No nose is good nose (or, how to improve penile tactile sensation)

One of the effects of high gas prices is to encourage people to use bicycles. This also includes the police, where some jurisdictions are taking cops out of cruisers and putting them on foot or on bikes. Bike police (and bicycle messengers, people who use their bikes in crowded urban areas to endanger pedestrians), spend much more time in the saddle than most, other than professional racers and bike fanatics. A new study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine says the continual pressure on thei perineum is causing genital numbness in males. The culprit seems to be the nose on the traditional bike saddle:

Ninety bicycling police officers from 5 metropolitan regions in the U.S. (Northwest, Southern, Desert West, Midwest, and Southeast) using traditional saddles were evaluated prior to changing saddles and then again after 6 months of using the noseless bicycle saddle.

The findings show that use of the noseless saddle resulted in a reduction in saddle contact pressure in the perineal region. There was a significant improvement in penile tactile sensation, and the number of men indicating they had not experienced genital numbness while cycling for the preceding 6 months rose from 27 percent to 82 percent using no-nose saddles.

Use of the noseless saddle also resulted in significant increases in erectile function as assessed by the initial evaluation, but there were no significant changes noted in Rigiscan® measures, a method used to record penile rigidity while the subject sleeps. (ScienceDaily, h/t Medgadget)

Here are pics of a noseless and a typical bike saddle:


Sources: and Brooks Saddles

I don't have a subscription to the Journal of Sexual Medicine so I'll just have to wonder how one measures "penile tactile sensation" and nocturnal penile rigidity.

Here is the citation (note the toe curling title):

"Cutting Off the Nose to Save the Penis." Steven M. Schrader, Michael J. Breitenstein, Brian D. Lowe. DOI: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2008.00867.x Volume 5 Issue 8 (August 2008)

More like this

Or, ride a recumbent... Mine's a mobile lawn chair. No problems with any of my "equipment", even after a 10,600 mile trek round Australia...

By Charlie B. (not verified) on 16 Aug 2008 #permalink

As someone who rides daily, if you're getting numbness, you're doing it wrong. Your seat configuration is wrong. The noseless saddle is a solution for those who can't be bothered to read up on proper height and camber of their seat. The riders are also riding wrong. Any decent rider quickly learns there are three points of control and weight balance; hands, feet, and butt. You balance yourself on all three, which through normal riding, removes all pressure from the perineum.

The harder the seat, the better off you are in general. Soft seats crush too much and therefore put pressure on the perineum.

This entire scientific research paper looks like a press release for the maker of the noseless saddle.


This entire scientific research paper looks like a press release for the maker of the noseless saddle.

Except that it isn't. It's part of a systematic study by independent researchers at NIOSH (part of CDC). The riders used both saddles for at least 6 months and the difference in results was quite striking. You can say that ninety plus riders who use bikes as part of their profession don't know how to ride or adjust their seats, but what this shows is that if they use a different seat, in the usual course of their job, that specialized seat adjusting skill isn't needed. This isn't a case of bike aficionados. it is a case of use of a bike for work. If most car accidents are the result of the hundreds of millions of drivers not driving well, it doesn't mean we shouldn't try to make cars safer. If most power saw accidents are the result of inattention or carelessness or bad practice, it doesn't mean we shouldn't have guards on saws. And, I would argue, the same with bike seats. If they can be made less likely to cause harm, we should recommend them unless there is a compelling reason that the difference in control you claim exists is crucial to doing the job.

What bikecommutr said, exactly. The softer and wider the saddle, the more pressure it puts on shit that it shouldn't. The problem is fit, fit, fit!

Professional bike racers spend 5-6 hours a day on their bikes, every day, all of them have extremely narrow, firm traditional saddles, and I have not heard of any problems with penile function or numbness among them.

The problem is that bike cops are just given a bike and told to get going. There is no culture of expertise on how to fit and ride a bike in police departments, because "Hey! It's just a fucking bike!! What's to know?"

I once measured nocturnal rigidity by placing a ribbon of postage stamps around the base of the "member". If it is broken in the morning, then it was a "good" night's sleep. However, once I found myself having been mailed off to China. But that was just once.

I smell a right wing conspiracy.

Ren: I'm surprised you didn't wake up when they postmarked you. At least you did it with a date. BTW, who licked the stamps?

pft: I smell a right wing conspiracy.

Sniffing bicycle seats again?

I'm a non-expert biker married to a very expert biker and with extremely expert (as in, own bike shops) bike-riding friends, and here's my take: The problem is there is no science for fitting bikes and bike seats. Every practitioner has a formula, but they're all idiosyncratic and n=1. I live in Minneapolis, supposedly the second-most bike-friendly city in the US after all-bike Portland, and even here no one can agree on the best or only or canonical way to adjust seats and scale. On the local bike forums, there are expert bikers complaining all the time about going through 6 handlebars and 9 seats before finding their optimal fit, So if there is something out there that reduces the negative effects of not-perfect fit - whatever that it - I say, bring it on. Lectures along the lines of "If you were a *real* biker, you'd figure this out" do nothing to address the very real problem of bad fit, and do drive novice bikers away.

Just to answer someone else's question:

Nocturnal rigidity is measured by a transducer cuff wrapped around your penis for the night, which is attached to a machine which records the changing diameter of the cuff throughout the night.

I have actually heard quite a lot from bike racers and riders about genital numbness. It is not an unheard-of problem as PhysioProf seems to suggest.

remember, Lance Armstrong got testicular cancer, which is another symptom of bike saddles pressing up in there...

even professionals don't get it right

That cushy bike seat looks awfully good to this XX! When I was in college, I had a riding accident and landed with all my weight on the nose of the seat, banging my tailbone HARD. I didn't think much of it at the time - yeah, it hurt like hell, but I could still walk OK, and I got back on the bike (very carefully!) and rode home. (Seriously, what could they have done if I went to the ER? put my butt in a cast?)

For months after that, I couldn't sit "square" in a chair without my butt hurting like hell. I had to sit on one buttcheek or the other. I had trouble with it off and on until I squoze out my son when I was 29. Since then it hasn't bothered me - unless you count my ex razzing me about having had my butt out of joint for 10 years! :-)

By themadlolscien… (not verified) on 16 Aug 2008 #permalink

see at pudendal nerve.
I think this may be an explanation.

"Difficult childbirth or bicycling[1] can compress or stretch the pudendal nerve, causing temporary loss of function, but permanent injury is rare. Entrapment of the nerve is very rare but can happen. "

this nerve can be trapped at various locations,it gives a very frustrating pathology , difficult to treat,with nervous lesions, pains etc..
anatomy :

Something also overlooked by the prof. cycling crowd is that the police officers would ride in a number of different positions--sitting upright would seem to be most dominant. This would shift the center of gravity of the rider and the degree and direction of force and may (or may not) change the degree to which the pudendal nerve is blocked.

Although police officers could certainly benefit from learning more about their bikes, the most pragmatic approach would be to change the seat.

i don't know the first thing about bike mechanics, but that old-fashioned Brooks leather saddle sure looks good to me! i'd rather wear a bike helmet than be seen riding that "noseless" thing, myself.

By Nomen Nescio (not verified) on 17 Aug 2008 #permalink

I understand that blogs are about opinion and not facts, but this topic is about other's health. Are you so sure about your opinion that you feel you can tell others to disregard biomedical science? Did you read the scientific paper published in the medical journal that is presented here or the other 35 medical journal reports presenting data about urogential numbness and sexual dysfunction in bicyclists or is your opinion only that your sexual function is fine (for now) and therefore medicine and science are wrong?

As explained in the medical journal article these bicycle police officers do understand bicycle fit. There are national and international organizations which teach bicycle fit to police officers. These cyclists ride an average of 25 hours a week. Do you really think that bike fit just slipped their mind? Do bicycle police officers ride different than others? Yes, first they ride mountain bikes which put them in a more upright position than a road racer. Sitting more upright still caused problems; every scientific article on road racers show a much greater increased pressure on the groin (perineum) which would make the situation even worse for racers than the mountain bike policemen.

There is not about nerve entrapment (pinched nerve) this is based cumulative trauma an area of the body that was not meant to bear your body weigh. Blood vessels supplying the penis (labia and clitoris in women) are being flattened and restricting blood flow to the genitals. There are data suggesting nerve damage from nerve compression but not nerve entrapment in cyclists. With time numbness does not completely subside and sexual dysfunction develops. This is not about a single bicycle ride or an immediate effect. Biomedical research also indicates that the saddles with cutouts are not beneficial and in some cases may be worse for the cyclist.

Research science is not someone's whim. This is the culmination of years of research building on their scientific knowledge and the scientific data published around the world. The study protocol underwent stringent peer review as did the publication of the journal article.

The bottom line is to believe others opinions or believe medical science. The choice is yours -- it's your penis!

Steve: I assume your comment is not directed at the blog post itself but some commenters on it, since we are in agreement about the post.

Looking at the pictures I am sure the one on the left is better for many than the one on the right, but there are two changes done - the split down the middle and the removal of the nose. The articles you pointed to don't say (or I missed it) if this was controlled for. Using a split saddle really helped me. Very many modern saddles have a groove or split down the middle.

Personally having ridden across the country and many other long rides, less nose on saddles would be welcome, but the one you show looks uncomfortable for long rides. It looks like the article says - it was designed for upright use by police, etc. This is a very different position than long distance riding where your back is very much more horizontal than vertical.

Actually I think the UCI is partially at fault here. It has "safety regulations" that determine seat position for competitions and prevent the appropriate placement of seats in many cases. You will often see riders sitting right on the tip of their saddle. And you will see seats with noses chopped. No seat maker will make a high end seat that goes against the regulations and thus this trickles down somewhat. Maybe this study will help apply some pressure for change in general.

In response to bikecommutr, physioprof, and to whomever else it may concern:

What Revere said is 100% correct. When preventing injury and/or impairment, the best approach is one that does not rely on the expertise, intelligence, or even awareness of the user. The best approach is to stop the possibility of injury at the source (this is sometimes referred to as aministrative or engineering controls). This is a basic principle of occupational safety and health (which, of course applies to non-occupational areas as well).

Now, if changing the seat creates other problems, that should be taken into account. But not changing the seat because "the rider should know better" will only result in further impairment.

EUREKA! I have the solution! A doughnut (donut in America, sigh) shaped seat, with a hole big enough for a chap to dangle his "family jewels" in complete comfort.Can't stop for congratulations, as I'm dashing off to the Patent Lawyer's office to register this stroke of genius.

Please be assured the comments were not against the Blog. They probably were a little unfair even to post here and were in response the discussion here and on several other blogs. I decided to respond here because it appeared there was an intelligent discussion going on and I hoped that my comments would get a fair read; which it appears they have. Many other blogs seem to gang up on the report with as "junk science" using personal testimonials as evidence.

There are many different no-nose saddles available and most can be found at

Steve: No prob. Just wanted to be sure my post was clear.

@revere, no one could accuse me of being a bike aficionado. I ride a bike to work, sometimes a different bike through the woods for fun.

When I first started riding, I felt numbness by the end of the 13k ride to work. Because I'm a trained scientist, and according to my wife and coworkers, need to re-invent the wheel to better understand it, I started paying attention to what felt numb and where I was sitting on the seat. I went so far as to paint the midline of the seat and after a ride, check my shorts to see where the line was the thickest, and most transferred to the shorts from the seat.

Fast forward 3 seats later, the seat with the largest split/opening/crevass down the middle was the most comfortable and removed the numbness after my 13k rides twice a day.

I'd be interested to see the actual research article, rather than summaries, and see which seats they tested against the noseless seat. Is it the nose that matters, or the contour of the midline of the seat? Typically, you don't sit on the nose, you use your inner thighs against the nose for control in the turns, or over bumps.

And how long were these bike police on the bikes? Were the police already heavy bike riders or were they new to biking? After the first 6 months you're in better shape and learn to balance on the tripod (hands, butt, pedals) better. The summaries are fairly useless to answer these questions.

A better design for this study may have been to take new bike patrolmen, randomly assign noseless and regular seats for 3 months and then swap seats for the next 3 months; all the while measuring with Rigidscans.

I'm interested enough, and the noseless seats are cheap enough, my sample size of 1 is going to try it out to see the difference for myself. It's a simple test, albeit subjective since I lack the Rigidscan.

I've got to agree with most here....these types of seats are not the answer in my opinion. A properly fit seat will not be uncomfortable and nor will it create medical issues.

These kinds of seats create as many issues as they solve and aren't likely to get anyone to engage in the sport of cycling for very long.

My two cents.

Bicycle Seats: I don't think you are agreeing with most here. There is no consensus on this.