For men that can lead to erectile dysfunction and impotence, serious issues that can be addressed by professional bike fittings and alternative saddle styles.
Now researchers at Yale University School of Medicine have found a solution for women suffering numbness — set the handlebar higher in relation to the saddle.
Back in 2006, Yale University looked at issues of women’s sexual health and bicycling in a study that involved 48 women who rode at least 10 miles a week, four times a month. While they felt tingling, pain and some loss of genital sensation, there were no reports of impotence (see “The hard truth about bicycle saddles and women cyclists.”)
In March, Yale researchers have published their “sub-analysis” of those 48 women cyclists in which they aimed to discover if bicycle set up was an issue.
In “The Bar Sinister: Does Handlebar Level Damage the Pelvic Floor in Female Cyclists,” the researchers write:
Handlebars positioned lower than the saddle were significantly associated with increased perineum saddle pressures and decreased genital sensation in female cyclists. Modifying bicycle setup may help alleviate neuropathies in females.
A New York Times health writer notes that for women cyclists, leaning forward and putting their hands on the drops puts more weight and pressure on the perineum, causing the numbness.
Raising your handlebars is obviously no help to competitive women cyclists seeking an aerodynamic advantage on road and time-trial bikes. It might benefit women on weekend rides, however.
An earlier subanalysis of those 48 women cyclists (“Women’s Bicycle Seats: A Pressing Matter…”) found there was statistically no difference in pelvic pressure between traditional saddles and cut-out saddles for women.
Clearly, more research is needed in this area. So little is known that I wouldn’t trust the advise of Steven M. Schrader, a scientist at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
He told the Times that, although he doesn’t have any research to back it up, he “believes” that women would benefit from the use of no-nose bicycle saddles.
His earlier research supported the use of no-nose saddles for male bike police officers.