Cycling causes numbness but does it lead to impotence too?


The statement “Cycling causes impotence” took the world by a storm in the late 1990s and it was largely based on research by Irwin Goldstein who believed that there was a link between cycling and impotence. This has been proven to be untrue.

His research concluded that a bike saddle can compress the perineal region, restricting blood flow and therefore leading to impotence. One of his other sensational comments was that “Cycling should be banned and outlawed”. The general scientific community did not accept his ideas since Goldstein’s research had several limitations including: small sample sizes, questionable methodologies and never peer-reviewed.

However, one of the main benefits accrued from the findings was that bicycle saddle manufacturers took notice and begun re-designing saddles to increase comfort levels and blood flow.

Minkow and Sommer tested more than 20 different saddles on large numbers of volunteers and they found that not one seat would ever fully eliminate compression. Minkow stated that “we found that it only takes a minute for blood flow to be compromised”. Roger Minkow became one of the leading experts in saddle design after the statements by Goldstein hit the world headlines. Minkow realized one of Goldstein’s main draw-backs in the methodology to determine blood flow could not be administered while the subject was actually pedaling on the bike, only if the subject was sitting stationary.

Minkow developed the early Specialized Body Geometry saddles that quickly became best sellers; however, with the success of Lance Armstrong, cycling became more and more popular.

German Professor, Frank Sommer was the person who found out the way to measure penile blood flow while actually riding. Sommer tested 100s of riders with many different saddle designs in different sitting positions. The research that Sommer and Minkow produced proved to be a critical factor in the proliferation of new and better designs produced by different saddle manufacturers in the last decade.

According to Minkow and Sommer, Conventional saddles of more than 10 years ago, blood flow while riding would be only 20-40% of what it was while not on the bike. However the emergence of new saddle designs, that can be increased to an average of 80%. Sitting on a regular office chair compromises your blood flow by 10%, which is what most people contend with when working. Minkow concluded that if you can find a saddle that only loses 10-20% blood flow, you can ride for longer than saddles that gives you 50% compression over a 1-2 hour ride.

Dr Pruitt (2006) says that “a lot of people think crotch soreness is part of the sport – it really should not be”. He goes on to say that “cyclists should be regularly standing up in their pedals every five to ten minutes during a ride to keep the blood circulating”

Another interesting point Dr Pruitt raises, is that racers are less affected by blood flow problems than casual recreational riders. Racers are generally lighter and thus support less weight on soft tissue when riding. “Racers usually have better technique, standing more often and take the weight of the vital areas. Furthermore, racers are training or racing at high intensity and are pushing down considerably harder than recreational riders on the pedals, this lifts their hips off the saddle slightly on each pedal stroke. The recreational rider, on the other hand, maybe ov
erweight and likely to sit down the entire ride spinning with his whole weight on the soft tissue which can lead to increased incidence of numbness and crotch discomfort”.

Top tips on eliminating numbness

  1. Get a professional bike fit – often this is a big factor. Once you have been fitted properly to your bike the numbness and other discomfort issues may disappear
  2. If you don’t get a professional bike fit, you can try positioning your seat that its level or just a few degrees down in front
  3. Ensure your knees are not fully extended at the bottom of your pedal stroke, otherwise this puts extra weight on your sensitive areas
  4. Saddle choice – go for firm saddles over the softer ones. Firm saddles are better because they do not compress your vital arteries and support your sit-bones better. Sommer and Minkow state that flat or concave saddles generally have better performance. Since the link between cycling and impotence made headlines in the late 1990s, a proliferation of new saddle designs emerged and there now a wide range of choices for the cyclist.
  5. Invest in a pair of good quality cycling shorts with a well designed chamois
  6. The simplest adjustment you can make is to ensure you stand up on the bike every 10 minutes or so. If you live in hilly or rolling areas this would be a natural occurrence.
  • Anonymous

    Hi I am currently studying this area myself and attempting to come up with a potential solution. Could you please provide the references for this article.

    Kindest Regards,

    Rob

  • Daniel

    Please send me your email address. thanks.