The unseen danger
Last May, Bicycling exclusively obtained the results of Dr. Goldstein's new study on the effects of saddle pressure and compression on the penile artery. The data has yet to be published in a medical journal and as such, many of the details cannot be released for verification, discussion or attack. But the results were enough to convince us that what may at first seem like an outlandish claim (before this article was assigned we had yet to hear of a single instance of saddle-related impotence) deserves attention.
And as we began to research this piece, we discovered the problem may be more prevalent than we initally believed. It was, in fact, a problem one of our own staff had been secretly battling. We are not telling you not to ride your bike. In fact, with the exception of Dr. Goldstein, all the doctors we spoke with stated that the health benefits of cycling far outweigh what is still an unknown risk. Just listen up.
Few have paid attention to Dr. Goldstein's warnings. In fact, within cycling circles he was shrugged off and regarded as somewhat of a kook. But as he developed a nationwide reputation, he began to see more impotent riders who couldn't point to any one accident as a potential cause. This eventually led him to explore the role saddle compression may play in cycling.
Richard Belmont, a 54-year-old attorney, never had any sexual-performance problems. But after cycling almost 200 miles during a two-day charity ride last summer, he suddenly became impotent. Pedaling a new road bike equipped with a racing saddle and an aero bar, he noticed that his penis was numb for most of the event. After experiencing erection difficulties during the next six months, he finally visited Dr. Goldstein, who spotted arterial damage at the base of the shaft.
Greg Jackson, a 33-year-old computer programmer, always kept himself in great shape. He swam, ran and bicycled. But after a long mountain bike ride on rough terrain, he experienced pain that went beyond the usual aches. Its epicenter was near his penis, which wouldn't get as hard or as erect as it used to. When he eventually consulted Dr. Goldstein, he learned that his main penile artery had become clogged.
Jim Broderman, 55, never had a bicycle accident or any sexual misfire. But after a heart attack, he started riding a stationary bicycle. Seven years later, after pedaling 50,000 miles, his heart was strong, but his penis had gone limp. X-rays uncovered no abnormalities in the penis itself, but right where it attaches to the pubic bone (exactly where the bicycle seat fits), Dr. Goldstein found arterial scarring that was hampering blood flow.
To understand what may have happened to these men (and, most important, how you can keep it from occurring in your neighbourhood,) you need to know a few things about male anatomy. The penis is an hydraulic system and all of the essential wiring (nerves, blood vessels) is funneled through an area called the perineum, which lies between the sit bones. To better understand what we're talking about, squat and sit on a low-lying step or curb. You'll feel your weight being supported by your pelvis, as evolution intended. But when you're riding a bicycle, Dr. Goldstein explains that your weight is being focused between these sit bones, and that's where the arteries and nerves that feed the penis are located. Since they're essentially unprotected, they're prone to damage from impacts and, he suggests, possibly even from chronic saddle pressure.
"Fifty percent of the penis is actually inside the body," explains Dr. Goldstein. "When a man sits on a bicycle seat he's putting his entire body weight on the artery that supplies the penis. It's a nightmarish situation."
Former executive editor of Bicycling