I am an avid biker and I hang out with a lot of guys who also love to exercise by riding bikes. Some of my buddies take it to the extreme by training almost every day and entering several bicycle races each year. Recently after one of our rides, we went to a local cafe to wind down and refuel with some pizza and drinks. One of the guys brought up the topic of erectile dysfunction saying that he thought all the biking might be having an effect on him and his performance in the bedroom.
I, along with the other guys, assured him that his “problem” was more likely tied to his age (he’s 62) and not riding the bike, but it did get me wondering about myself. I have been biking for years. Was I doing damage…down there, with all the miles I was riding on my bike? I decided to hit the internet and find a solid answer for myself mostly, but so I could also share with the guys the next time we got together. Here is what I found…
There is a link between riding a bike and developing erectile dysfunction, but it’s not as simple as “If you ride a bike, you will get E.D.” There are several factors, such as seat design and time spent on the bike, that will contribute to the severity of the erectile dysfunction. There are also steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of developing erectile dysfunction while riding a bike.
Contributing Factors to E.D. Caused by Riding a Bike
According to a study done by the Columbia University Department of Urology, there is a definite correlation between cycling and the possibility of developing erectile dysfunction. The two biggest contributing factors are time spent in the saddle and the design of your bike seat.
Men who ride recreationally shouldn’t have the same concerns as avid road cyclists. The study shows that men who ride less than 3 hours a week have a lower instance of developing erectile dysfunction. While men who bike more than 3 hours (like myself and all my biking buddies) are more prone to develop E.D.
The other major factor is the design of the seat that you use. Like most serious cyclists, I use a saddle with a long, narrow nose. While this is great for efficient peddling and it helps reduce chaffing, a saddle with a long, narrow nose also contributes to your risk of E.D.
Some of the warning signs that you might be ignoring are tingling or numbness in the groin area. When this occurs, the scientists advise that you should take a break.
That break can be short and come in the form of standing up while pedaling for a few minutes each hour (if you’re riding longer than a few hours).
This, of course, will not do for friends who race. So, they will have to take as many precautions as possible.
There is another more painful contributing factor that may increase the chance of erectile dysfunction, and that is sudden trauma. Don’t forget that under the seat is a ill-placed bar just waiting to catch you right in the wrong place should you slip off your peddles or seat.
This type of trauma can damage the nerves in the Alcock’s canal and the Penile artery, reducing blood flow to the penis and thus causing E.D.
Precautions to Take to Reduce the Risk of Developing E.D.
I spoke with a former local bike shop owner and friend, Bill. He said that there are several ways you can protect yourself from developing erectile dysfunction, and other potential injuries to your reproductive area.
Top on his list was to use a padded or gel-filled saddle. If you are really serious about taking precautions, then you would also want to choose a seat without the long, narrow nose. I have tried cushioned seats without the nose and it does reduce the pressure, but on longer rides, I do tend to chafe more. It’s a trade-off I could make, though, if ED were a concern for me.
Adding padded biking shorts helps with both chaffing and the pressure on your groin.
Having the seat height at a proper level is also crucial. Your legs should not fully straighten, If they do, you’re adding extra pressure on your groin than you need to. So, lower that seat just a tad. Along with the seat height, you should also have your saddle tilted a bit forward, NOT back. Tilting the seat forward will relieve pressure and reduce your chance of injury (the best advice I could give in this area is to get a professional bike fit – it goes a long way to efficiency on the bike and ensured “performance” off the bike).
Taking Bill’s advice I made a saddle change and bought an extra pair of padded shorts. Those who ride with me know that during the summer months I prefer shorts over bibs. But nicely padded bibs, shorts or full-length bibs during the winter work great. Gel padded shorts work too. Almost all of my cycling apparel comes from Pactimo from my time with pedal RACING & Physio Racing – check out some of their stuff here.
I now turned my attention to researching other adverse side effects that riding a bicycle has.
Riding a Bike and Fertility Problems for Men
Not a concern for me, I have made all the contributions to the rise in the global population that I intend to, but there are a couple of young guys in our group who have yet to start a family. Not only that, but I was curious.
Surprisingly, there have not been a lot of in-depth studies on how cycling affects fertility. Some very authoritative studies seem to contradict each other. Some say that there is no significant risk, and others show a direct correlation between cycling and low fertility.
One thing that most studies agree on is those avid cyclists, the ones who bike daily and for hundreds of miles a week, do have a lower sperm count. In the most severe examples, extreme bikers had up to 90% less sperm count than a moderate biker. The studies are quick to point out, though, that even with the lower sperm count a fall in fertility still has not been correlated to moderate cycling.
Just the fact that there is a correlation between cycling and infertility makes me what to encourage my friends who are still planning to have kids, to take all the precautions they can (seat height, padded seat, padded pants), but to keep biking.
Other Side-Effects Caused by Biking
In addition to the E.D. and Fertility concerns, biking can also cause nerve damage and urinary troubles in men. The side-effects, like the others discussed here, can be reduced with proper precautions.
The thing is, when we get on the saddle and ride for hours on end, we are doing something that is unnatural for our physique.
I think Dr. Steven Schrader says it best in a 2008 study that examined the effects on bicycle police of being on a bike all day long. This study took place in Seattle.
“That part of the body was never meant to bear pressure”
While most of the discussion here is about the bad side-effects that cycling has on the male body. There is some good news.
Biking is a great cardio workout. It strengthens your legs, hips, glutes and even your core. Cycling is a low impact exercise that avoids stress on knees, hips, and ankles.
I’m glad I took the time to investigate some of the side-effects of biking and how it may, or may not, impact your off-bike activities. I thoroughly enjoy spending hours out on the road getting some good exercise. Now, with hard facts to back me up, I can tell my gang that with proper precautions, we can continue to enjoy all the benefits of cycling without too much concern about erectile dysfunction.