Fat-butt lorry drivers also suffer from penile problems* but whereas the health benefits of cycling outweigh all other risks, the mainstream media still finds it a great sport to take impotence potshots at cyclists. A very good reason, you might think, not to give some mainstream journalists yet more ammunition in their attempts to emasculate cycling.
Given this background, it was reasonably obvious that Selle Royal's PR campaign would backfire. The UK's Bike Week didn't get media mentions out of merit, but by being linked to the 'biking is bad for the bedroom' stories.
There were reports in The Daily Telegraph, bbc.co.uk, The Hindustan Times and The Washington Times.
The newspaper coverage in the UK was so bad that the Daily Star, not normally the most cerebral of British red-tops, said in an editorial that it felt sorry for the organisers of Bike Week and that people should not be discouraged from cycling.
Selle Royal stress that it was not their intention to re-publicize the 'erectile dysfunction' (ED) scare stories that went around the world in 1997.
This long-lived and damaging publicity followed a piece in Bicycling Magazine of America which quoted Irwin Goldstein MD, one of the leading urologists in the US, as saying: "Men should never ride bicycles. Riding should be banned and outlawed. It is the most irrational form of exercise I could ever bring to discussion."
Specialized later initiated a PR campaign to publicise the production of its Body Geometry range of MD-designed, anti-ED saddles.
The UK release of the Saddle Report's findings was handled by The Impact Agency of London. Their release, a full copy of which can be found below, headlined the use of gel saddles for women but the words 'erectile dysfunction' appeared early in the release, and it was this that was leapt upon by the British mainstream media.
The US marketing arm of Selle Royal has yet to publicise the report and the 'cycling causes impotency' story in The Washington Times came from the UK press.
Andrea Meneghelli, Selle Royal's PR officer in Italy, said:
"The saddle report is part of an on-going research program into the effects of cycling on the body with our aim being to make cycling as comfortable as possible.
"We know that cycling is a fantastic exercise and its health benefits are well established around the world, but conversely we also know that millions of people do not cycle frequently because they find it uncomfortable.
"In the UK alone, we understand that there are approximately 10 million bike owners who rarely use their bikes. If we can make it more comfortable for them to ride their bikes, then hopefully they will start to use them more frequently.
"This is not something that can be achieved in a matter of weeks however, as in some markets this view is so established and so ingrained in the way people think, and sometimes the media, that it's going to take long term investment to educate not only the cyclists of today but also of the generations to come.
"All of our communications is to get more people on bikes, not less, otherwise we go out of business."
Selle Royal's Saddle Report was provided to mainstream journalists on a professionally-produced DVD and brings together the previously-published academic findings of three scientists, Professor Ingo Frobose, Professor Dr. Luc Baeyens and Professor Rodano. The three professors work at three different academic institutions in Germany, Italy and Belgium (their work and credentials can be found on PDFs found below).
The DVD also includes copyright-free TV footage of saddle pressure points for TV use and there are interviews with racing cyclists such as Gilberto Simoni, who is filmed near to a Fizik saddle.
There are only the slightest of mentions that the Saddle Report was compiled by Selle Royal.
The main thrust of the Saddle Report is to show that saddles with cutouts lead to greater stress on rider perineums than saddles with gel-inserts. In fact, saddles with cut-outs are said by the release to be "dangerous."
Not included on the DVD, but easily found from a search on the internet, is a scientific study from 2002 that shows that saddle cutouts work very well for some people (Bicycle seat designs and their effect on pelvic angle, trunk angle, and comfort. Bressel E, Larson BJ, Biomechanics Laboratory, HPER Department, Utah State University).
The Impact Agency's release - and the subsequent coverage in many newspapers - states that saddles with cutouts are a "fashionable new design of saddle", and by implication, untried.
In fact, companies such as Terry Bicycles have been making saddles with cutouts since the mid-1990s and thousands of cyclists still find them comfortable.
Medical opinion divided
The Saddle Report's chosen scientists don't have much truck with saddles with cut outs (or anything other than very wide saddles) but not all scientists believe cycling causes impotency.
Harin Padma-Nathan, MD, director of The Male Clinic in Santa Monica, California, and a former student of Irwin Goldstein, has said:
"Will biking cause impotence for the average cyclist? Does that risk outweigh the sport's cardiovascular benefits? The answer is no on both counts."
Richard Lieberman, MD, a clinical associate professor of surgery at The Pennsylvania State University, has said: "I can think of a lot more things that are deleterious to one's health that should be outlawed before bikes. In fact, the overall vascular health of the cyclist may, in a lot of cases, outweigh some of the local deficit that's created."
Joe Kita, the author of the 1997 report on cycling and impotency in Bicycling Magazine, later wrote that cycling increases sexual performance because of:
GREATER BLOOD CIRCULATION: One key to sexual health is blood flow to men's and women's sexual organs. Cycling helps build the cardiovascular system, which improves blood flow throughout the body and especially to the penis.
HEIGHTENED SEX DRIVE: University of California at San Diego researchers found that men who followed a regular exercise program reported a 30% increase in frequency of sex with their partners and experienced 30% more orgasms. They also fantasized more about sex, kissed and caressed their partners more. INCREASED SEXUAL ENDURANCE: Because cycling improves your cardiovascular conditioning, cyclists don't tire as quickly during lovemaking. STRONGER SEX MUSCLES: Cycling improves your legs, buttocks, and lower- back muscles, all key muscles used during intercourse. BIGGER SEX ORGANS: Cycling can reduce fat that builds up around the base of a man's penis. In essence, since this fat reduces penis size, cycling can make the penis look as large as possible. SEXUAL APPEAL: A recent survey by Men's Health magazine revealed that women find a man's rear-end and legs the sexiest parts of his body. Cycling helps tone and strengthen these parts, increasing a man's physical appeal.
MORE ENDORPHINS: Regular exercise increases the body's release of endorphins, which creates a feeling of heightened well being. This release of endorphins has been shown to increase sexual arousal or even orgasm in women.
THE 1997 BICYCLING ARTICLE CAN BE FOUND HERE:
SADDLE REPORT PDFs
SADDLE REPORT PRESS RELEASE
Doctors urge women not to get saddled with health hazards
For the millions of people who go to a gym every week, have exercise bikes at home and the seventeen million adults who own one, the bicycle saddle is hardly ever worth a second glance. Now, as new research shows, whilst cycling is a fantastic exercise, if the saddle on the bike is uncomfortable and ignored, people could be doing themselves serious harm.
Titled the Bicycle Saddle Report 2003 (a study into saddles, comfort and health), the research is the most extensive study ever undertaken into the effects of cycling on the body, and includes for the first time ever, a study into the health hazards confronted by women on bikes. The relatively small surface area of a saddle can carry up to 60% of a persons total body weight. Conducted by doctors from Germany, Belgium and Italy, the study covers all types of cyclists, from professionals to purely leisure, and also includes far reaching implications for gym goers. Amongst the reports findings are:
A fashionable new design of saddle, which features holes and cut out contours, can be very dangerous, particularly for women. Rather than improve comfort as manufacturers claim, the new saddles can cause areas of hyper-pressure, which can lead to chafing, follicultis, nodules, and also temporary insensitivity of the clitoris. In men it can lead to numbness and erectile dysfunction. The condition known as bicyclists vulva, a permanent unilateral swelling of the labium major, is far more widespread than previously thought. Women should only use saddles designed for women due to differences in pelvic structures between a man and a woman People are most likely to experience problems when riding with a bent body position. Cycling in an upright position, with a straight back improves oxygenation to the genitals by up to 40% over a bent forward position Men who cycle are twice as likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction than non-cyclists The study showed that the majority of men and women who ride bikes, never think to change the saddle even though of 1000 cyclists surveyed, 94% experienced problems whilst cycling and of those 60% said the discomfort was felt in the genital area and as a result they were put off cycling, regardless of the wider health benefits associated with the activity. Tens of thousands of non-cyclists and cyclists, both professional and leisure were surveyed across Europe and some of the most advanced pressure measurement systems ever devised have been utilised to identify how pressure affects the human form. Importantly, the research focused on steps people can take to alleviate pressure, from a professional Tour de France athlete to the leisure cyclist who may only cycle to and from work on an infrequent basis. The experts included Dr Luc Baeyens, Head of Gynaecology of the University Hospital in Brussels, who last year authored the report in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), identifying the previously unreported condition of bicyclists vulva. After I published my article in the BMJ, I had a lot of feedback from women all over the world who suffer from the condition or other related problems, comments Dr Baeyens. We see it mostly in women who cycle intensively but interestingly we have seen how riding on a normal city bike can cause seat pain or irritation. Baeyens continues, One of the difficulties with calculating how widespread the condition is, is we have found that women who suffer from these problems generally never raise the issue with a doctor, nor discuss it with their friends or other cyclists. However, Baeyens is unstinting in his advice to women on the new saddle designs. Do not use a saddle with a hole because the cut-out does not allow for good lateral pressure. It causes more compression on some of the perineal parts and the labia majora can be pressed between the sides of the hole. And we know that women have more fat tissues than men in the groin area, so for women I think it is especially important not to use a saddle with a hole. The saddles with holes have proved enormously popular in Germany and Holland and are now proving to be the saddle of choice amongst more style-conscious cyclists in the UK. Even Madonna was recently seen with one on her bike. Of the saddles tested, a flat traditional shaped saddle filled with gel distributes pressure over a bigger surface; a saddle with a hole centralised the pressure in an area, which can potentially cut blood and lymphatic supply to a womans outer genitalia as the bilateral pudendal nerve and artery are most likely positioned along the edges of the hole. In the central part of the saddle, the labia majora gets caught in the middle of
the hole compressing the nerves, damaging the skin and the lymphatic system
this does not happen on a flat saddle with gel. Furthermore, saddles with a hole lead to an increase of the anterior load and can indirectly compress the prostate. The doctors found that the effects are most pronounced when a woman rides with her body bent forward in either a racing or mountain bike position. The research shows that by sitting upright, main pressure peaks move to the back where the ischia are located, relieving pressure from the genitals and specifically, the labia majora. The more bent the body when cycling the more the sensitive areas of the genitals are stressed. In men, the more bent forward they are when cycling the more bent the pelvis becomes restricting blood and oxygen supply to the genitals. The doctors found that male cyclists are more than twice as likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction than non-cyclists. The health benefits of cycling have been extensively examined and researched in recent years. Studies have shown that even a short cycle trip each day improves a persons condition and general constitution, so the doctors are keen not to cause alarm or panic as by following some simple rules, pressure build up and the associated problems can be averted. 5 STEPS TO HEALTHIER CYCLING:
The wider and flatter surfaced the saddle the better, and ideally get one filled with gel. The best of the saddles tested in the report were from the Lookin range, which uses a unique type of gel proved to reduce pressure peaks by up to 40%. The Doctors stress that women in particular should not buy saddles with holes. Women should only buy womens saddles. Its not a marketing gimmick, they really are different from mens saddles, as the pelvis of a woman is completely different to the pelvis of a man. If you tend to cycle with your body leaning forward, sit upright as often as you can and regularly change your position on the saddle by pulling yourself forward with your feet. Tests on men showed that by sitting upright, oxygenation of the genitals improved by 40% over a body bent forward.
Lift yourself off of the saddle every ten minutes by standing up on the pedals.
If you feel discomfort after cycling, apply cold compresses to the area.
MORE CHOICE QUOTES FROM IRWIN 'I HATE CYCLING' GOLDSTEIN [not in the Saddle Report, but easily found by journalists given the keywords 'erectile dysfunction' and 'cycling'}:
"What if I had a product that I sold to the supermarkets of the world and in four percent or so [it] caused irreversible health changes? How long do you think this product would be allowed to be sold in the supermarkets...? Not very long, you would answer.
"What people want to do is fine. They just have to be informed. The biggest problem that I have with people is not that they want to ride, because if they want to ride, they are adults. They can do what they want. But what constantly comes out of their mouths, is: "If I was only told. I would never have done it. If there was even the possibility of this happening, I would never have done it. "In the large run [cycling] three hours per week is dangerous, but a single ride could result in a single fall onto the nose of a ridiculous piece of equipment and [onto] a bar..and impotence is permanent and irreversible. "The bike seat is archaic. It's unanatomic. The perineum is an intricate neurovascular complex, but there are no shoulder pads or helmets to protect it.
"The [cycle] industry isn't addressing these problems, and I suggest two immediate change. No child should be given a bicycle with a top tube, and seats should have no noses."
* It's true, fat butt lorry drivers do suffer from impotency and infertility, a study by French researchers, published in the journal Human Reproduction, found that the scrotums of long-distance drivers heat up to an alarming degree.