Saturday, October 3, 2009

What Men Want

This past week we discussed an interesting article published in the journal Scientific American regarding how communities that have been most successful in integrating a large bicycling culture have done so by focusing on those areas deemed important for female cyclists.  Because COMO CYCO is an equal opportunity employer, I thought we should release a companion piece to the aforementioned post and discuss what men perceive to be the most important cycling issues.  In researching this topic, I have determined that whereas bike-related issues critical to women include safety, risk aversion and the development of practical infrastructure with respect to cycling within the community, the primary concern of the male cyclist is genital support.

By now, regular readers of this post (all 2 of you), are aware of my proclivity for tangential thought processes.  I will keep this one brief.  As I inserted the above image of Michelangelo's David to graphically represent male genitalia, I couldn't help but wonder many things.  But mostly - do you suppose Michelangelo ever had a conversation during David's creation that went anything like this?

          Da Volterra asks, "Hey Mickie - how's that David thing coming along?"
          Michelangelo answers, "Ok, I's getting tedious."
          Da Volterra: "Why - which part are you working on now?"
          Michelangelo: "Pubes....they're killing me.  I hate carving hair.  His head-hair took me forEVER!"
          Da Volterra: "Why not just trim the hedges?  Maybe David was a manscaper." 
          Michelangelo: "Hmmmmmmm."

Ok, I'm done.  Back to male cyclists and our junk.

I fully admit that this area is near and dear to my heart as well (actually a few feet below), as I am both male and a cyclist.  In addtion, I recently went through the process of purchasing a new saddle, and thus wanted to ensure I was staying on the forefront of recent scientific advances and knowledge.  In saddle shopping on BikeRadar I was struck by the sheer number of choices one has to select from.

Note the disparity in number of options of saddles versus other gear on this list.  When shopping for something, there is only one explanation for encountering an overwhelming number of choices: a perfect one hasn't been created yet.  In this way, the bicycle saddle has become akin to the Holy Grail of cycling design.  Tremendous diversity exists with respect to shape, size, padding placement, material, etc.  Searching through page after page of saddle, I found it intriguing how different companies market and photograph them.  How does one dress up this inanimate object to allow it to catch the viewers eye?  The very nature of the average bicycle saddle has a fairly suggestive profile to begin with.  I'm certainly not the only one to think so as professional cyclist (and 2009 Tour of Missouri champion) David Zabriskie's company, dznuts, has utilized the classic saddle silhouette as a graphic tool to market its brand of chamois creme for men with the accompanying slogan: Protect your junk.

Lest the male cyclist be confused about how to appropriately apply dznuts to their junk, Zabriskie has even offered up an instructional video.

Although he doesn't mention it specifically, it is, in fact, benefical to sing gospel while applying dznuts.  In a recent interview, Zabriskie also mentions that a special dznuts product line will be released later this year to commemorate the return of Lance Armstrong to professional racing, which is to be called LeNut (singular).

As mentioned above, dznuts is not the only company that seems to be capitalizing on the somewhat phallic appearance of the classic saddle as seen in these photos from BikeRadar.  They've been ordered alphabetically and according to their state of excitement.

The first saddle pictured above is manufactured by a company called Allay (which I'm guessing is supposed to sound like "allez" French for 'let's go' commonly screamed by fans lined along the roads of the Tour de France?) and is called the Racing Pro 2.1.  To appreciate the novel concept of the 2.1, one needs to look at it from the side.

According to BikeRadar, "The Racing Pro 2.1 series features an integrated Airspan Cushion with a pump-and-release valve that lets you tune in the desired level of pressure.  It disperses your load down and out to relieve pressure on the perineum and aid blood flow."  If the word perineum is confusing to anyone, just think 'taint.' When you go to their website, they have this little cartoon animation which dumbs down the concept of the Airspan Cushion using representational and very confusing geometric shapes which I have labeled in green for clarification. 

First they describe an ordinary saddle.

Then, a saddle with a 'cutout'.

Note: The PooBah's day job also results in this feeling.

Finally, they introduce the concept of their saddle with the Airspan Cushion.

Essentially, with the Allay saddle, your balls are floating on a little testicular air-mattress. Interestingly, their diagrams only depict a single testicle.  And that testicle is slipping down into a deep depression on the air mattress - which is fine if you are single, but if you have a buddy and your mattress has a deep depression - you two are going to get piggy-piled on one another.  Cleverly, Allay seems to be targetting the uni-balled demographic, perhaps similar to the dznuts recent commerative LeNut campaign, no doubt in a cheap ploy to woo Armstrong himself into an endorsement deal.

As could be expected, the reviewer at BikeRadar was not impressed with this concept:

"But the position feels wrong,  The cushion section feels like there's a void beneath you and the rear is too solid, so you end up with two distant points of pressure.  Finally, the pressure valve under the nose is too easily pressed and can leave you deflated."

The words, "...a void beneath, " and, "...leave you deflated," do not sound appealing. And speaking of feeling deflated. The issue of being 'deflated' (ie - erectile dysfunction) and its relation to cycling has been studied in great detail lately as is evidenced by this recent scientific study:

These investigators studied two designs of saddles with noses on them and compared them to two noseless, two-cheek seats pictured here:

Important to note was the abbreviation for the noseless two-cheek seats (NTCS) which will hopefully distinguish it from the one-cheek seat which is growing in popularity.  The methodology of this study is interesting in that the cyclists (33 in total) were all encouraged to get erections prior to the study through vasoactive agents in addition to the use of "audiovisual stimulation".  (The authors don't specify if this stimulation was pornographic in nature or if they showed them a slide show of photos taken at the Interbike convention on Flickr.)  Then - while erect the cyclists were made to ride on a stationary bike fitted with one of the above saddles while the blood flow in their penises was measured by an ultrasound technician with an ultrasound probe, which was no doubt ice cold.

I think this study was more about the ability to combat stage fright than assessing the effect of saddle type.  Not surprisingly, the arterial blood flow was highest in the cyclists riding the noseless seats versus the saddles with the nose as can be seen in the following chart, which I have again labelled for clarification - this time with images of saddles found on BikeRadar.

Following this line of reasoning, newer models of bike saddles continue to be designed.  I stumbled upon this little number called the "Anatomically Supportive Bicycle Seat," that is engineered especially for men.  I'm not sure what the eventual name of the saddle will be, but think they should consider dropping the word 'Bicycle' and use the resulting acronym ASS. That's pure gold.  I don't believe it is in production yet, but is available to be previewed through the patent application seen here:

"The improved bicycle seat accomodates, supports, protects and relieves the male genitals from the pressure of the rider's weight.......Located between the narrow anterior portion and the wider posterior portion are two recessed concave cavaties separated by a sloped raised ridge and a perineal support projection.  The rider's external genitalia are properly supported and protected in the recessed cavaties."

The figure caption says: "during use, the cavities 108 and 110 isolate the testicles from the pressure of the rider's weight and support them above the sides of horn 112 to avoid interfering with leg movement.  Ridge slope 123 serves to separate the testicles and provide further support."

I really respect this graphic description and illustrated depiction of the saddle.  There are no ambigous circles and lines as with the Allay saddle marketing scheme, no attempt at clever sarcasm....and probably most importantly, this designer (a Mr. George Schultz) is not discriminating against men with two testicles.  With respect to the actual design, the ASS saddle provides little recesses for the rider's junk to rest in, thus offering testicular support, versus allowing the cyclist's twig and berries to free-float in some void labelled as an 'AirSpan Cushion'.  According to the patent application, Mr. Schultz is based in Dallas, Texas - but his novel concept reminds me of a design that harkens back to an ancient Scottish type of stool that was fabricated for the seated kilt-wearer.

Studies have shown that female cyclists require safety and risk aversion when it comes to cycling within the community, but I submit that the male cyclist also requires safety and risk aversion - but on a different scale and in a more local area.  So local in fact that I think Mr. Schultz may have tapped into what Kramer so eloquently stated in an episode of Seinfeld when he was struggling with choices of underwear and while trying to decide between tighty whities, silk boxers and nothing at all,  he concluded, "Jerry, my boys need a home." 

Pedal on!


  1. I was going to forward this to a male friend who is shopping around for a bike saddle, but when I realized I am one of two readers, I decided to keep my elite status.

  2. Welcome - guess I'm the other one then? Loved the article, wondering if the solution lies in the seat or the knicks cushioning? Can't wait to see a saddle with the design of the scottish seat though...