Colin Izzard of Carmichael Training Systems rides with a client near the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville, N.C.
Riding a bike certainly doesn’t help your sex life. In 1997, a small Boston University study showed a link between cycling and erectile dysfunction. The study lacked peer review and had a few key flaws (a large age gap between the cyclists and non-cyclists could have skewed the results), but a number of subsequent scientific studies have come to a similar conclusion: biking for many hours a week can lead to erectile dysfunction and other fertility issues. A 2009 study of triathletes from the University of Cordoba in Spain found athletes who biked the most had the lowest sperm quality. A study of 2,000 men attending fertility clinics in Boston showed that men biking five or more hours per week had lower sperm concentration and lower active sperm.
Sitting on a bike seat puts undue pressure on the perineum, causing the compression of an artery and key nerves.
Dr. Steven Schrader studied the health effects of bicycle saddles on bicycle police officers for a decade for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The bike cops he studied in five major cities had reduced nighttime erections and 60 percent less feeling in their penis. A separate study Schrader performed on competitive female cyclists showed similar results on women’s genitalia. Cyclists who sit on traditional saddles are putting 25 percent of their body weight on their perineum, which houses the major blood vessels that supply the genital region.
“It’s enough pressure to completely restrict the blood flow and oxygen flow to the penis,” Dr. Schrader says. “The more aero your position, the more pressure you’re putting on your perineum.”
The bike cops that Schrader studied were logging 25 hours a week on the bike and the women cyclists were riding 99 miles per week. But according to Dr. Schrader’s studies, and several separate studies since, within three minutes of sitting on a traditional saddle, the blood flow to your penis is practically zero.
“When you sit on a traditional saddle, you’re closing blood vessels off, and that’s not healthy,” says Schrader.
And contrary to popular belief, traditional bike saddles with the hole or ridge in the center only put more pressure on the perineum, and no amount of bike fitting will fix the problem either.
“There’s no scientific data to support the notion that a proper bike fitting will eliminate the pressure on the perineum. If you’re using a traditional saddle, fit won’t fix the problem,” Schrader says.