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Men's Health

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Biking and Erectile Dysfunction: A Real Risk?

Some experts say ED may be an unwelcome side effect of bicycle riding.

The 'No-Nose' Seat continued...

"I wouldn't tell anyone to give up cycling because of fear of ED. If there is ED from cycling, it's almost always temporary and reversible. Other causes of ED, such as hypertension and diabetes -- the No. 1and No. 2 causes of ED -- tend to be fairly permanent. If there are problems, they're usually treatable with proper bike fit and bike seat selection."

A proper-fitting bicycle can help prevent these injuries; appropriate frame size, handlebar height, and seat position are all important. A rider may consider changing the angle of the seat, which should be angled parallel to the ground or slightly forward, to help alleviate pressure on the perineum. Wider seats or those designed with a central cutout also help reduce perineal pressure and can help redistribute weight.

A change in riding style may also help reduce pressure. Standing on the pedals during long rides can prevent pressure and help re-establish blood flow.

Police Bike Patrol Study

Some new saddle designs take the weight off the perineum, according to Steven Schrader, PhD, of the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH). Schrader triggered an explosion of research on the link between cycling and ED in 2002 when he published a study involving members of a police bicycle patrol. He found that the more hours the officers spent in the saddle, the more likely they were to experience a decrease in the quality of nighttime erections.

All this research spurred the development of several no-nose bicycle seats, and Schrader has tested several.

"We recruited police officers and gave them no-nose seats to use for six months," Schrader says. "We're still doing data analysis, but the striking thing is that of the 91 men who completed the study, only three had returned to a traditional saddle. When we went back and found those three guys, two of them said their saddle had broken and they wanted a new one. Only one said he didn't like it."

No-nose seats have a wide rear that distributes the rider's weight on his sit bones on the buttocks. One study in Germany found that oxygen levels in blood flow to the penis dropped by only about 20% when riders were on a no-nose seat. A traditional bicycle saddle reduces oxygen in blood flow by around 80%.

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