Latest Research on Saddles

Discussion in 'Cycling Equipment' started by craigstanton, Oct 4, 2005.

  1. craigstanton

    craigstanton New Member

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    Pursuant to this latest series of articles (see below) on the downside of tradional nose saddles, can anyopne recommend a noseless saddle? I plan to switch over my entire fleet of bikes before this becomes a problem "in my house." Thanks. :)

    Craig

    October 4, 2005
    Serious Riders, Your Bicycle Seat May Affect Your Love Life
    By SANDRA BLAKESLEE
    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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  2. capwater

    capwater New Member

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    Too funny, I just finished a discussion with a co-worker on this very article. I'm no doctor and haven't played one in years, but my opinion is that saddle pain/discomfort is more a symptom of an improperly adjusted saddle (tilt, fore/aft and height). It is a very personal issue as all butts tend to be different. I've riden the flat razor blade type saddles (Fizik, Flite, Era K, etc) for years with no problem even on centuries. Course ya still need to get out of the saddle every now and then to keep the blood flowing properly and to hammer up a hill. Sorry I guess I never answered your original question.
     
  3. craigstanton

    craigstanton New Member

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    Hi Capwater,

    I'm with you. I ride a custom fit steel frame, and have done so for many years. I have over 20,000 miles in the saddle with no discernable effects. But, as more and more articles come out on this topic, at a minimum I want to try a noseless saddle for comfort. I value my sex life too much to have it, well, shrink up for good. Know what I mean?
     
  4. capwater

    capwater New Member

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    Shrinkage ain't good, just ask George Costanza! Ride on, mate........
     
  5. CyclingPT

    CyclingPT New Member

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    I am a biomechanist, physical therapist and cyclist who has researched bicycle seat design at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and written the book Finding the Perfect Bicycle Seat. (see Amazon.com link below) I was also recently interviewed for the NYT article.



    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0971461929/qid=1110999460/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl14/104-3456758-1327937?v=glance&s=books&n=507846



    or E-book format at http://www.roadbikerider.com/pbs_page.htm



    In addition, I have developed a new saddle design that improves penile oxygen levels 4x over a traditional “teardrop” shaped saddle while riding a bicycle with hands in the "drops" (a forward, aerodynamic posture). This position is a much greater test of a saddle's ability to maintain blood flow, since more weight is shifted to the front of the pelvis as compared to more upright positions. The saddle is now available through Performance Bicycle Inc. (see link below)



    http://www.performancebike.com/shop/profile.cfm?SKU=20853



    More information regarding the benefits and changes in the saddle’s design can be found at:



    http://www.unlimitedsportsanalysis.com/Infopage.html





    The main components that people need to look for when choosing a bicycle seat to avoid unnecessary compression of the pudendal arteries and nerves along the medial borders of the pubic rami of the pelvis (that can lead to ED) while cycling are:



    1. Wide rear support surface to support the sit bones without sinking into the soft tissue between them.



    2. Firm and moderate padding. Too much will push into the central pelvis and compress sensitive anatomy. Too little creates high pressure spots. Excessive amounts of padding or gel actually increase compression of nerves and arteries by displacing under pressure.



    3. Flat rear support surface with a large effective sitting area that avoids upward pressure into the soft groin tissue.



    4. Abrupt transition between the rear of the seat and the nose section to allow the rider to sit further back on the seat in a well supported position that avoids placing pressure on the arteries and nerves in the pelvis as they run forward along the borders of the pelvic bones.



    5. No cutouts. Complete cutouts and deep central depressions may increase discomfort and pressure on the edges of the hole and decrease blood flow to the genitals since the arteries and nerves are actually located along the sides of the seat as the rear transitions to the nose, not directly in the center where the cutouts generally are.



    These recommendations hold true for men and women, since both sexes share analogous artery and nerve distribution. As a result, women display similar artery and nerve compression from traditional seat designs – and often complain of similar discomforts and symptoms as a result. In addition, by supporting the pelvis on a flatter surface, the female genitalia is elevated above the seat to decrease pressure and irritation.



    I would be glad to answer any further questions you may have about my book, saddle, or bicycling and its relation to ED in general.



    Sincerely,



    Joshua Cohen PT, MS

    [email protected]



    P.S. Keep in mind that erectile dysfunction does not mean sterility when you start naming off all the cyclists you know with hordes of children. The changes that occur in the penile tissues from long term arterial compression make it difficult to create and sustain an erection, but you can certainly still create a child even if you’re not a man of steel.
     
  6. cyclophile

    cyclophile New Member

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    Either way, if your saddle determines the success of your love life, you're doing something wrong.
     
  7. pineapple

    pineapple New Member

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    cyclingPT, are there any mainstream saddles (with noses) that you can recommend as being better than others?
     
  8. alienator

    alienator Well-Known Member

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    Clearly he's the one to ask since he has no financial reward from his spam....oh, wait: he mentioned his book didn't he? Well, oh well, hope he was as attentive to the ol' scientific method as he is to pimping his book.

    Oh, hey, I just realized he's pimping his seat to at Performance Bikes. Hey, how slick. Of course, if his study was based on people riding in drops, it sounds like his results are not very relevant in the real world....unless I've missed something. How many people spend long hours in the drops?
     
  9. CyclingPT

    CyclingPT New Member

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    I would recommend trying out the E3 Form saddle available from Performance and Supergo stores. (See links below) Performance Bike had heard about my research and the significant improvements in penile oxygen levels that my prototype was able to achieve. They agreed to work with me to develop the seat into a production model and the E3 is the result of those years of work. It is available in a Ti version (190 grams) and a Gel Version (247 grams).



    http://www.performancebike.com/shop/profile.cfm?SKU=20853



    More information regarding the benefits and changes in the saddle’s design can be found at:



    http://www.unlimitedsportsanalysis.com/Infopage.html
     
  10. Ronanmk

    Ronanmk New Member

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    This sounds too much like "Send this chain to 20 friends. Johnny Johnson from New Caledonia didn't, he was later bitten by a Rhino and lost his ability to reproduce"
     
  11. CyclingPT

    CyclingPT New Member

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    I can totally understand your skepticism. I do not suggest that my seat is the end all of bicycle seats. After doing my research, many cyclists were always asking me questions about my findings. I decided to write the book since I knew people beyond Chapel Hill would be interested. The findings that are discussed in the book are supported by many other current studies and everything is referenced. The design behind the E3 Form seat is also supported by numerous other bicycle seat studies in regards to the flat, wide rear and the need to avoid the path of the pubic rami (Alcock’s canal). I was initially very hesitant to pursue the prototype seat design – you would not believe the amount of time and money that it took to develop it (the answer is in years and many thousands). It was other cyclists that convinced me to pursue the seat since there simply were not other adequate seat designs that seemed to bear any relation to what the scientific literature was suggesting. I do not ask that you believe what I say as gospel. That is why I wrote the book- to better educate the consumer and force the bicycle industry to listen to what we demand – a better bike seat. I will gladly answer any questions if you don’t want to buy the book. Someone had to educate the public and offer a research based seat design. The question really is – Why didn’t someone else write the book sooner? That one makes me think.



    P.S. I designed the study to evaluate seats for the people I felt were most at risk of ED – long distance racing cyclists who train a lot (for which I am one). If a seat can preserve penile blood flow in extreme aero positions it will also preserve blood flow in more upright positions. In effect, the study was a harsher test of the seats than a study with subjects in an upright position would be (were more of the weight is placed on the sit bones). When you lean forward, the weight is displaced from the sit bones onto the pubic rami (the region where Alcock’s canal is). The E3 is able to allow the rider to bear more weight on the glutes and hamstrings in aero positions than a teardrop shaped seat –and therefore spare the arteries. And yes, I do spend pretty much all my time in the drops or a very radical position on my time trial bike.
     
  12. CyclingPT

    CyclingPT New Member

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    I agree that Dr. Goldstein’s examples are a bit harsh. However, much of his published research has strongly supported the suggestion that long durations of arterial compression can lead to deformation of the vessels and changes in the penile tissue that can result in ED.



    In short, the two main changes that may occur to increase the rider’s risk of ED are:


    • The plastic straw theory: squeeze a straw once and it will bounce back – squeeze it tight for a longer time and you can permanently deform the circular cross section into an ellipse which will decrease the rate of flow through the tube. The arteries that supply the penis display the same effect after prolonged compression against a bicycle seat.
    • The balloon theory: (this one is more complicated – so I’ll simplify to the extreme) When the penis is flaccid there is low oxygen to the penile tissues. This causes collagen fibers to be laid down (sticky stuff) which makes it difficult to blow up (like a balloon with glue in it) when it get engorged with blood. When the penis is erect the glue gets reabsorbed which makes it easier to become rigid. It is a cycle that happens every day – which is why recent research is studying the nighttime erections of police patrolmen. Bicycling can cause the oxygen levels to get very low for long periods of time.
    1+2 adds up to a vicious cycle where the cyclist has decreased nocturnal erections and then rides more the next day and then tends to have less sex and then has decreased nighttime erections, etc… It all boils down to “use it or lose it”.
     
  13. RapDaddyo

    RapDaddyo Active Member

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    I'll go against the tide here. I greatly appreciate your posts and I have learned a lot about a subject that affects me a lot and that I knew way too little about previously. I ride long hours and I have a typical teardrop racing saddle. I do plan to read the research and evaluate your saddle. Is there a website with users' comments? Thanks again for your posts.
     
  14. CyclingPT

    CyclingPT New Member

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    The only feedback on the saddle so far can be found on the Supergo website. http://www.supergo.com/profile.cfm?LPROD_ID=26549&lmfg_id=&searchtext=e3 &referpage=

    http://www.supergo.com/profile.cfm?LPROD_ID=26550&lmfg_id=&searchtext=e3 &referpage=

    There are not many posts, and they are all very, very positive. I do not suspect that everyone will be so enthusiastic, since subjective comfort is not always related to how well a seat can improve blood flow or not. Obviously, the extremes of experiences will be most likely to post their feedback first. The seat has only been available for a couple weeks, so more will eventually show up. I also put up a review area for the seat under the products section on cycling forums.com.



    http://www.cyclingforums.com/reviews/showproduct.php?product=374&sort=7&cat=35&page=1



    I have encouraged all riders of the seat to send me their feedback. If nothing else, it will help to improve and develop future models of the seat.


    [email protected]
     
  15. Dini77

    Dini77 New Member

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    Whilst i'm always a bit sceptical of people plugging their own on forums, i must say i agree with most of our comments about saddle selection above. I have tried full gel saddles, cut-outs, etc and have finally landed on one that works for me (San Marco Rever) - though after my first ride on it i hated it. Funnily enough, it's firm & moderate padding, relatively flat (ie no swooping curves) and no deep central cut-outs. I will read the links you provided, but am happy with my choice.

    What's always surprised me is if all the fancy cut-out, shapes, etc delivered half the benefits as what they claim to, wouldn't all the pro's be on it? :confused: They're the one's with the most to benefit from a comfortable fit right? (i know, i know, weight plays a huge role, etc). It's funny how their saddles are all quite simple, flat and of moderate/firm padding
     
  16. fabiosav

    fabiosav New Member

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    I appreciate the PT who designed the saddle, but think a more “unbiased” source would have mentioned competitors. The issue of ED/bike seats has been around a while

    1) Specialized makes a bike seat that comes in custom widths, and is supposed to address this. Basically, you sit on some gel in the store and the figure out your sitz (sp?) bone width. The thing comes with a little tag showing the increase in “penile blood flow” and a bunch of science to say “buy me” while addressing this issue.
    http://www.specialized.com/bc/SBCEqProduct.jsp?spid=12927

    2) I bought one, to replace of full-race Selle Italia Gel. (Major hard saddle, long nose, no split)

    3) I still ride the Specialized, but frankly found the Selle Italia more comfortable, despite the more aggressive design.
     
  17. CyclingPT

    CyclingPT New Member

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    The Specialized seats do offer a large, flat rear sitting surface. One large draw back, however, is the lack of an abrupt transition between the rear and the nose of the seat. This section follows the inner borders of the pubic rami (Where Alcock’s canal is) and can put pressure on the arteries and nerves as the rider leans forward on the seat. The Specialized seats were tested for blood flow with the rider in a generally upright position (trunk to horizontal angle of 60 degrees). The teardrop shape will also encourage the rider to slide forward on the seat while riding to minimize the material between the thighs. Especially on the wider models of the seats where the wide rear gradually transitions to the nose this would become a larger problem.
     
  18. fabiosav

    fabiosav New Member

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    that is also how most people ride, even on this forum, I expect. Hours in the drops? Not common.
     
  19. craigstanton

    craigstanton New Member

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    Cyclophile,

    I have to call you on this one. I didn't say, or even imply, that my saddle determines the success of my love life. I said that I have ridden many thousands of miles without any problem, but that in light of recent research findings . . . I am willing to try a noseless saddle, because I value my sex life too much to have it become more difficult over something as silly as a saddle.

    Best,
    Craig
     
  20. craigstanton

    craigstanton New Member

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    I agree that the prose in this Times piece may be a bit clunky at times. Nonetheless, because this is an area of life that most men wish to keep problem free, it seemed worth sharing. If you don't find the evidence convincing, or compelling enough to pay attention to, that's your prerogative. :)
     
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