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New study to examine bike saddles, erectile dysfunction

Researchers are looking into whether newer saddle designs have had any impact on cycling's most delicate problem.

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It’s been 20 years since researchers first linked cycling to erectile dysfunction (ED), a groundbreaking revelation that spawned a revolution in the design of bicycle saddles. But have center cutouts and other newer designs had any impact on the cycling world’s most delicate problem?

A new study conducted by a professor of urology from Stanford University and a longtime bicycle saddle designer hopes to find an answer. Called the Stanford CYCling and Lower Effects (CYCLE) Study, it plans to conduct detailed surveys with no less than 10,000 cyclists, to determine — among other things — whether new saddle designs have curbed ED.

“We think this will be the biggest, most extensive health study ever done of cyclists,” said Dr. Roger Minkow, one of the study’s two authors. “No medical study of [bicycle seats and ED] has ever considered all of the factors that we will be looking at in ours.”

Dr. Minkow recently retired from Specialized, where he helped develop the bicycle manufacturer’s line of Body Geometry saddles and other products during his 19 years with the company. He is working alongside Stanford urologist Dr. Michael Eisenberg on the study.

Dr. Minkow has done previous research on the correlation between saddles and erectile problems, including blood flow studies on live patients. He said the problem with these studies is that researchers do not know a test subject’s history with previous saddles, bicycle fit, or even injuries. There were simply too many variables to determine why a test subject showed or did not show signs of ED.

“We were able to measure penile blood flow but we couldn’t prove anything because if a rider had used a poorly-designed seat for years he could have already done damage,” Dr. Minkow said. “Likewise, no medical study has ever been done to consider bicycle fit and it’s impact on penile blood flow.”

The two researchers have created a detailed survey that takes approximately 15 minutes to complete. The survey asks participants to identify their saddle history from a variety of popular shapes. It also asks them to list their riding history, waist size, preferred bicycles, and details about bike fit. The survey also targets saddle issues that are common among female riders.

The study does not include a blood-flow test.

Minkow hopes the survey will shed light on which saddle designs eliminate problems for riders with specific body types and fit styles. As of now, the study does not have an end date.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to say whether proper equipment and a proper bike fit can impact [ED],” Minkow said.