Biker’s Blues: Experts Say Seats Can Cause Impotence


Riding a typical bike seat can lead to impotence, researchers say. And as that word gets out, sales of nontypical bike seats have been increasing.

Sitting on an ordinary narrow, pointed seat can crush an artery that controls the ability of the penis to fill with blood, said researcher Pedram Salimpour of Boston University School of Medicine.

“When you sit on a bicycle seat, you are sitting on the artery,” Salimpour said. “God did not mean for you to sit on a bicycle seat.”

And although it is not common, his research shows that impotence happens more often to cyclists than to runners, Salimpour said.


Researchers examined cyclists who suffer from impotence and believe they know how it happens. When someone sits on a narrow seat, too much weight is borne by the perineum, the area between the anus and the scrotum in which the cavernosal artery is located, Salimpour said. The researchers checked this by examining patients as they sat on bike seats.

“Imagine a straw. Flatten it and let it go back. Eventually you are going to flatten it, and it is not going to bounce back,” Salimpour said.

To get an idea how common impotence is among cyclists, researchers analyzed questionnaires sent to 1,025 members of running or cycling clubs in the Boston area. The runners and cyclists were about evenly divided in number and were in about the same physical condition--with the exception of the incidence of impotence, Salimpour said. Impotence was defined as an inability to develop or maintain an erection for intercourse in the past six months.

Of the runners, only 1.1% reported impotence, compared with 4.2% of the cyclists, Salimpour said. “If anything, these numbers are low,” he said. “These people are self-reporting impotence. That is not something you like to report.”


Many victims can be treated, Salimpour said. Viagra, the new anti-impotence pill, helps some; injections of older drugs into the penis can help others, and still others can benefit from a bypass operation that routes blood around the damaged artery, he said.

But the problem can be avoided with newer bike seats with oval gaps, which look something like a toilet seat, Salimpour said.

The issue of impotence--and of penile numbness from nerve damage in the same area as the cavernosal artery--gained prominence after Bicycling magazine ran an article on it in March.

After the article, sales of the oval-hole seats have risen, said Georgena Terry, chief executive officer of Terry Precision Cycling for Women, Macedon, N.Y.


The company started making the special seats only for women about a year and a half ago, because women wanted a more comfortable seat, Terry said. But when men began to buy women’s bike seats, the company developed a seat for them, she said. The rear of the men’s seat is narrower because the pelvic bones that men sit upon are narrower, she said.

At the REI sporting goods store in Baileys Crossroads, Va., oval-hole seats from various manufacturers sell as fast as they come in, said bike department manager Aron S. Kinney.

However, cyclists should not panic, said Edmund R. Burke, director of the exercise science program at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. Cyclists can even use traditional seats if they position the seats properly, he said.

The seat should be level, because a tilt either up or down can make the rider put more pressure on the groin, Burke said. The seat height should be at a point where the rider can pedal at the bottom of the down-stroke with the leg extended but the knee not locked out, he said. And riders should lift out of the seat when going over rough areas, he said.