Monday, January 14, 2008

Q&A: Bicycle saddle seat advice

Q: Dear Mr. Langley,
I am 44 years old with a 1 1/2 year history of enlarged prostate/ some ED problems. Things were under control until fairly recently when symptoms returned. I began bicycling pretty regularly in Oct/ Nov of 07- first on my old Ross 12 speed road bike (in very good shape after many year of non-use) and now on a Trek FX2 that I recently bought and LOVE. I have been riding 5-6 days per week for about 40 minutes. I feel better, lost a few pounds, and most of all enjoy myself.

Now the down side. I saw my urologist yesterday and he found the return of symptoms and my new  obsession with bike riding to be too much coincidence. He wants me doing any exercise but bike riding. My problem is this is the first exercise I have done consistently in years, and I don't want to give
it up. I am 5' 11' was 290lbs and I'm now 280 after riding a few months. While I didn't have any numbness while riding, I can see his point after getting a brief anatomy lesson from him. I am thinking of getting either one of the many saddles with the perennial cut-outs in the middle (but still with a horn), or I am very intrigued by the Moon Saddle I saw linked from you site. Most of my riding is on flat residential streets, laps around a
1.6 mile loop.

The Moon Saddle looks like it would cause the least amount of pressure on the perineum, but I still want enough stability to ride fairly aggressively for fitness. Any thoughts/ comments you care to share would be greatly appreciated.

A: Sorry to hear about your troubles, Jim. It sounds like you may have already found my saddles page on my website where I try to answer every question under the sun about seats and seat comfort and how to prevent ED issues. If not here's the link:

I'll add a few more thoughts here but first I need to make sure you realize I'm definitely not a doctor and I don't have any special knowledge of the body or ED (erectile dysfunction) apart from what I've read and learned over the years as a bicycle expert. I personally have had numbness but luckily never any ED issues.

However my friend Ed Pavelka, the former owner and publisher of and former executive editor of Bicycling Magazine did suffer from ED due to cycling and wrote extensively about it
for Bicycling Magazine in around 1997 bringing the issue to the public's attention nationwide for the first time. If you did a little research you could probably find his articles online or I might be able to find it in my
pile of back issues if you'd like me to dig a bit.

Some thoughts about your situation that should help (in no particular order):
-I wonder when you ride if you stay seated most of the time? This is a common "problem" or mistake people make. Ideally you will stand up every 10 or 15 minutes to relieve the pressure. I've always lived where it's hilly and I stand up at least for a few pedal strokes almost every time I come to a hill. But, even if it was a flat road, I'd still stand up once in a while to relieve the pressure. It's also good practice to move around on your
seat, slide forward and back, wiggle around a bit, too.
-Bike adjustment is crucial for seat comfort. The top of the seat has to feel neutral to your crotch. If it's digging in or isn't comfortable to sit on, it may be angled up or down or just not the right shape for your pelvic structure. You need to find a seat you can sit on that fits right and you also need to set the angle right for your body and bike. Usually this means the top of the seat is parallel to the ground or tipped up ever so slightly, no more than 3 degrees.
-It's likely that as you ride more and more you'll drop more and more weight and the less weight you're carrying the less weight you'll be placing on your seat and blood vessels. Any exercise you do off the bike that helps you drop some weight will make it easier on your body to sit on the seat. One exercise that's easy to do that can help is crunches (mini sit-ups). This will strengthen your abdominal muscles/core muscles and these help you control your posture when riding your bike and allow you to support your weight more with your upper body, which helps take some weight off the seat, too.
-If a bicycle isn't set up for the rider too much weight will be on the seat. For example, people think flat bars are more comfortable than drop bars, which might be true, however, if the flat bar is so high and so far
back that it pushes your upper body rearward then it is essential putting more of your weight onto the seat. The seat on a road bike that you travel distance on was not designed to support all your weight. It's only supposed to support about 1/3 of it or a little more, the rest being on the pedals and handlebars. Often if you shift the weight forward with a longer stem or different handlebars you will relieve a significant amount of pressure from the seat/crotch.
-If you would like to do an easy experiment to see how much weight is on what part of your bike you could get 2 identical design bathroom scales and put one under your front wheel and one under your rear wheel. Then just sit on your bike holding yourself up by resting a hand on the wall, or something. Ideally the weight distribution will be about 60/40 rear/front. If it's 80/20, it's no wonder your seat is hurting you.
-Seat height is key for numbness and ED issues, too. If the seat is too high it will be jammed into the crotch. You will not have enough weight on the pedals. Too low is also bad because you can't support your weight well with your legs bent too much when you pedal.
-Tire pressure is another factor. Ideally if you are suffering pain and numbness you want to make your bike ride relatively soft. As a larger rider you need enough air in the tires to keep them from bottoming out over bumps, but you want to find a happy medium that protects the tires and rims but allows some cushioning over bumps and rough roads, too. If you are riding skinny tires you might try going with a slightly fatter tire and running a few psi less to soften the ride.

I know you asked about the Moon saddle [UPDATE January 2013: Their website is still live but a reader reported in the comments that he ordered a seat and did not receive it, so they may be out of business now. So do NOT send them any money unless you're sure they are doing business.] but I wanted to go over all these things first because in my experience it's more likely that the issue is caused by equipment or riding style than it is by the seat itself - though if you have a seat that doesn't fit your body that can certainly be one of the main contributors. I would typically not go to an alternative design seat until I had given regular seats a fair shot, though. Standard seats have been refined for over 100 years and it's highly likely that you'll prefer that type as you ride further and longer.

Earlier I mentioned Ed Pavelka. He is currently recovering from a broken hip and laid up in a hospital so he won't be able to answer email and I know that he usually tells people that things have changed since 1997 when he wrote that article and he doesn't like to discuss his experiences back then too much as he feels there are other people more expert. However, the result of Ed's ED, which would have been when he was about 50 years old, I believe, was that he took some time off riding his regular road bikes and rode an Easy Racers' recumbent bike with a mesh seat that resembled a lawn chair He rode this for one season and his blood flow returned completely. He was then able to get back onto his regular road bikes and never went back to the recumbent and has been riding strong ever since.

I would think that if you can check your bike fit, get it right, and be careful how you ride your bike that this issue will go away on its own with a little time. But, as I said I'm just a bicycle expert not a doctor so please do what's best for your health. And, I apologize for the length and rambling nature of this email, but I sure hope it helps you enjoy your cycling,


DJT said...

Jim, what a caring, honest and thoughtful post. I'm a new visitor to your website but will certainly now visit often. Thank you.

Jim Langley said...

Thanks for the kind words DJT. I appreciate it.


Ed Roberts said...

I've been riding the moonsaddle for almost two years. Wouldn't trade it for anything. I make twenty mile loops on a road bike in regular old shorts with no discomfort.It's design is brilliant.Sit on your sit bones not on your taint.

Unknown said...

The is not attending and i have paid for one and i didnt received. Watch out about this company.

Jim Langley said...

Thanks for letting us know, Marcelo. I tried calling both their phone numbers. Their toll-free one is no longer in service and the other line, that is supposed to have voicemail, just rings and rings. I'm going to remove the links to their company from my website to not send any more business their way and I hope you get your money back. Or maybe you can cancel payment through your credit card or bank. Thank you and good luck, Jim

Anonymous said...

I just ordered and received a Moon Saddle so the company is still working etc. I also had combined ED and genital numbness problems that I only realized for various reasons after several seasons of biking. Urologist said it's reversible but to be off my road bike for a season. I've been riding a recumbent but just got the moon saddle and went out on a ride for hte first time. It is a bit of getting used to but there is virtually no pressure at all on the perineal area and no increased numbness so seems to be working. I'm going to mainly ride my recumbent this season but sometimes need to ride the road bike and will be using this saddle.

Jim Langley said...

Thanks for letting us know!!

Appreciate it,


Anonymous said...

Holy crap, I was about to order through their website. Thanks so much for taking the time to write about one person not getting their order.

Anonymous said...

I placed an order from France for a moon saddle from the web site, it turned up in about a week which was much faster than I expected. I can ride comfortably again after an operation.