By Rick Schultz
I recently watched a YouTube video where the Vegan Cyclist raced his wife up a hill. She was riding an ebike, and he was riding his lightweight climbing bike. Looking at the bikes in this video, hers was the new FLX BABYMAKER Ebike, while he was on his new, wait a minute, what saddle is he using? Oh, it’s the E.D. MAKER. Again, she was on the BABYMAKER and he was on the Erectile Dysfunction maker.
On the surface, this might seem funny, but I assure you that this situation is both sad and serious.
Sad that Dr. Andy Pruitt actually proved the serious drawbacks to this type of saddle such a long time ago in a lecture he gave. More on this later.
And serious since (a) This is avoidable. With all of the education out there, I have no idea why many cyclists including pros and junior cyclists still use this and similar saddles and (b) The harm these cyclists are doing to their genitals will eventually catch up to them if it hasn’t already — i.e., how often do they go numb on a bike ride?
Groin numbness on a bike was first discussed as far back as the 1890’s. In 1997, Bicycling Magazine quoted Dr. Irwin Goldstein, a urologist and outspoken believer in the bike seat-dysfunction link, who said that he treated an average of six cyclists a week who had erectile dysfunction.
Historically, more males ride bicycles than females, therefore, a majority of articles are directed towards males, but the fundamentals still apply to females.
According to a Harvard Medical School Special Report, “Erectile Dysfunction: How medication, lifestyle changes, and other therapies can help you conquer this vexing problem”, states that too many hours on [the wrong] bicycle saddle can compress the artery and vital nerves that feed the penis resulting in numbness, pain and erectile dysfunction. Dr. Irwin Goldstein, MD director of San Diego Sexual Medicine says “A male cyclist can place a significant percentage of his weight on his perineum, an area between the scrotum and the anus where the nerves and arteries to the penis pass. This pressure, coupled with a narrow saddle can injure [damage] the arteries and nerves.” He continues, “Even a young man may lose the ability to achieve an erection.”
I have talked with pros who don’t talk about this topic, but I am positive that training and racing 15,000+ miles (24,150 km) per year, year after year, causes many pros to suffer this preventable fate. Also, an even more serious matter is why are juniors using this and similar saddles? Yes you, junior, you are doing great harm to yourself that will eventually impact your sexual health, if it hasn’t already.
To prove my point, this exact article that you are reading now was turned down by a local SoCal cycling club boasting over 100 members. Why? I was told that “this topic might offend not only the readers but those referenced in the article.” So, in other words, regarding this topic, it is more important to not offend someone than it is getting this subject out in the open and saving teenager cyclists from getting a case of premature ED?
More mind-boggling is that parents are still reluctant to get a bike fit for their 11-16 year olds, nor listen to free advice of bike fitters. I’m not sure of their reasoning, but several popular excuses I hear are things like, “He has a new saddle, why would I buy another one?”or “I’m sure the manufacturers know what a good saddle is and they wouldn’t put something harmful on a bicycle.” or “He’s fine, nothing to worry about.” Unbelievable.
So, please educate me as to why cyclists still use these ED makers? Lack of information? Lack of education? Lack of understanding? Or is it a lack of money to buy a better saddle? I’m guessing it’s more likely lack of caring – or “it’s not going to happen to me” syndrome.
Why I’m Passionate About This Topic
What got me into bike fitting was a series of events, mostly (a) I enjoy the sport, (b) I enjoy riding, (c) I enjoy teaching and helping people, (d) I wanted to start my own ‘cycling’ business and (e) watching an Andy Pruitt video presentation on Specialized Body Geometry where, on stage, he had a cyclist sitting on different saddles in different positions while Dr. Pruitt measured blood flow of the cyclists genital area.
Basically, what makes the saddle so important is that humans are not made to sit on a bicycle saddle. Humans are built to walk, run, and sit on the ground using their sit bones (ischial tuberosity). The genital area in the human body, both male and female, is not built to support 70% of your total weight, especially hours at a time.
So, and rightly so, Dr. Pruitt went out to design a saddle to best accommodate this non-natural weight bearing problem. With the machine hooked up, the saddle that offered the most blood flow was a Specialized Body Geometry, I believe it was a Romin or Toupe saddle. The saddle that provided for the least blood flow was the one pictured above. In fact, while in the drops, this cyclist sitting on that saddle had a genital blood flow close to 0, yes, zero.
Although I could not find the original video, I did find this one:
Listen at 3:31, “using my original saddle, a Fizik Arione, I was unable to tilt my pelvis forward without the feeling of numbness, so I was forced to round my back. “
Using a wrong saddle, blood vessels as well nerves (pudendal nerve of the perineum) are (a) being crushed and damaged and (b) limits blood flow to the genitals. This is why you go numb.
Of course, there are other considerations including but not limited to, the correct saddle width for you, saddle height, saddle tilt, saddle fore/aft, saddle relief, cleat type/size/placement, correct pedal stance width, handlebar height, no pelvic tilt, chamois type/style, etc., etc. And this is why a good bike fit is extremely important.
For pro cyclists, I know that you are sponsored. So, at a minimum, talk with your saddle sponsor and ask for a better design. After all, it’s your health too we are concerned about and you need to be especially concerned about your health after you retire.
For experienced cyclists, you should already be aware of the issues of using these types of saddles, and it’s beyond me why anyone still uses them.
For parents of junior cyclists, you should care more about the sexual health of your children. All I can say is I’m sure one day you want to be grandparents. Something to think about.
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Coach Rick Schultz is an avid cyclist who trains, races and coaches in Southern California. Rick is an engineer by trade, and in addition to being a coach, he's a bike fitter and prolific product reviewer. He's the author of Stretching & Core Strengthening for the Cyclist and Bike Fit 101: Your Toolset for a Great Bike Fit in the RBR eBookstore. Check his product reviews website, www.biketestreviews.com, and his coaching site, www.bikefitnesscoaching.com. Click to read Rick's full bio.