Paul Joannides Psy.D.

As You Like It

Bicycle Seats and Erection Problems

Traditional bike seats are not good for your groin. There's an easy solution.

Posted Jun 18, 2008

Urologist after urologist has warned about the erection problems they are seeing among young men who are competitive bike riders. These men can usually get erections, but they have trouble keeping them.

The clinical observations have been so compelling that researchers hooked up oxygen monitors to men's penises and had them ride on normal bicycle saddles. Their findings confirmed the suspicions of urologists—very little oxygen was getting into the penises of men on bicycle seats. Unfortunately, much of the serious bike riding community has been trying to laugh away and deny these findings.

Have you ever had that tingling feeling between your legs after riding a bike for awhile? Traditional bike saddles crimp the artery that supplies most of the oxygen to the penis and they also compress the nerves against the pelvic bone causing numbness. (Studies have also shown an association between bicycling and decreased genital sensation in competitive women bicyclists.)

The newer seats with cutouts make matters even worse. They focus the pressure on an even smaller area, causing even more nerve and artery damage. As for gel padding--researchers have found that it doesn't help. The key is to keep the nose of the seat from pressing against the area between your legs.

The graph in the far left with the large blue footprint is of the pressure on the human rear end when a person is sitting in a chair. The pressure is evenly distributed across the entire rear end with no signs of red pressure points. The other to graphs are of a person on a bicycle seat (center and right). Notice the intense pressure focused on the groin, with almost no distribution of pressure across the buttocks.

When you are on a traditional bicycle seat, almost all of the pressure is on the base of your penis or vulva, with none of it being shared by the broader back part of your rear end.

One solution is to switch to a recumbent bike. The other is to replace your traditional bike saddle with a no-nose or noseless bicycle saddle. Here's a very cool video of Chicago Police officers zipping through traffic on bikes with no-nose saddles. (Studies have found that erectile function and feeling in the penis improved significantly in bicycle riding police officers after using no-nose saddles for 6 months.)

Paul Joannides
Source: Paul Joannides

Here is an photo of a traditional saddle on the right next to the same bike with a no-nose seat called the BiSaddle. It’s one of several no-nose saddles that are available today.

In designing the BiSaddle, the makers listened carefully to the police in San Antonio who are on their bikes for ten hours a day. With the no-nose saddle, there's no nose to crimp the underside of your crotch.

The first day I tried out a no-nose saddle, I did three miles of gravel roads and hills, with not a bit of numbness or tingling. The next day, I rode more than seven miles, again with none of the usual tingling or numbness. As for a no-nose learning curve or break-in period--I didn't need it. The seat felt right from the moment I got on it. I can now understand why a number of police forces are using these saddles for their bike-riding officers.

So if you ride for more than a couple of hours a week, I can't encourage you enough to replace your traditional saddle with a no-nose saddle. For a list of no-nose saddles: Click Here. 

These seats are not cheap, but the cost is way less than the cost of a single trip to a urologist. If the issue doesn't resolve with months of crotch rest, surgery is a possible option. But the damage can be so extensive that surgery is not necessary successful. 

Resources:

BICYCLE SADDLES AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH from the CDC.

"Cutting Off the Nose to Save the Penis" by Steven M. Schrader, PhD, Michael J. Breitenstein, BS, and Brian D. Lowe, PhD (2008):

"After 6 months, 90 men were reassessed. Only three men had returned to a traditional saddle. The results are presented for those who used the no-nose saddle continuously for 6 months. There was a 66% reduction in saddle contact pressure in the perineal region (P < 0.001). There was a significant improvement in penis tactile sensation (P = 0.015). There was a significant improvement in erectile function assessed by IIEF (P = 0.015). There were no changes noted in the Rigiscan® measures. The number of men indicating they had not experienced urogential paresthesia while cycling for the preceding 6 months, rose from 27% to 82% using no-nose saddles."

Schwarzer, et al "Cycling and Penile Oxygen Pressure: the Type of Saddle Matters, European Urology 41 (2002) 139-143

Shrader et al "Erectile Function in Bicycle Patrol Officers," J Androl 2002;23:927–93

Baeyens, et al "Bicyclist’s Vulva: Observational Study" BMJ Volume 325 20 July (2002) 138-139

Guess, et al "Genital Sensation and Sexual Function in Women Bicyclists and Runners: Are Your Feet Safer than Your Seat?" J Sex Med 2006;3:1018–1027 (When I read this paper, I felt the measures used were a bit funky. So I checked with one of the authors who agreed and felt that if they had used better measures for evaluation, they would have arrived at a different outcome.)