 6 months that they had a significant improvement in penis tactile sensation, erectile function and a decrease in numbness by 73%. The mounting evidence has led NIOSH to recommend noseless saddles for workers who bicycle as part of their job, like police officers, emergency medical technicians and security staff.
However, the noseless saddles while available for over 10 years have gained little in acceptance in the cycling community. Concerns about reduced control of the bike to simple embarrassment factor of the non-traditional seat have been keeping both men and women alike from adopting them. NIOSH counters that the idea of numbness in any part of your body is not normal and should be investigated. For cyclists to suffer the temporary inconvenience of pain and numbness while riding and even worse the possible long term effects of loss of sexual sensation and sexual dysfunction seems like a huge price to pay for style and tradition.
So, if you are a regular bike rider, consider a noseless saddle. If that doesn’t fit your mojo, then at least have your bike and seat professionally adjusted to ensure the best fit with the least amount of pressure on your perineum.
Update: March 3, 2012 – Bicycling can also affect a woman’s health. Read more in this New York Times article: Can bicycling affect a woman’s sexual health?.