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December 15, 2017
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  • Jim

    ” . a hard conversation .” really ??!!

    Btw had some of the numbness switched to SMP way better.

    • Stewie Griffin

      I chuckled at that headline. And yes, SMP is the way to go. Get over the looks and strap one on.

      • Christophe

        They look pretty bad-ass if your ask me. My lower regions have never been happier since I’ve installed an SMP Dynamic on my bike. Even the dreaded hours on the trainer roll by without everything going numb down there.

        • Stewie Griffin

          I don’t mind the looks either, but I do get comments on the looks by people that don’t like it. I ride a dynamic too and have a smaller carbon copy on my indoor bike. I’ll be purchasing a narrower version of the dynamic for my next ride, as I do have some shafing, the dynamic is just a little too wide for me

  • Wily_Quixote

    Perhaps an opinion from another urologist is in order.

    A urologist who reports an opinion on ED caused by bike saddles and is also producing his own bike saddles that prevent the problem may be somewhat biased.

    • Rosco Hamilton

      I did my masters research on cycling related ED in 2014.
      As always, the published research only gives you a very narrow view of a topic, especially when there is so little published. More importantly the only thing missing from ED related research in regards to saddles is an actual epidemiological study. The only published work so far are case studies.

      From a perspective of dare I say “clinical expertise”, its more nuanced. The scary thing about saddles is that they require a good 97% decrease in blood supply to the penis before any pain comes on. In the mean time, constant compression will be causing low grade fibrosis through the pudendal artery. This doesn’t hit you all at once, it gradually builds up over time. In my own case I just thought I was getting older and any changes to function were purely age related.

      From personal experience, the process of finding the right saddle suddenly changes how everything works. After a month on a good SMP my initial impression was “this is like being 18 again”. I didn’t think there were any hassles with ED, I was only trying to fix the problem of saddle pain.

      So to say there is no link between bike saddles and ED would be blinkered. ED from riding a bike would have to be extreme to make a man infertile and I doubt it even happens. But it can certainly limit a mans performance in the bedroom with compromising frequency and strength of erection.

      I frequently have a conversation with my patients and bike fit clients about saddle choice. While its easy to snigger about, its also a serious men’s health issue.

      • Avuncular

        “In the mean time, constant compression will be causing low grade fibrosis through the pudendal artery. This doesn’t hit you all at once, it gradually builds up over time. In my own case I just thought I was getting older and any changes to function were purely age related.”

        Can you expand on that please?

        • Rosco Hamilton

          For the first part:
          There are two proposed mechanisms for ED occurring in male cyclists. First is gradual hardening of the pudendal artery as it exits from inside the pelvis to outside. This little anatomical space is called Adcock’s canal. As with most arterial fibrosis, the arteries elastic and muscular wall gradually changes to have tougher material dense in collagen. This means that the artery cant stretch and distend as well as it used to. This change will be gradual, so you will barely notice its progression.
          The other mechanism is long term compression and micro trauma to the pudendal nerve, which supplies the external genitalia. Therefore decreased nerve function and erections aren’t as rigid.

          Its probably both however.

          For the last sentence:
          I commonly have the conversation with male cyclists who think that part of the ageing process is not being able to engage in intercourse as often as they used to. ie getting it up once per night and not two. Its easy to put this down to not being a teenager with raging hormones, but I’d suggest for cyclists its more likely to be the saddle and previously mentioned arterial fibrosis.

          A big concern I have as a bike fitter is that most cyclists seem to think that some degree of pain from the saddle is normal. It’s not.
          If you are having pain from your saddle, there’s a decent chance there is some degree of damage occurring.

          In my honest opinion, if you are free of any extreme morphological aberrations, you should be able to ride 200km and only have your legs hurt.

          • Avuncular

            Thank you.

          • DaveRides

            “I commonly have the conversation with male cyclists who think that part of the ageing process is not being able to engage in intercourse as often as they used to. ie getting it up once per night and not two. Its easy to put this down to not being a teenager with raging hormones, but I’d suggest for cyclists its more likely to be the saddle and previously mentioned arterial fibrosis.”

            Oh, I thought it was just that gear ratios and KOMs make for very poor pillow talk.

            I was told this by a friend, of course. He posts on here under the name ‘Sean’

          • Dirk London

            A big concern I have as a bike fitter is that most cyclists seem to think that some degree of pain from the saddle is normal. It’s not. If you are having pain from your saddle, there’s a decent chance there is some degree of damage occurring.

            In my honest opinion, if you are free of any extreme morphological aberrations, you should be able to ride 200km and only have your legs hurt.

            YES. ABSOLUTELY. TOTALLY. OBVIOUSLY.

      • Thanks for the insight Rosco!

      • Dirk London

        My habit was never to do a long ride on date-night day because I expected under-performance. Then I changed to a nose-less saddle…

    • You’ll probably find that the research Dr Minkow has done doesn’t pay the bills, and his expertise in the area to help develop saddles does. The world is riddled with perceived and real conflicts of interest like this. As @roscohamilton:disqus states below, there’s very little published in this field. For the record, we contacted him, not the other way around. Our network of urologists who expertise in this field is limited.

      • Wily_Quixote

        Thanks for the clarification, Wade.

  • Neuron1

    You would have to control for use of exogenous testosterone (increasingly common) family history and many other factors before commenting on the prostate cancer issue.

  • PsiSquared

    It’d be nice if the interviewed researchers commented on the strength of any correlations. Just saying something is correlated is meaningless. Likewise, statements like “…it correlates exactly with the blood flow” is meaningless. Does that mean the correlation factor was 1? Does that mean there no other correlated factors? Remember, correlation is not necessarily causation, and one study isn’t definitive unless many other studies come to the same conclusion after testing the same hypothesis in different ways.

    There’s a problem in science with researchers playing fast and loose with the scientific method, making bold statements about correlations, and then drawing bad conclusions from those correlations. It’s worrisome to see comments like some of those in the article before results are published, analyzed, and challenged by the scientific community at large.

  • Roger That

    For me, chamois choice is as important as saddle choice – perhaps even more so. I prefer a cut-out saddle, but I can ride almost any saddle (of the right shape) if I wear a good quality chamois, like a Cytech/Elastic Interface one, which is split down the middle, effectively giving you a cut-out in your knicks. I’ve used two versions of my favourite saddle, one with, and one without a cut-out and can barely tell the difference if I wear a split chamois.

  • OverIt

    I can say without doubt that switching to SMP saddles, having both the perineum cutout and scoop shape changed my post ride “barely being able to pee” to totally without problem, even after extended 200km+ rides.

    Scary part prior to going to SMP was that I didn’t really feel the issue during the ride. It was only after getting off the bike and trying to urinate (that i couldn’t properly) and just relaxing at home that I noticed tingling, and not the kind from being aroused. The good thing about the scoop in the SMP is it forces you to sit in the one postion which is optimal for the cutout to work, and doesn’t encourage you to ride up on the nose and on anatomy your shouldn’t be sitting on like many others do, and even encourage via marketing!! Quite bizarre!!

    • Avuncular

      This begs the question about how the pros handle riding the enormous kms they do. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pro ride on an SMP saddle which many claim to be the answer to their various problems. Is it that they have a superior position or proper advice on setup and can ride all day in comfort on various saddles that are anathema to others or do they suffer in silence with the problems described in the article?

      • DaveRides

        There’s another option – actual race bikes are often fitted with the unbranded saddle of the rider’s choice (unless they do prefer one from the team’s sponsor) along with other detailed changes, while the display bikes put out for the public and media to look at are usually spare bikes without the riders’ preferred customisations.

        • Quite often, it seems that the unbranded saddle of choice is one that has no cutout, and, at least up to the last few years, even has an “arc” side to side, putting a distinct high point right under the perineum. A Selle Italia Turbo or SLR would be examples of this sort of design. When I’ve ridden those types of saddles, it feels like it is putting pressure in the exact area I don’t want it, however I have met others who have complained that cutout or differently contoured saddles feel like they concentrate pressure on their sitbones, leading to sitbone discomfort.

          Long story short: Pro riders are putting in the big miles, and may not be only considering the health of their wang. They may actually be prioritizing the comfort of their sitbones and minimizing the likelyhood of getting chafing and saddle sores in those areas, even at the expense of their bait and tackle.

      • Spider

        Just like Roger That suggests, I’ve heard 2 direct accounts of pro riders changing the chamois in their shorts to Cytech/EI (from what their sponsors supplies) to increase comfort.

      • Rosco Hamilton

        The question re: pros is actually quite a good one.

        Hence it would be great to see some epidemiological data. Which I think it the point of Minkow’s online survey. It would be great to survey the whole NRS one year and compare to say C grade at the Tour of Bright with a similar questionnaire.

        I have a sneaky suspicion however that it takes a certain mentality to make it as a pro cyclist. From personal experience treating a few pros, they don’t really seem to be good at ignoring pain, its more that they embrace it. So maybe pros and their odd relationship with pain vs us mere mortals could explain the ability to put up with saddle discomfort. Although as previously mentioned, I doubt a bad saddle stops a mans genitals from functioning at all, it probably just compromises optimum function.

      • Dirk London

        The pros ride HARD saddles, amateur riders often ride a softer saddle. A softer saddle causes the pelvis to sink in which creates the pressure on the soft perineum tissues. The hard saddles that the pros prefer reduce the contact area and raise the softer tissues higher because the pelvis isn’t sinking in as much.

        Pro cyclists have an extraordinary ability to absorb pain. They are often unimaginably super-human.

    • Husain Bushehri

      I second what you say about difficulty in urinating. That, along with weaker erections, becomes more of an issue with longer rides and holding a TT position. Switching to the Cobb Flow plus 2 helped improve things, but I’m concerned about if theres any long term damage that can’t be reversed, and as Rosco Hamilton pointed out, does the damage gradually build up over time?

      • Rosco Hamilton

        Re: irreversible damage. There’s no solid data either way.
        The human body is pretty adaptable however. Until you get to the point that permanent tissue death occurs, its probably reversible. However anecdotally I have heard of surgical interventions for some cyclists after years of training 25 hours a week on a bad saddle. How common this is I couldnt say.

  • Chris Gillespie

    SMP Forma (med-big) Composit (small-med) Not the best looking saddle in the world but it really does work. I used to use them all the time and got bored of the look of them and moved to various Specialized saddles ending with the Power. As soon as I moved back to SMP I forgot the saddle was there and there was no pain/discomfort during or after the ride. The ride position forced by the shape with the generous cut out channel does the job of spreading the pressure. It’s also a great saddle for moving forward onto the nose when TTing as well and provides a nice position for optimum power transfer. I can’t recommend them enough.

  • Travis

    I had huge issues finding a saddle that worked for me. It was nothing to do with bike fit either I think I’m just a rare case. But then I think most people accept numbness as an inevitable reality of cycling. It is not. Cutout saddles were actually worse for me as they concentrated the pressure on the edge of the cutout (no my saddle isn’t too high and I don’t move in the saddle). Long story short. The only saddle that worked was from sqlab. I ride the 610 which is technically a mtb saddle. There is no perineal pressure as there is no contact. I don’t have any affiliation with them. I just think they make great saddles and while there are many saddles that work for most I believe they have the saddle for anyone. I only comment as I have never seen anyone using one and like to think this knowledge may help someone.

    • I am interested in trying the SQLab saddles too. It is an interesting alternative approach to changing the pressure distribution on the saddle, that seems to have merit. Regarding cutout saddles, there are undoubtedly many that are total crap. There are a ton that have a cutout placed too far forward, so it misses the perineum partially or completely. There are a ton with too narrow a cutout, so you have this tiny bit of pressure relief that really just causes a bulge in your perineal tissue as if you had a tube bulging through a slice in a tire. And there are a ton where the plastic shell curves up along the edge of the cutout, so you have this little knife edge of plastic that is digging into your taint on ever bump. A slightly less extreme version of this is when the saddle cover is sewn of many panels, and there is a super rigid seam of double overlapping material plus an excess of thread that rims the cutout, effectively creating a hard ridge around the hole that ostensibly provides pressure relief. Also, if one sits crooked or cockeyed on the saddle (quite common actually) then your perineum will lay across the cutout to some degree, rather than in the cutout.

      TLDR: Not all cutout saddles are created equal. Many actually make me want to slap the designer upside the head. Try SMP or Adamo before writing off cutouts as ineffective due to pressure around the edges of the cutout.

  • George Darroch

    What’s the consensus on snub-nose saddles? I have an ISM for the tri bike, and it does an excellent job of keeping pressure seated on the rear parts rather than the front.

    • I don’t get the snub nose thing. The cutout is the part that actually reduces pressure on the perineum. If you look down as you ride a traditional saddle, you will likely see an inch or so of saddle nose sticking out between your legs. That extra inch of saddle nose isn’t doing anyting to hurt or help pressure distribution, it’s just along for the ride. Cutting it off, as has been done on snub nose saddles, does nothing. The magic happens about 3-4″ further back with a properly designed cutout, and wing contours that properly support the sitbones, but for some reason the benefits achieved in those areas are misattributed to the shorter nose. Maybe it’s easier for the marketing dept to pitch or something.

      • Dirk London

        I find that its the depth of the cutout right at the front. On an ISM noseless I ride down on the aerobars without penile pressure for hours and hours, just merrily spinning along. You are absolutely right, the nose of the saddle that you can see between your legs doesn’t matter, but for me the depth of the cutout matters a lot.

    • Dirk London

      I use an ISM saddle on all my bikes and I have a wide penis. Once I got onto an ISM noseless I literally did not get a sore penis and was able to add six hours or more to a day of cycling and could go above 300kms with only fatigued legs and not a fatigued penis. Absolute magic. I tried several SMPs and found that the front edge of the cutout pressed again my soft parts forwards of my perineum and below my penis, also tried rotating my saddle to allow my perineum to be alongside the central hump, but that made my spine and shoulders crooked which gave me a sore neck and one sore shoulder. The huge advantage of a nose-less saddle is that the cutout is infinitely deep- it has no bottom to press on your soft parts. I do not understand at all why noseless saddles are not much more popular, particularly with the ultra-endurance crowd. Traditional saddles (for example brooks B17) are designed that way because a hundred or more years ago that was what they could achieve with metal and leather. Nowadays we can make a saddle any shape we want. BTW, Cob also make a noseless saddle, but I found the width of the cutout was less than ISM and therefore less good for me.

  • Rick

    Using SMP Stratos on all my bikes, never an issue with these

  • toni796

    definetely interesting article and some insightful comments

  • Larry @CycleItalia

    Since this piece was loaded with references to the Big-S and their products I think it’s only fair to throw in a plug for SMP. They figured all this stuff out awhile ago. http://www.sellesmp.com/en/designed-on-your-body.html
    At NAHBS 2017 I had a urologist tell me SMP was one of only two saddle brands he recommends for his clients.

    • Ragtag

      Ok. Which brand was the other one?

      • Dirk London

        ISM, perhaps. Cobb, perhaps. SQlab perhaps. All worth investigating.

      • Larry @CycleItalia

        Ragtag – the first one Dirk noted below was the other brand the urologist mentioned. He also explained he’d had zero luck with measurements and fit charts – only trial and error truly worked.

  • Reiji Tellez

    Hi – I don’t have ED or ‘numbness’ down there however due to many years of riding an aggressive position (have been bike fitted countless times during my cycling career) I now suffer from something called pudendal neuralgia (nerve damage to the pudendal nerve) which affects my riding. I don’t profess to know much about it but for those who are having pain and have been to urologists / GPs (I have been seen by 4 different urologists, multiple doctors and physical therapists) I finally found one that could diagnose my problem. If this is you and you don’t have numbness but have discomfort down you might have pudendal neuralgia AKA ‘cyclists syndrome’. I discuss it here: https://www.datadrivencyclist.com/pn

  • Ragtag

    Looking at almost everyone’s comments seems like SMP is the way to go! Interesting that not even once another brand was mentioned. :)

    • Dirk London

      It’s not about the brand of the saddle. It’s about the shape of the saddle and the shape of you.

    • Dirk London

      ISM have the north American patents on noseless saddles I believe. This means that the big players in the bicycles components and saddle market are unable to market a noseless saddle, in consequence their marketing departments create alternative (and in my opinion inferior) solutions to this widespread issue, i.e. the cutout saddle.

  • Mircea Andrei Ghinea

    SMP / ISM – hey, guys, i didn’t even tried these saddles… but from the outside, looking, observing, THESE are the ones… they all will get there, sooner or later… weird that so many “from the media” don’t talk about them… but “they still search”… it makes me laugh.

    • Yeah, they are both great, and I don’t know why the big saddle companies aren’t learning from the examples they are setting. SMP is better for people who tend to ride in one position, due to the defined scoop for/aft, whereas ISM is more flat for/aft and allows for a bit more sliding around. On the flip side, ISMs can be a bit wide in the nose and potentially chafe the thighs for bigger riders, in which case the narrower nose of SMP can be advantageous. I say buy one of each, and give them a shot. You can always sell them used for very little loss, and the minimal expense is well worth it when you look at the potential benefits of a properly fitting saddle.

      • Dirk London

        It’s true that if you have chunky inner thighs the ISM might rub your inner thighs. I don’t, so it isn’t a problem for me. Compared to SMP, the profile of the ISM is much more rectangular – the top corners between your thighs are more cornered on an ISM and less rounded which could create a pressure point in the crook of your thigh. My issue is my penis, not my thighs.

        • Mircea Andrei Ghinea

          seen that ISM, quite recently, has a new model, PN 3.0. also seen that Phil Gaimon (who favors ISM) just switched to the new model. any idea about it? thx ;-)

  • Ssanchez

    I’m all for a proper bike fit but why the hell are people charging north of $400 for the service?? It’s a rort! and I reckon the #1 reason why 90% of regular cyclists* don’t bother with it. I mean, maybe you had a proper fit years ago and have been transferring what you think is right across the 10 bikes you’ve owned since.

    * this statistic is based on zero research, it’s jut a hunch ;)

    • It all depends on how long they spend with you. Most shops charge somewhere north of $60usd per hour for repair labor. If they spend 4 hours with you on the fit, that is $240. Plus, they need to recoup the costs of whatever training and fit equipment they are using. Adjustable fit bikes and motion capture stuff, etc…can easily run up into the $10,000 range. I agree with you 100% that $400 can be a serious deterent for casual cyclists. I also think that $400 is the bargain of the century if it gives you decades of injury free, discomfort free, riding. That is a big “if” though, as just because you paid someone for a “professional fit” does not mean that they did it properly, for myriad reasons.

  • I LIKE TURTLES

    I don’t clearly understand the differences between all the SMP models. They all share the same basic shape, and what, some just have different levels of padding? With so many options that are very similar, how do you go about picking the right one?

    • Rosco Hamilton

      Here is Steve Hogg’s explanation. Not far off a PhD thesis right there. https://www.stevehoggbikefitting.com/bikefit/2011/09/all-about-smps/

      TL:DR version is:
      There are broadly speaking two types. Flat-ish or with the groove in the middle.
      Flat-ish ones tend to suit the female U shaped pubic arch, the grooved ones tend to suit the male V-shaped pubic arch. Of course anatomical variation means there’s a fair bit of overlap.
      Then they make either of those variants with different levels of padding and different widths.

      If you are going to buy one, make sure its from a shop that offers money back if you aren’t happy within a couple of weeks, or a trial program. Don’t be afraid to invest $350 if you can test them out. Broadly speaking most men fit well on to the Dynamic or the Lite 209. But you know, individuality and all that.

      • Anon

        I went over to SMP after reading Hogg’s work online. I foolishly got a composit online, spent the first few weeks fiddling with it, and then realized that the saddle really changes how you sit (e.g., the un-padded surface telegraphs every asymmetry, leading me to get leg length x-rays, chiropractic treatment, but also to realize that I was twisting slightly in the seat, etc. ). Long story short, I wound up sitting in a much healthier way overall on the bike basically because a saddle was connecting me in a new way.
        I’ve also had some luck with SMP’s cheaper range for friends and family who are understandably unwilling to spend $$$/€€/£££/¥¥¥ on a bike saddle (e.g., the ‘man’ saddle, extra, etc.).

    • Larry @CycleItalia

      You need to find SMP test center. They’ll fix you up with a model based on various details, then you try it out for as long as it takes to say, “Perfect!” or “OK, but I need more width in back, less padding, etc.” so they give you another model to try. Repeat until you find the “just right” one. Measuring your a__ is impossible despite what some will tell you, trial and error is the only way. I went through this at my own expense many years ago and my whining about it was a bit of incentive for their test-model program. We also partnered with them as an official supplier to CycleItalia as a result – the reverse of most “sponsorship:” programs where they offer X to get you to use and endorse their product. In this case it was “Wow, I really like your product, why don’t we work together to share it with others?”

  • Having done multiple blood flow tests myself with Dr Roger Minkow on various saddle designs, shape, width and cut out certainly have an impact on blood flow but the position of saddle and handlebars can also effect the numbers. Having recently worked with a urologist and surgeon cyclist (a client of mine) it was interesting to get his thoughts and it was clear to him that a cut out was the logical choice in particular for cycling patients with prostrate problems. Reducing the chance of nerve and artery compression is the healthier choice in his mind. I’d agree that bike fit is critical when changing a saddle, it’s the foundation of any successful bike fit. Like Nick Gosseen suggested, I’d say if you change your saddle you’ve just changed your bike fit.

  • Dirk London

    It’s extraordinary to me that many cyclists think it is normal and medically insignificant if your penis goes numb (even partially numb / a change in sensation). If any part of your body goes numb it is medically significant – you are unquestionably causing (or at least facilitating) long-term physiological damage. My employer wouldn’t let me sit on a chair that caused my penis go numb for fear of long term absence from work or union action. You don’t necessarily need a bike fit. Buy a bunch of saddles from an online retailer, try them for a short ride on a dry day, you’ll know pretty quickly which ones are not a good fit, and return the rest.

  • Dirk London

    There’s a business opportunity somewhere here for custom molded saddles, just like custom orthotic shoe insoles, or custom moulded in-ears for musicians.

    • Rosco Hamilton

      3D printing and an x-ray machine and it could happen. Although there’s the old chestnut of unnecessary radiation near your junk.

  • Dirk London

    I can see instantly that the Pro stealth and the Sworks saddle would be instant agony for me due to contact with that hard plastic bit at the front of the cut-out.

  • Piet van der Velde

    Hey everyone, here a word from the guy behind ere research, I see a lot of good comments and concerns and great suggestions. I designed and developed a ton of saddles for many many A class brands over the years and never made the same saddle, to me that tells me there’s a lot of different needs out there, and Bikefit surely show that. If you have any saddle specific saddle I’m also here to answer any questions. Please look us up on Facebook & Instagram as well, Ere Research.

  • Piet van der Velde

    If you want to be part of the Stanford study please join us here http://med.stanford.edu/cycle.html

  • Roger Minkow

    This was a great article, completely accurate and well written. I hope it gives the cyclists out there some useful information. The Stanford study has the potential for improving saddle designs around the world. We are early into the study but have found some very useful information already. With over 1000 men in the study we know there is a link between penile numbness and ED. We also know that there may not be a link between other types of pain and numbness and ED, so if cyclists just concentrate on this one symptom and use it as an indication to change FIT or their saddle, then maybe we can prevent some medical issues in the future. We need more people in the study, both men and women, so please sign up and help us. If we get thousands in the study we will be able to know what shapes of saddles are safe and what aren’t, and when that information goes out to the industry, it may make some real difference. The study address is: cycle.stanford.edu. All levels of men and women and all ages are welcome. Thank you all.

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