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Recumbent Bicycles

The answer to "Numb, numb; hands and bum."

by Michael Braunstein

Recumbents reduce need for Viagra

That numb bum feeling isn't just an inconvenience for some serious bikers. If you're a male and ride a lot, there's more to it than that. Recent research has shown that bicycle riding men have a higher incidence of impotence. The reason is simple, according to the science guys. When you sit in an upright position on a bicycle, you're resting right on the perineum. That's important to men. You're sitting on the very artery of tumescence, the supply of blood to the corpus cavernosum, the original Love Canal. That means you may be pedaling your way into impotence. For women, there has been no evidence that regular bike seats cause frigidity but they sure aren't as comfortable.


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I love riding bicycles. Always have. My first one was a 20" Schwinn, single gear, no fenders, no hand brakes. It looked much like today's stunt bikes. But it was the one I learned not to fall off of. As I grew, my dad got me a "new" bike. It was a Roadmaster. A beauty -- 26" wheels, springer front-end, headlight, a pastel rose and black painted tank with a horn button and big, wide handlebars. I felt a little disappointed when I found out it was a second-hand purchase; it wasn't really new. But boy, oh boy, what I wouldn't give for that baby now! But eventually I got the bike I wanted -- a Schwinn ten-speed road bike. You know, it's the kind with the curvy handlebars where you lean forward like you're riding in the Olympics or something. In fact, that bike is still hanging in a garage on 11th Street in Santa Monica.

As an adult, some of my favorite bicycle rides were weekends on the Santa Monica bike path. The bike path is a two-lane, smooth concrete trail that winds through the sand beaches of Santa Monica bay down to the South Bay, past Long Beach. With only a few brief interludes on Pacific Coast Highway, one can travel all the way to Laguna Beach; over 60 miles. My friend Bill and I would leave his place Saturday mornings about 9. Heading south from the Santa Monica pier, we would make our way along the path. Pedaling with the sea breeze mostly at our backs, 17 miles later we would stop in Hermosa Beach for breakfast. Past Muscle Beach, the Venice boardwalk, Marina del Rey, Playa del Rey and El Segundo, we saw some of the natural beauty of Southern California at its best, most of it wearing bikinis!

I remember the first time I saw a recumbent bicycle. It was just past Venice Pier and this guy went whizzing past us. I did a double-take. He was on a bike but he was sitting as if in a La-Z-Boy recliner! And it was a different-looking bike from anything that I'd ever seen. His feet were out in front of him pedaling and he was couched with a backrest, steering with a handlebar under the seat. He looked totally relaxed but he passed us like we were standing still.

A typical ride for Bill and me would be about 40 miles. Remember, it's all level. It's beach. Still, by the time we got back to his place, fingers, hands, wrists were numb. And worst of all, that little area you spend most of the time sitting on was totally without feeling. No matter how I would squirm during the ride, no matter the lambskin cushion on my bike seat, I felt like there was no sensation "down there" at all. And besides that, my neck was sore from constantly leaning forward and having to look up to see the path. But the exhilaration of a beautiful ride was worth it.

I bought a new bike when I moved to Omaha. Called a hybrid, it's got straight handlebars and I ride a little more upright as I enjoy the Wabash Trace or the Keystone Trail. It seems as if there is less stress on my neck, though the hands still get numb somewhere around Silver City on the way back. It depends on how much weight I place on the arms and wrists as I ride. Though I ride more upright, I am still sitting on the narrowest part of my bum. There's no way to get around that. On a long ride, sometimes I'll stand up just to take some weight off my seat. Enter the idea of the recumbent.

I sat on a recumbent along the bike path in Santa Monica one time several years ago. A girl on the boardwalk offered to let me try it. I rode it a little ways and it just felt uncomfortable. The steering bar under the seat was weird and my feet felt too high up. I didn't like it. But that was over ten years ago. Things have changed.

In 1993, David Ullman and Paul Atwood took a good idea and turned it into a good thing. They redesigned the basic recumbent and came up with the Bike E. Two very major improvements make the Bike E a quantum leap in bicycling. They put the handlebars out in front like they should be. With the Bike E, I sit with my hands in a similar position to the one I use in a car. They also lowered the pedaling position so that the feet are lower than the seat. Balance is easier and with the backrest on the seat, it's like sitting in an easy-chair.

SAFETY: ROAD RASH BEATS A HEAD GASHFans of recumbents like a lot of things about their bikes. Problems of numbness and cramping are pretty much alleviated when one rides in a head-up position. After all, the natural position for the head is balanced above the shoulders, not leaning forward, face down. Breathing is easier when the abdomen isn't so crunched over too. The back muscles are in a natural posture and not struggling to hold the head up. Blood flow returning to the heart from the legs is unrestricted, allowing for efficient use of energy. Another obvious advantage is that the torso isn't resting entirely on the hands and wrists. Comfort-wise though, the biggest thing might be that the seat is supporting the posterior where it's the best, the widest part instead of the narrowest.

Safety is another claim that recumbent riders like to talk about. With your head up, you can see better and glancing around is easier. Riders who have taken a spill, remark how even in a crash, a recumbent is so much safer. Rather than go head-over-heels, usually a rider will go off sideways and maybe scrape their bottom or leg. Road rash is better than head gash is the dictum.

I haven't purchased a Bike E. I'm still deciding. Fact is, I haven't really taken one on a long ride yet. I'll bet that would be the kicker. But what I did find is that they have come a long way from that first one I sat on 12 years ago. The comfort is remarkable. The stability is much improved and it's now a good idea made better. The important thing here is that there is an option. You'll never know if it's for you or not until you take the time for a test drive.

Happy trails.

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Michael Braunstein is Executive Director of Heartland Healing and certified by the American Council of Hypnotist Examiners in clinical hypnotherapy. He graduated from the Los Angeles Hypnotism Training Institute and was an instructor at the UCLA Extension University for 11 years.

Heartland Healing is devoted to the examination of various alternative forms of healing. It is provided as a source of information and not as medical advice. It is not meant as an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or by Heartland Healing Center, Inc.

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