If you’ve seen the pictures of my bike on this blog, you may have noticed its unusual seat (I’m not yet a pretentious enough cyclist to insist on always calling it a “saddle.” Although I do enjoy singing “back in the saddle again” after ending a weather-induced cycling hiatus.) This seat is called the Spongy Wonder, and I love it. First a warning to the bashful, this post will include discussions of the crotchal area. My apologies for the TMI.
Our story begins in 2005 when I happened upon an article in the New York Times entitled, “Serious Riders, Your Bicycle Seat May Affect Your Love Life.” This article included such memorable quotes as, “…even so-called ergonomic seats, to protect the sex organs, can be harmful, the research finds”; “A guy can sit on a saddle and have his penis oxygen levels drop 100 percent but he doesn’t know it”; and the prize-winner from Dr. Irwin Goldstein: “there are only two kinds of male cyclists, those who are impotent, and those who will become impotent.”
To summarize the article, the crux of the problem comes from where you are putting weight when you sit on your bike. Most bike seats (including many so-called “ergonomic” seats) put pressure on the soft tissues of the perineum (aka the taint, the choad, the area ‘twixt your balls and ass.) There’s an important artery and nerve that run through the perineal area in something called the “Alcock’s canal” (no, seriously, that’s what it’s called). When you put pressure there, you are restricting the flow of blood to your penis, and pinching the nerve as well. This is a bad thing.
The solution is to get a bike seat that does not have a nose, and when you sit on it, all of the pressure is on your “sit bones” (the NY Times article includes a great graphic.) I’ve been in many bike stores and I have yet to see one that carries a seat that fits this description. Around the time of this article, you started seeing more and more seats that claim to be ergonomic and have a channel cut in the middle to prove it. Unfortunately, these seats still have a nose, and they are mostly too narrow to allow the rider to place all of the pressure on the sit bones.
This article came out around the time I started becoming a more serious cyclist. I had recently bought a new bike and I was commuting every day on it. I hadn’t noticed any problems from riding my bike (my commute was pretty short), but I could tell that I was putting pressure on my perineum, and I would be a little saddle sore after a long ride. Of course, there are dissenting views on whether or not bicycle seats contribute to impotence – many people question whether the problem could be bike fit, and some question the methodology of various cylcing/erectile dysfunction studies. For me, the bottom line is that the traditional bike seat is just uncomfortable. I don’t know if it would have led to ED, but I could definitely feel that I was putting a good part of my weight on my perineum, and that just didn’t seem like a good idea. So I stared looking around for other types of bike seats.
There’s the bi-saddle:
The Dual Pad Easy Seat:
The Spider Flex:
And my seat, the Spongy Wonder:
The websites for the first two seats featured large middle-aged people cruising along on rather dumpy looking bikes. They didn’t seem like the right saddle for me. I don’t remember seeing the Spiderflex when I was shopping for my seat. It looks like a slightly better design than the Spongy Wonder, but I kind of like the lo-tech look of the Spongy Wonder. What’s not pictured here are the little covers that go over the pads to help protect them from the elements. The seat was designed by a nice man from New Brunswick who narrates an informational video on the spongy wonder website. I have been in dozens of bike stores in various parts of the country, and I have never seen anything like one of these seats. It’s very annoying that bike stores never carry a truly ergonomic bike seat like one of the 4 designs above. Although it’s easy to order things over the internet, for something so unusual, I wanted to be able to try it out. But after reading the testimonials on the Spongy Wonder website (and finding a few reviews on other sites as well), I decided it was worth the $100 investment. I’d have to say that it’s about the best $100 I’ve ever spent. It took me about 2 weeks to get comfortable riding on it, but I could immediately feel a difference. I was sitting on the cheeks of my bum, and not on my taint. There was no soreness or rubbing in the crotchal area at all. The only drawback to the Spongy Wonder is that it makes it difficult to ride with my hands off the handlebars. I’d never realized how much I use my crotch to stabilize myself during no-handed riding. This is not something I do regularly, but it can occasionally be useful if I have to make an adjustment to something, or I’m on a long ride and I want to give my hands a break. Another small issue I’ve noticed this winter is that because the Spongy Wonder is completely open in the middle, it allows a great deal of air to flow resulting in a very chilly ass when I am traveling at high speeds. Aside from those two minor quibbles, the Spongy Wonder is great. I ride on it every day on rough pavement and it is always comfortable. There is absolutely no pressure on my perineum while using the Spongy Wonder because I’m sitting where god intended, on my ass.
So far in this post, I’ve only discussed how traditional bike seats relate to erectile dysfunction and men’s crotchal health. So how do traditional bike seats affect the ladies? Well, as with many areas of medical research, most of the studies have focused on men. However, women have similar nerves and blood vessels running through their taints, and the NY Times article does mention possible effects on blood flow to the clitoris. I was talking with a urologist the other day (as you do) and he mentioned that he participated in a study that showed a significant increase in urinary tract infections for women riding on traditional bike seats. After owning a Spongy Wonder for a year or so, I bought one for Spouse and she’s pretty happy with it. It was definitely a step up from the duct-taped craziness on her back-up bike:
This photo would also fit in my series on the indignity of bicycle parking. This is the best bike parking I’ve found in the Federal Hill neighborhood (PVD’s ‘Little Italy’). It’s in a lot monitored by a little old Italian-American man in a shack. I always ask if I can lock up my bike there and when I come back he always says, “I made sure nobody messed with it!”
I’ve been catching a lot of flat tires lately. Spouse is kind enough to let me borrow her old bike so I can get to work on time. I think it’s time to invest in a nicer set of tires. I’ve seen a good amount of chatter about Schwalbe Marathons and their supposed resistance to flats. However, these are the same people who swear by Brooks Leather Saddles like the one I saw outside the Farmers Market the other day:
By the way, I would have complained about the total lack of bicycle parking at the Farmers Market, but I think that was on whitewhine.com a while ago.
This appeared to be an old Raleigh with a few updates and upgrades. It’s got a hub gears, chain guard, and I believe a hub dynamo for charging the front and rear lights. It’s also sporting Schwalbe Marathons, naturally. I’m guessing that one sits very upright on this bike, so the fact that the nose of the saddle has a decidedly upward tilt doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s pushing straight into the rider’s crotch, but it kind of looks like it would. I’ve also heard that it takes a very long time for a rider to “break-in” a Brooks saddle to the point where it is tolerable to ride. I didn’t stick around to chat with the owner. I’m not quite at the point in my blog-writing career where I want to stop people on the street and say, “Excuse me, can I interview you for my bike blog?” That blue Prius in the background reminds me, check this sweet ride:
In case you can’t tell, that’s a dark gray Prius with smoked out windows and after-market ‘performance’ rims in a slightly darker shade of gray. Sorry for the blurry pick. This car was so badass-looking I was afraid to get much closer.
So what was I talking about? Oh yes, the perineum, and why one should protect it. Like anything in my life that I get excited about, half of me wants to share it with the world, and the other half is afraid of annoying everyone with “The Good News” (did I spend too much of my youth around overly-evangelical Christians? Perhaps). But I’m genuinely pissed that the best seat most bike stores will carry is just like a traditional seat, but with a little channel down the middle of it. So far, I’ve restrained myself from trying to convince my local bike stores to carry the Spongy Wonder. I feel like it would be like harassing the butcher about the degree of free-rangeness of the beef. Or complaining to a radio station that moved “Living on Earth” to 6AM from 7AM and asking them, “don’t you think learning about Living on Earth is more important than learning about what’s On The Media?” Good thing that never happens. For now, I will leave my evangelism to the two dozen people who occasionally read my blog.
Wishing you a happy and healthy taint!
P.S. Yes, I agree, Spongy Wonder is a horrible name for a product. And in the interest of full disclosure, I have not received any promotional consideration from the makers of Spongy Wonder. I just want to share my healthy taint with the world.