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Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

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Old 10-04-05, 08:06 AM   #1
Monument Man
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New York Times Article on Bike Riding and Impotence 4 October

New York Times Article

taken from today's NY Times. Big article on impotence and bike riding. Make your own conclusions or decisions.

Serious Riders, Your Bicycle Seat May Affect Your Love Life

By SANDRA BLAKESLEE
Published: October 4, 2005
A raft of new studies suggest that cyclists, particularly men, should be careful which bicycle seats they choose.

The studies add to earlier evidence that traditional bicycle saddles, the kind with a narrow rear and pointy nose, play a role in sexual impotence.

Some saddle designs are more damaging than others, scientists say. But even so-called ergonomic seats, to protect the sex organs, can be harmful, the research finds. The dozen or so studies, from peer-reviewed journals, are summarized in three articles in September's Journal of Sexual Medicine.

In a bluntly worded editorial with the articles, Dr. Steven Schrader, a reproductive health expert who studies cycling at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, said he believed that it was no longer a question of "whether or not bicycle riding on a saddle causes erectile dysfunction."

Instead, he said in an interview, "The question is, What are we going to do about it?"

The studies, by researchers at Boston University and in Italy, found that the more a person rides, the greater the risk of impotence or loss of libido. And researchers in Austria have found that many mountain bikers experience saddle-related trauma that leads to small calcified masses inside the scrotum.

This does not mean that people should stop cycling, Dr. Schrader said. And those who ride bikes rarely or for short periods need not worry.

But riders who spend many hours on a bike each week should be concerned, he said. And he suggested that the bicycle industry design safer saddles and stop trivializing the risks of the existing seats.

A spokesman for the industry said it was aware of the issue and added that "new designs are coming out."

"Most people are not riding long enough to damage themselves permanently," said the spokesman, Marc Sani, publisher of Bicycle Retailer and Industry News. "But a consumer's first line of defense, for their enthusiasm as well as sexual prowess, is to go to a bicycle retailer and get fitted properly on the bike."

Researchers have estimated that 5 percent of men who ride bikes intensively have developed severe to moderate erectile dysfunction as a result. But some experts believe that the numbers may be much higher because many men are too embarrassed to talk about it or fail to associate cycling with their problems in the bedroom.

The link between bicycle saddles and impotence first received public attention in 1997 when a Boston urologist, Dr. Irwin Goldstein, who had studied the problem, asserted that "there are only two kinds of male cyclists - those who are impotent and those who will be impotent."

Cyclists became angry and defensive, he said, adding: "They said cycling is healthy and could not possibly hurt you. Sure you can get numb. But impotent? No way."

The bicycle industry listened, said Joshua Cohen, a physical therapist in Chapel Hill, N.C., and the author of "Finding the Perfect Bicycle Seat." Manufacturers designed dozens of new saddles with cut outs, splits in the back and thick gel padding to relieve pressure on tender body parts.

Scientists also stepped up their research. Since 2000, a dozen studies have been carried out using sophisticated tools to see exactly what happens when vulnerable human anatomy meets the bicycle saddle.

The area in question is the perineum, between the external genitals and the anus. "When you sit on a chair you never put weight on the perineum," Dr. Schrader said. "But when you sit on a bike, you increase pressure on the perineum" sevenfold.

In men, a sheath in the perineum, called Alcock's canal, contains an artery and a nerve that supply the penis with blood and sensation. The canal runs along the side of a bone, Dr. Goldstein said, and when a cyclist sits hard on a narrow saddle, the artery and the nerve are compressed. Over time, a reduction of blood flow can mean that there is not enough pressure to achieve full erection.

In women, Dr. Goldstein said, the same arteries and nerves engorge the clitoris during sexual intercourse. Women cyclists have not been studied as much, he added, but they probably suffer the same injuries.

Researchers are using a variety of methods to study the compression caused by different saddles. One method involves draping a special pad with 900 pressure sensors over the saddle. The distribution of the rider's weight is then registered on a computer. In another technique, sensors are placed on the rider's penis to measure oxygen flowing through arteries beneath the skin. Blood flow is detected by other sensors that send a "swoosh" sound to a Doppler machine.

The research shows that when riders sit on a classic saddle with a teardrop shape and a long nose, a quarter of their body weight rests on the nose, putting pressure on the perineum. The amount of oxygen reaching the penis typically falls 70 percent to 80 percent in three minutes. "A guy can sit on a saddle and have his penis oxygen levels drop 100 percent but he doesn't know it," Mr. Cohen said. "After half an hour he goes numb."

Dr. Goldstein added, "Numbness is your body telling you something is wrong."

Today's ergonomic saddles have splits in the back or holes in the center to relieve pressure on the perineum. But this may make matters worse: the ergonomic saddles have smaller surface areas, so the rider's weight presses harder on less saddle, Dr. Schrader said. The perineum may not escape injury because its arteries run laterally and they are not directly over the cutouts. The arteries can come under more pressure when they come into contact with the cutouts' edges.

Thick gels on saddles can also increase pressure to the perineum, the studies found, because the material can migrate and form clumps in all the wrong places.

Just as many smokers do not get lung cancer, many cyclists will never develop impotence from bicycle seats, the scientists said. What makes one person more vulnerable than another is not known. Body weight seems to matter: heavier riders exert more pressure on saddles. Variations in anatomy may also make a difference.

Dr. Goldstein said he often saw patients who were stunned to learn that riding a bicycle led to their impotence. One middle-aged man rode in a special cycling event to honor a friend and has been impotent since. A 28-year-old who came in for testing, Dr Goldstein said, showed the penile blood flow of a 60-year-old. A college student who had competed in rough cycling sports was unable to achieve an erection until microvascular surgery restored penile blood flow.

"We make kids wear helmets and knee pads," Dr. Goldstein said. "But no one thinks about protecting the crotch."

The safest seats and saddles, experts say, force the rider to sit back firmly on the sit bones so the perineum is protected.

Dr. Schrader advocates saddles that do not have noses. After finding that traditional saddles reduced the quality of nighttime erections in young policemen who patrol on bicycles, he has persuaded scores of officers in several cities to use noseless seats and is now studying the officers' sexual function over six months.

Nunzio Lamaestra, a 46-year-old police officer in San Antonio, said he appreciated his noseless bicycle saddle.

"You get used to riding without the nose," he said. "I can do everything, including ride with no hands."
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Old 10-04-05, 08:19 AM   #2
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Ladies and gentlemen, the San Antonio Police Department:

Quote:
Nunzio Lamaestra, a 46-year-old police officer in San Antonio, said he appreciated his noseless bicycle saddle.

"You get used to riding without the nose," he said. "I can do everything, including ride with no hands."
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Old 10-04-05, 08:24 AM   #3
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As a man, I personally find this article terrifying. My saddle ain't comfortable to begin with although I certainly have never had a numb feeling nor any, um, problems. I definitely do not want to do anything which would hurt me long term.

Those saddles w/o the nose are pretty fugly IMHO!
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Old 10-04-05, 08:34 AM   #4
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My question is: what are the researchers looking at? Many road cyclists adhere to hard saddles for control, not comfort. One wonders if products like the Brooks leather are as harmful....It is scary. Oh, and by the way Lucky 07, I'm in San Antonio and we're grateful for our police department. They patrol on their bikes in 104 degree weather. Frankly, I would think this forum would be a good place to hash out this issue. Guess I was wrong.
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Old 10-04-05, 08:38 AM   #5
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Don't tell my 60 yr old wife about this, she'll take my bike away...
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Old 10-04-05, 08:40 AM   #6
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This silly topic rears its head every few years. I personally think it's another excuse not to exercise. Sure, if you get a Wa-Mart bike with a crap saddle that's adjusted wrong, you can have problems, but no serious cyclist is going to ride like that.

Now, how many pros in the peleton have kids? They spend waaaaay more time in the saddle than most recreational cyclists ever will.
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Old 10-04-05, 09:13 AM   #7
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I'd love to start seeing studies on which saddles cause the least damage. I don't really know how anyone could deny that cycling can cause impotence. But at the same time, 5% is not huge.
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Old 10-04-05, 09:21 AM   #8
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I wouldn't take the chicken little approach and throw your bike away every time these articles get printed - but one thing it included is true - numbness is a bad sign.

I would hope that this article would scare riders just enough to fiddle with their position and saddles until there is no numbness, to avoid more serious issues. If you have no numbness, you're good to go. If you do, you need to address it, imho.

In my opinion, I love riding but I am only willing to sacrifice so much....pain, I can take. Discomfort - hell, anything vaguely uphill is uncomfortable......

Impotence? I could live with it but I am not interested in making it happen!!
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Old 10-04-05, 09:32 AM   #9
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Garbage.
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Old 10-04-05, 09:33 AM   #10
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My bars are 2 inches below my saddle, but I'm not exactly lying down on my plumbing. My pelvis is rotated a bit more forward than that. I haven't gone numb in years. ]

So I think the point about a proper fit being the first line of defense is correct.
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Old 10-04-05, 09:33 AM   #11
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1. What is the general impotence rate? I bet it's around 5% (for whatever set of demographics he's using).

2. Is there any reason to suspect that the reporting rate is less for cyclists than it is for whatever non-cyclist demographic set that he is citing?
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Old 10-04-05, 09:36 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cydewaze
This silly topic rears its head every few years.
Is this supposed to be a pun?
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Old 10-04-05, 09:43 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pgoat
I would hope that this article would scare riders just enough to fiddle with their position and saddles until there is no numbness, to avoid more serious issues.
That's not what's going to happen. What's going to happen is that people are going to use this as an excuse to avoid cycling. I've already had instances in the past where I've offered to take people riding, only for them to make some excuse about now wanting to go sterile.

Do you know how many times I've had people paste me stupid articles like this? It's not quite into the hundreds yet, but it's not far off. They always paste it to me as if it's something new they're telling me. Boy does it get annoying.

The problem is that people are headline scanners. Their eyes drift over something like, "Cycling causes impotence" and that's all they take away from the article. They don't bother to read the text. I could write an article titled "Cellphones cause brain tumors" and a paragraph down write, "In laboratory rats after 20 years of constant exposure at an intensity 500x higher than normal" and tomorrow people would be telling me about the article they saw on cellphones causing brain cancer.

If you do ANYTHING that causes discomfort or numbness ANYWHERE, you need to address that. I'm just getting tired of the jihad against cycling.
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Old 10-04-05, 10:00 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OldeRider
Don't tell my 60 yr old wife about this, she'll take my bike away...
Most women that read this would tell their husband to go out and ride more!

George
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Old 10-04-05, 10:07 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cydewaze
The problem is that people are headline scanners. Their eyes drift over something like, "Cycling causes impotence" and that's all they take away from the article. They don't bother to read the text. I could write an article titled "Cellphones cause brain tumors" and a paragraph down write, "In laboratory rats after 20 years of constant exposure at an intensity 500x higher than normal" and tomorrow people would be telling me about the article they saw on cellphones causing brain cancer.
I totally agree. It also demonstrates that the NY Times (as well as much of the national media) has sunk to the level of a tabloid.

Okay ... guess it's back to the couch with a beer and potato chips!
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Old 10-04-05, 10:16 AM   #16
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Maybe its just me, but I've noticed that since I started riding, I've felt a noticeable increase in sensitivity/reactivity in that area, not tenderness, but sensitivity in a normal, comfortable way. Sure, my butt/perenium may be a bit sore after a longer ride, but who's isnt? Are there any studies that show cycling may improve sexual health/erectile quality? There's more than one side to every story, no?
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Old 10-04-05, 10:17 AM   #17
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well if its 5%, there must be quite a few who have actually had problems on here - come on guys, fess up - tell us the reality!

the article also refers to calcified masses in the scrotum. i have just noticed a bump on the upper inside of my thigh that i hope is just calcium. anyone experienced this??
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Old 10-04-05, 10:25 AM   #18
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First of all, it's not garbage. However, as the original article (not NYT) points out, more study needs to be done.

The real problem seems to be perineal pressure. But as we all know, we shouldn't be sitting on that part at all. We should be supporting our weight with our "sit bones," legs, and (to a lesser degree) arms. Thus, it would suggest that if your saddle fits you properly, this shouldn't be an issue.

I'll try to get my hands on the Huang study to see what sort of sample was used.
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Old 10-04-05, 10:36 AM   #19
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Okay, I have the Huang study.
I'll look it over at lunch and give you the lowdown later in the day.
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Old 10-04-05, 10:45 AM   #20
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doesn't happen on an Eye-talian bike
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Old 10-04-05, 10:52 AM   #21
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Well, I'll speak up. I've been pouring over the internet all morning looking for more information since reading this article; so I guess it scared at least one rider. What concerned me most was the comment that the seats can be dangerous even with the cutouts. I ride on a 2004 Specialized Body Geometry saddle, which is much better than the gel cutout that I had before, and though it only has an center indentation rather than a cutout. I can go more like a half hour without feeling any effects, and if I remember to scoot my butt to the side when coasting downhill I can ride for a few hours at a time without noticing it too much. I don't know if there is penile numbness going on because I don't *use* it while I'm riding, but there's definitely the tingling sensation that you get when your arm is falling asleep.

From the NYTimes article they recommended a saddle without a nose, and from another article I read, riders find the nose is an important component of steering. I don't know what to think. I found an article that talks a bit about bike adjustments to help... http://www.bumc.bu.edu/Dept/Content....partmentID=371
and when I get home I plan on tipping down the nose of my seat because I've already raised the handle bars.

Regarding the dysfunction question above. I imagine it's hard for any of us to answer; after all it's most likely a gradual effect - not all of us ride once and become permanently erectilely dysfunctional like the extreme example. I can only imagine that we're all wondering - "Maybe it's because I'm older now" or "Am I just bored" or "Maybe this whole monogamy thing has it's drawbacks". Speaking for myself - I'm not dysfunctional, but it certainly doesn't work like it did a decade ago when I was in my mid-20's. Is that bike related?

If the seat has the possibility of causing this condition even mildly or gradually, I want to make sure I've looked into it thoroughly. I had been considering a Brooks, and now I don't know. The most frustrating thing about the article was that it gave us no answers, it just said that the bike industry was working on a solution that we would see soon. How elusive is that?
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Old 10-04-05, 10:53 AM   #22
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The seat on my recumbent is 16 inches wide.
Ride all day, nothing is numb...
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Old 10-04-05, 11:05 AM   #23
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After being a hard core roadie for 10 years I fathered two children. I have no problems with impotence but I am very carfull about my set up. I also make sure to stand up even on long base rides to give the boys a break. Like moving your hands on the bars this helps with any numbness. I do believe that a bike that is improperly set up can cause damage. I'd bet that more than 50% of men and women are riding bikes that are not set up correctly. I also chose a saddle that was more comfortable than one that was light a trade off that seems to have worked.
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Old 10-04-05, 11:07 AM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cydewaze
That's not what's going to happen. What's going to happen is that people are going to use this as an excuse to avoid cycling. I've already had instances in the past where I've offered to take people riding, only for them to make some excuse about now wanting to go sterile.

Do you know how many times I've had people paste me stupid articles like this? It's not quite into the hundreds yet, but it's not far off. They always paste it to me as if it's something new they're telling me. Boy does it get annoying.

The problem is that people are headline scanners. Their eyes drift over something like, "Cycling causes impotence" and that's all they take away from the article. They don't bother to read the text. I could write an article titled "Cellphones cause brain tumors" and a paragraph down write, "In laboratory rats after 20 years of constant exposure at an intensity 500x higher than normal" and tomorrow people would be telling me about the article they saw on cellphones causing brain cancer.

If you do ANYTHING that causes discomfort or numbness ANYWHERE, you need to address that. I'm just getting tired of the jihad against cycling.
I'm with you 100%.
I was being optimistic, hoping most riders would be able to sift through the scare tactics and just be prudent. I do agree with the article in that rates of impotence are probably underreported (certainly everyone is pretty forthcoming here on BF, but maybe not elsewhere?), and since we're all tough guys, we WILL ride through pain - my point was just (and this was addressed to my fellow BFrs) remember to listen to your bodies - some pain/discomfort is more red flag than others. It's always amazing what high tolernace levels some riders have! (I'm sure that covers any rider in the TdF, Giro or Vuelta)

But you are right on - it's the would be beginners and casual riders who will get scared off. It's a shame that the media love pumping this sh1te up so much, but I guess it sells......


On a more positive note, one of the photographers at the agency wherre I work just shot some nice photos of the Century Road Club Association ride in NYC on 10/1 (started in Central Park)....accompanied a story about how bike racing is on the rise, sales of bikes booming, thousands more riders inspired by Lance (It specifically talked about wall street types in NYC getting into it as weekend racers)

But I dunno if that story will see the light of day, let alone get the same big blah blah headlines.....
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Old 10-04-05, 11:09 AM   #25
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Damn Maxbender, you beat me to it. I have four bikes, and I'm glad two of them are recumbents. With the bottombracket above the seat, most of my weight in on my back, not my bumm. No chance of dangerous pressures.
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