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The no-nose bike saddle faces a marketing problem

The no-nose bike saddle faces a marketing problem

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Compared to traditional bicycle saddles, no-nose versions reduce numbness, tingling and other symptoms in bike riders. So why aren't they more popular?

History is full of famous examples of science fighting against culture and losing early battles but eventually winning the war. For instance, both Copernicus and Galileo were mocked for thinking the planets revolved around the sun. Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection was originally met with disbelief (and sometimes still is).

Today, there's a new front in the science vs. culture wars: the no-nose bicycle saddle against bike riders everywhere.

A no-nose bicycle saddle doesn't seem like it would be an advancement in bike-riding technology. It can often be more unwieldy than a regular saddle and nowhere near as sleek-looking. (They come in a variety of styles; below is just one. To see more, check out some no-nose saddle web sites, such as the BiSaddle, the Spiderflex, the I.S.M. and others at Healthy Cycling.)

But a noseless saddle has one major benefit: It removes a great deal of pressure from one of the most sensitive areas of the body. (This video explains how.)

A traditional bike saddle puts 25% to 40% of your body's weight on the nerves and blood vessels down there, but a no-nose saddle shifts that weight toward the sit bones.

The New York Times quotes Steven Schrader, a reproductive physiologist at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, who conducted a study on the effect of no-nose saddles on Seattle police officers:

“That part of the body was never meant to bear pressure,” Dr. Schrader said. “Within a few minutes the blood oxygen levels go down by 80 percent.”

No-nose saddles improve bodily function

His study, titled "Cutting Off the Nose to Save the Penis," used two devices to record physiological improvements in the officers who switched to a no-nose saddle for six months.

“The biothesiometer is a device in which the men set their penis into a trough, and it slowly starts to vibrate,” he explained. “They push the button when they can feel the vibration. While it sounds delightful, it’s actually not. The Rigiscan is a machine the men wear at night that grabs the penis about every 15 seconds to see if it’s erect. It’s not as pleasant as it sounds, either.”

After the six-month study, the percent of officers who felt numbness while riding dropped from 75% to less than 20%. They also showed improved sensitivity to the biothesiometer and reported better erectile function.

However, on average, they did not improve in the Rigiscan measure, which Dr. Schrader believes shows that riding a conventional saddle could have lasting effects on the body.

Still, the benefits were apparent enough that 90% of the police officers in the study continued to ride the no-nose saddle even after the experiment was over.

No-nose saddles could also have benefits for women. In a study on female cyclists, Yale urogynecologists Dr. Marsha Guess and Dr. Kathleen Connell found that more than 60% of those using nosed saddles reported experiencing genital pain, numbness and tingling. They also were shown to have lower levels of genital sensation during lab tests compared to a control group of runners.

Science vs. culture

Considering how sensitive this area of the body is and what it's used for, why aren't no-nose saddles speeding past traditional saddles in sales? As the Times's John Tierney puts it:

Why, if you had an easy alternative, would you take any risk with that part of the anatomy? Even if you didn’t feel any symptoms, even if you didn’t believe the researchers’ warnings, even if you thought it was perfectly healthy to feel numb during a ride — why not switch just for comfort’s sake? Why go on crushing your crotch?

The answer comes from a bike shop owner quoted in the article who said, “This saddle screams out: I’ve got a problem.”

That could be why so few cyclists -- from hard-core racers to spinning-class addicts -- are rushing to buy noseless saddles.

It looks like, for now, culture is winning out over science.

What do you say? Would you go with the science, risk ridicule and buy a no-nose saddle, or would you rather avoid mockery and stick to your regular saddle -- numbness, pain and all?

Photos: Lance Armstrong by Denkfabricant from Wikimedia Commons, photo of Hobson Easy Seat courtesy of Hobson Saddles, charts from International Police Mountain Bike Association newsletter (pdf)

source: The New York Times

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Laura Shin

Features Editor

Laura Shin has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times, and is currently a contributor at Forbes. Previously, she worked at Newsweek, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and LearnVest. She holds degrees from Stanford University and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure