I will not go into detail about why I visited the doctor last night, but after describing my symptoms and being the subject of a rigorous examination, his first question was, "Do you ride a bicycle?" When I said yes, everywhere, he gave me his prescription: "Get a new bicycle seat."
I was seriously relieved, but even though my beloved doctor has told me before to "never trust Dr. Google", I wanted a second opinion and of course, started on TreeHugger. Andrew looked at the issue in a post two years ago and was dismissive of the concept, writing:
Having ridden a bicycle nearly every day for the last 7 years and having spoken to countless other cyclists, I am of the opinion that bicycle saddles only cause numbness 1) if the bike is improperly adjusted; 2) when a rider isn't fit and 3) after a very long and intense ride.
Commenters on Andrew's post made a lot of good points too, noting that a) all of a cyclist's weight is not supposed to be on the seat, but distributed among the seat, the pedals and the handlebars, and b) the nose of the seat is important for lateral control.
NIOSH Study Says No-Nose Seats Prevent Numbness and Erectile Dysfunction
All very true if you are on a road or racing bike, but I ride a Strida, where one is sitting upright and almost all of the weight is straight down onto the seat. I also found a study (PDF here) by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health that concluded:
NIOSH has conducted studies that have demonstrated the effectiveness of no-nose bicycle saddles in reducing pressure in the groin and improving the sexual health of male bicycle patrol police officers.
Visiting Toronto's Urbane Cyclist, a workers' cooperative that caters to commuters and couriers (and services Toronto Police bikes), I was shown a wide range of seats designed for comfortable riding. The parts technician basically agreed with Andrew, that much of the problem is adjustment and fitting; that there was no need to buy the more expensive noseless seats, but any of the ergonomic seats with the slot down the middle would do; that nine times out of ten he could solve the problem just by tilting the seat forward a bit and fitting the bike to the rider properly.
Then he looked at my Strida and saw that there was no traditional seatpost, and that one couldn't adjust the angle of the seat at all. Shaking his head in dismay, he suggested that I upgrade to the noseless seat.
It is one strange looking bicycle seat
Here is the new seat, with the old one in the carrier. It is an ISM (Ideal Saddle Modification) Sport, "perfect for those who enjoy commuting to work or recreational riding. Designed for more upright types of riding such as hybrids or light trail riding."
it is a different ride; I will need to adjust the height and the forward/back position a bit before I am totally comfortable. But it definitely moves the pressure to completely different parts of the body.
Andrew was concerned:
"that people will think cycling is going to somehow ruin their sex lives and avoid riding. If you are one of those people, remember a few key points:
- exercise is good for sexual health! Sitting in a car and cubicle every day is not a recipe for studliness.
- with proper bike fit cycling should be numbness and pain free
- experiment with different saddles--nose as well as no-nose. Everyone's physiology is different and there are myriad saddle styles to choose from. Here's a little tip, though: don't go with the saddle that feels softest to the touch, and do a reasonably-long ride on a saddle before making a decision!
And I agree with him and the Urbane Cyclist expert that in most cases, adjusting the bike and seat might solve everything. It may even be true, as all the commenters on Sami's post on the X-seat attest, that this is all an urban myth. But I would be curious about the average age of those commenters. The Doctor points out that when you get to boomer age, the prostate gland can get bigger, and the pressure on it does it no good.
So when the Doctor prescribes a no-nose, I listen, and I can confirm that it's not so bad.
More on bicycle seats:
Try to Ease the Pressure: The X-Seat and Bike-Related Erectile Disfunction
Butt Comfortable Saddle by Manta Design Looking for Partners
More on the Urbane Cyclist:
Bike Moves: Cyclist Carries Entire Booth For Green Living Show on Cargo Bike