Originally created 02/18/99

Bicyclists reluctant to discuss problem



Soon after I started cycling regularly last year -- after plunking down a grand for a sporty new road bike -- I stumbled upon the sport's biggest secret. I soon began experiencing those sensations no rider talked about: those odd tinglings in places that never tingled before.

But I've never had much use for secrets. So when I was riding with friends, my brother or even some strangers, and the buzzing started, I was quick to broach the subject.

Breathless, pedaling along some trail or back street, I'd call over to my fellow cyclist: "Hey, um, is your crotch, like, numb?"

Of course, not in so many words.

Most men just looked at me.

"Not mine, pal," some would say.

Others wouldn't even answer, as if the question was too preposterous.

But now, ever since Boston urologist Irwin Goldstein made an issue of the effects of cycling on the male anatomy two years ago, riders are talking about the problem.

Not long ago, noted cyclist Ed Pavelka broke new emotional ground in a sport dominated by machismo and one-upmanship when he acknowledged that he was among the unlucky few experiencing symptoms that were much, much worse than any tingle -- he suffered diminished performance in the bedroom.

Pavelka, of course, is no regular rider. Even at age 46, he puts between 14,000 and 20,000 miles a year on his bike. More than a cyclist who rides just to stay fit, he is one of the sport's insane, never-get-enough die-hards.

And here he was admitting that his beloved sport had made him "as soft as overcooked rigatoni." The blood flow to his crotch, he said, "had become so restricted that I was incapable of an erection firm enough for sexual intercourse."

Finally, the word was out. Within weeks, Pavelka received more than 3,000 e-mails from cycling enthusiasts around the world. Many had experienced the same side effects.