Low handlebars may impair female bicyclists' genital sensation

August 10, 2012

Bicycle setup may be related to genital numbness in women cyclists, according to a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. Bike handlebars positioned lower than the saddle were associated with decreased genital sensation and increased perineal saddle pressures.

  • Perineum saddle pressures measured based on vibratory thresholds

  • Adjusting saddles below handlebars may help alleviate genital neuropathies

Bicycle setup may be related to genital numbness in women cyclists, according to a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. Bike handlebars positioned lower than the saddle were associated with decreased genital sensation and increased perineal saddle pressures.

In a follow-up to a previous study comparing genital sensation in female cyclists and runners, researchers examined the cyclists’ bike positions. The subjects were all nonpregnant, premenopausal women who road at least 10 miles per week, 4 weeks per month. Twenty-two of the 41 cyclists for whom data were available positioned their handlebars level with the saddle and 19 had handlebars lower than the saddle. Characteristics of the two groups were similar except for a difference in mean age (34.5 years for cyclists with low handlebars; 37.8 years for those with higher handlebars).

Researchers used a pressure map to measure bike saddle pressures. Genital sensation was measured through vibratory thresholds, which reflect diminished sensation. Participants were asked to report the first sensation they felt when receiving steadily increasing stimulation at various locations.

After adjustment for age and saddle type, mean saddle pressures at the perineum were found to be 3.47 kPa higher for the low-handlebar group (P<0.04). Significant differences in sensation were not found in all genital locations, but the 0.86-μM increase in vibratory threshold in the anterior vagina was significant (P<0.01).

The authors noted that low bike handlebars cause a rider to lean forward and increase pelvic tilt; they hypothesized that this posture puts more weight on the perineal region. Additional research is needed, but the study suggests that modifying bicycle setup may help alleviate or decrease risk of genital neuropathy in women cyclists.

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