Monday, 30 April 2012

Bike seats and urology.

If you are a competitive cyclist probably you already know the relationship between cycling and urogenital disorders. Usually competitive cyclists use padded shorts to prevent this kind of problems.
But if you are, like me, a recreational cyclist, or someone who use a bicycle as a commuter, then you'd better know something, especially if you exceed the 80km of weekly riding.
Have you ever experienced that unpleasant sensation of genital numbness after a ride? I did, and very often. Well, that is a problem, and you should not ignore it.
It happens to almost everyone (apparently, up to 90% of cyclists have experienced genital numbness at least once) and it depends on compression of the pudendal nerve, a nerve that passes through the pubic bone and  reaches the genital area. If your perineum and/or your genitalia feels numb, it means that you have been sitting on the pudendal nerve during your ride.
This type of numbness is extremely unpleasant but it's temporary, usually you'll feel better in half an hour. But on the long run, sitting on that nerve can lead to bigger problems as erectile dysfunction and priapism.
But there are more bad news. Sitting on a bike saddle that compresses the perineal soft tissues can lead also to prostatitis. That depends basically on the shape of your hipbone. When we sit down, our weight presses on the sitbones (ischial tuberosities). If we sit on a very narrow saddle, the sitbones may be too detached so our weight presses in the middle. This means putting pressure on the prostate, and it's not good at all.
I mean, there's no need to write down here all the problems related to prostate compression, I suppose all male cyclists know them already.

On the bright side of things, there are many ways to prevent these problems.
First of all, padded shorts. If you like to wear up like a cyclist, probably you use them already.
But if you ride with no technical wear, you have to choose a saddle that does not put pressure on the perineum area.
Basically, there are two types. The Cutaway saddles, those with a long oval hole in the centre, are supposed to relieve pressure from the perineum and to mantain a "normal" riding geometry.
Then there is a more radical solutions, the noseless seats. In this case, the fore part of the saddles simply does not exist, so the rider must put his weight on the sitbones and there are no risks of unwanted pressures on the soft tissues.
I can speak by experience of noseless saddles, as I'm using them on all my bikes. You can read a lot of horrible comments on the internet on noseless saddles, my opinion is that they are the best solution around.
After 5 years of use, I won't go back.
It's true that you have to change a little your riding geometry, the saddle has to be a little lower and the cycling position more "sitdown". It's also true that this position put more weight on your wrists, and that you can experience some numbness on your hands. But fixing all these problems is very easy, it's just a matter of finding the right height of the saddle and of the handlebar.
There are many types of noseless bike seats around, I've tried two, the DDWing and the Spongy Wonder.
The DDWing is very comfortable for long rides, but it becomes cumbersome when going offroad or on severe uphill when you stand on pedals.
The Spongy Wonder, on the contrary, may be less comfortable the first days you try it, but on the long run I started to love it. It's very simple and basic, but it provides excellent support where it's needed.
Since the day I mounted this type of saddles, I've never experienced genital numbness.
I like to ride and I love bicycles, but I like also to have a fully functional urogenital apparatus.

The Spongy Wonder  mounted on my Bianchi Cougar.

If you want to go more scientific on the matter, you may want to read this text:
The Vicious Cycling: Bycicling related urogenital disorders, taken from European Urology.

No comments: