There are a million reasons to ride your bike: Enhanced cardiovascular fitness; improved muscle strength and flexibility; increased joint mobility; reduced stress levels; upgraded posture and coordination; reinforced bones; decreased body fat levels; prevention (or management) of disease as well as reduced anxiety and depression. It’s also cheap and great for the environment.
But alas, cycling also, as legend would have it, batters your balls, which surely dissuades many men from pedaling into the sunset on their trusty metal steeds. Here then is everything we know about the rocky relationship between cycling and our gonads…
1) The More You Cycle, the Greater the Risk. This may seem obvious, but before we delve into the testicular issues associated with cycling, understand that long-distance cyclists — not recreational riders — are the real at-risk party here. For instance: A 2009 study found that triathletes with low enough levels of sperm to constitute a fertility problem were cycling more than 186 miles every week. That’s a whole lot more than a pleasant ride to work.
2) Ill-Fitting Seats Cause Impotence. Testicular damage from cycling is ordinarily caused by an inadequate saddle (not cycling itself). As a result, constant pressure is applied to your pudendal nerve (the primary nerve found in your taint), which can lead to pain, discomfort or numbness in the genitals (aka, numb nuts). But according to the awesomely-titled “Great Balls of Fire and the Vicious Cycle: A Study of the Effects of Cycling on Male Fertility,” this problem can be avoided altogether by simply getting yourself a more comfortable seat. “In almost all cases, reduction or cessation of cycling activities resulted in full recovery from symptoms,” study author Tom Southorn writes. “For those continuing to cycle long distances, accurate set-up of the bicycle with regard to saddle height in relation to handlebar height, and the use of a wider, more padded seat would seem to alleviate the symptoms in most cases.”
3) Saddle Sores Are a Thing, and They’re Not Pretty. Speaking of ill-fitting saddles, “saddle sores” refer to infected hair follicles, chafing and ulcerations caused by your bike seat. As always, a properly-fitted saddle usually prevents these problems, but here are a few other tricks that can help you avoid damaging your nethers while biking:
- Invest in Chamois Cream: This stuff is designed to reduce friction between your skin and your cycling shorts (which we’ll touch on more momentarily).
- Don’t Shave Your Pubes: Doing so can result in razor bumps, ingrown hairs and infected follicles — all of which will be made worse by the constant friction that comes with cycling.
- Don’t Wear Underwear: Do not — we repeat: Do not — wear underwear underneath your bike shorts; they’re designed to be worn commando (this only applies to when you’re actually cycling, 1990s fashion fans).
4) Pedaling Puts You at Risk for Testicular Torsion. Your testicles sit between your two fast-moving thighs while cycling, which may result in testicular torsion — a freakish ailment involving the twisting of the cord that supplies blood to your balls. “It would appear that the testis could become twisted between the thigh and the saddle as the legs go up and down,” Southorn writes in “Great Balls of Fire and the Vicious Cycle.” “If the torsion is not corrected quickly, orchidectomy [the surgical removal of testicles] is indicated to remove the dead testis. This may lead to a significant effect on fertility in later life.” May. May lead to significant effect on fertility. *shudders*
5) Cycling Shorts Reduce Your Sperm Count. Also according to “Great Balls of Fire and the Vicious Cycle,” tight clothes — which are frequently worn by cyclists to improve their aerodynamics — may cause low sperm counts: “It has been shown in other studies that elevations in scrotal temperature beyond 30 minutes may result in disturbing effects on spermatogenesis. This might be of special relevance to the issue of subfertility and cycling, given that professional cyclists exercise for several hours a day wearing close-fitting Lycra outfits, which may lead to a marked and sustained rise in scrotal temperature.” Any excuse to link to this picture again.
6) Whether Cycling Causes Cancer Is Unclear. Professional cyclist Ivan Basso announced that he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2015, decades after Lance Armstrong famously battled the disease. Both cases seem to suggest that cycling increases your chance of developing groin cancers, but science appears to believe otherwise. “There’s no link between athletic sports in general and biking in particular with regard to the incidence of testicular cancer,” Thomas Schwaab, an associate professor of oncology at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York told LiveScience. He also mentioned that the performance-enhancing drugs commonly used by cyclists wouldn’t cause testicular cancer either, as they’re “aimed at increasing the amount of red blood cells in the body, rather than affecting hormone production.”
That said, a 2014 study seems to have found a link between rigorous and consistent bicycle riding (more than 8.5 hours per week) and prostate cancer, which makes more sense than testicular cancer, considering the saddle applies consistent pressure to your taint (a close neighbor to your prostate). Still, some scientist are skeptical (and the study researchers admitted that their sample was small — only 42 men), arguing that men who bike are simply more in tune with their health and likely to catch cancers early. There are also many studies suggesting that exercise reduces the risk of and aggressiveness of both testicular and prostate cancer, which is certainly something to consider.
7) A New Study Says Basically None of This Is True Anyway. A recent study of more than 2,500 cyclists argues that cycling doesn’t cause long-term damage to sexual or urinary functions at all (if you ride correctly, of course). In fact, they found that high intensity cyclists actually have fewer cases of erectile dysfunction than swimmers and runners. “Certainly, just sitting on the couch or in front of the computer eight hours a day is the worst thing for your sexual and overall health,” study author Benjamin Breyer told The Guardian. “My sense is that, for many, the cardiovascular benefits of the exercise will actually support and potentially improve their performance, not hurt it.”
Well, you heard the man: Quit blaming your balls, and start riding.