Under Pressure

A recent document published by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is recommending so called “no-nose” saddles for preventing numbness and SD caused by occupational bicycling. From the document summary:

Workers who ride a bicycle as part of their job may be at risk for genital numbness or more serious sexual and/or reproductive health problems from pressure in the groin (perineum) from the traditional bicycle saddle. NIOSH has conducted studies that have demonstrated the effectiveness of no-nose bicycle saddles in reducing pressure in the groin and improving the sexual health of male bicycle patrol police officers. While most workers in jobs that involve bicycling are men, recent evidence suggests that no-nose bicycle saddles may also benefit women.

The document cites NIOSH studies from 2004 and 2008 that concluded no-nose saddles can reduce pressure on sensitive tissues by at least 65%.

A study by NIOSH [Lowe et al. 2004] showed that saddles without the protruding nose greatly reduced pressure in the groin that compresses the nerves and arteries for the genitals. In a more recent NIOSH study [Schrader et al. 2008], the no-nose saddles were associated with pressure in the groin region of 1.02 pounds per square inch. In a typical pressure picture for a no-nose saddle, there is very little pressure forward of the sit bones (see Figure 4). The pressure on the nerves and arteries for the genitals may be even lower than 1.02 pounds per square inch because some of the measured pressure was caused by the back of the thighs making contact with the rounded-off front of the no-nose saddle. The study showed that the no-nose saddle reduced pressure in the groin by at least 65% (see Figure 5). In the 2008 NIOSH study, more than 90% of officers on bicycle patrol who tried a no-nose saddle were still using the saddle after 6 months. These officers believed that no-nose bicycle saddles could be used safely and effectively in their work. Several of these officers said that it took some time to get used to the no-nose saddle because it has a different feel than a traditional saddle.

It would be nice to know how ergo saddles like the Selle An-Atomica would fare in this comparison. Of course, recumbents bypass the issue altogether with laid back padded seats that are nearly as comfortable as a barcalounger.

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14 Responses to “Under Pressure”

  • mike says:

    Interesting, I guess but not relevant for me. With my properly set up Brooks I haven’t had any numbness or other issues in the last 3 years or so… and that includes doing brevets and solo long distance rides. I wonder if the bike cops would benefit from some lighter weight gear, and maybe a proper bike fitting… and if they resemble the parks police on bikes here all I’d have to do to esvade them is head for the nearest hill – and not even work all that hard.

    I do have an occasional issue on the Brooks with bruising on the sit bones – mainly on rides north of 80-100 miles – but I’m not sure what to do about it – if I were able to ride on a track or on fresh pavement it might help – but in the Northeast many of the dirt roads are smoother than the paved roads.

  • Duncan Watson says:

    Alan, as you so nicely pointed out, since I ride a recumbent this issue is moot. But imho recumbents make for poor police bikes.

    But I find that for long distances I love my recumbents.

  • John says:

    I agree with Mike. On my conventional bikes have used nothing but Brooks saddles for over ten years. If your bike fits and you ride on a decent saddle, you should not have problems.

    Of course, these problems are not given even a second thouhgt when I ride my Tour Easy.

  • Crosius says:

    I’m just guessing, but I doubt the police-department issue bike saddles are top of the line. They certainly aren’t putting Brooks saddles on the bicycle officers’ rigs in my town.

    In the comparison between cheap, traditional (horned) saddles and the hornless varieties, the performance difference is probably easy to demonstrate.

    I wouldn’t be too sure that the difference is as plainly visible when your considering an expensive aftermarket saddle.

  • Ari Hornick says:

    When I ran a bike shop, I did the routine maintenance for the local police bikes. They had entry-level Trek mountain bikes. I asked several officers if they thought they could catch me on my Gold Rush. They all said the walkie-talkie would work just fine. They weren’t seriously planning on chasing anyone with the bike – at least nobody fast. They would’ve been a lot more comfortable on a Sun Sunray ($300) or something similar.

  • bongobike says:

    A properly set up Brooks works fine for me, no numbness, no pain. I once had one of those Specialized saddles with the split back end and it was terrible. It didn’t give me any numbness, but it sure made my butt hurt.

    I don’t think those “noseless saddles” work. On an upright bike you need the nose so the saddle stays put between your legs (that’s why it’s a “saddle”, not a “seat”). If you remove the nose and just rest your buttocks on a small seat, you will slip and slide sideways. A different approach that just might work is the “sling seat” that I once saw advertised. It is simply a hammock that hangs on a frame and you sit in it like you sit in a director’s chair. In that case the frame holds you from sliding sideways because you are trapped by the hips. But it is UGLY, so why…?

  • ksteinhoff says:

    My LBS has the maintenance contract for the local PD’s bikes. I took a close look at one over the weekend.

    They are clunky, much-abused Smith and Wesson mountain bikes that have gel-topped big seats with two cutouts in the saddle top about where your sit bones would land. (The plastic shell is cut out, not the gel inserts, which sag down the holes in the shell.

    Since you’re going to fall through the holes, I’ve got to think it’s going to put pressure where you don’t want pressure.

  • Praveen says:

    Any experiences with “Adamo Saddle”?

  • Karl OnSea says:

    I think it also depends on the bike geometry, as much as the saddle. If you’ve got a typical “lean forward and look butch” bike (think: mountain bike, or road bike), your pelvis swivels, and you put all the pressure on the … um … front. With a more traditional “sit up and look over the roof of that SUV” setup, you’re sitting on your backside, with no more pressure than if you were sitting at your desk. And (for me personally at least), you get no problems with neck soreness either.

  • Rana says:

    Well, let me weigh in as a woman going through all the lovely changes that visit us in mid-life. Saddle irritation almost drove me off my beloved bike for good. (Suffice to say I felt as if I had a constant UTI.) Then I bought a nose-less MoonSaddle. There was definitely an adjustment period. You have to get the height spot on as well as the forward/backward adjustment, but when you find the sweet spot — magic.

    I can ride 15 to 20 miles and experience zero discomfort. MoonSaddles aren’t inexpensive, but I’m considering buying another and putting it up for the day when I wear this one out. I can’t speak to what you gentlemen go through (and I take a fair degree of teasing at the bike shop from the guys who think my saddle is just too funny for words) but nose-less saved my cycling life.

  • Paul says:

    When I first started riding a few years ago I was having extreme groin pain. Urologist diagnosed me with epididymitis and told me to quit riding bikes.

    I switched to Hobson Easy-seat and have never had problems again. It takes a few rides to get used to a hornless seat. It puts a bit more pressure on your wrists since your groin is taking less of the pressure. For example, it is basically impossible to ride no-hands with a hobson seat since you can’t steer with the seat like you can with a traditional saddle.

    I will have to try out a brooks saddle and see if pain returns though.

  • Bob says:


    They’re actually trikes, but whatever.

  • Tamia Nelson says:

    I’ve got to weigh in on this. I have tried many saddles (not a Brooks) over the years and always had pressure trouble after about an hour of riding. Then I got the Sella SMP Strike Extra. Curvy and with a droopy nose, firmly padded but not lush, and with a wide slit down its long axis, the Extra allows me to ride all day without numbness and tingling. I own both men’s and women’s models, but it’s the men’s model I like best on my Surly LHY. The women’s model is very wide, and while that’s not so bad when sitting upright on my utility bike, it’s very uncomfortable when in the drops or riding on the hoods.

  • Tihamér says:

    After I bought my first Crank Forward bike from Rans (a Zenetik Pro), I liked the seat so much that I got rid of my road bike. And soon after that I bought a second CF bike to replace my mountain bike. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to traditional bikes with regular saddles again …

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