Modern bicycle seats are less about style and more about the well-being and comfort of your nethermost regions, which been squirming to get comfortable on bicycle seats since the first two-wheeler was invented somewhere in France in 1861.

The bottom line, ahem, is that a delicate network of veins and arteries, insulated only by a thin layer of skin, surrounds the portion of your chassis that presses against your bicycle seat. This seat-to-seat union has been linked to all manner of maladies, including numbness, infections and chafing.

In men, it's even been associated with sterility, impotence and testicular cancer.

Today's bicycle-seat technology is geared toward comfort, a trend ironically led by a woman's ingenuity in a male-dominated sport.

For more than a century, men would no more consider asking for a more comfy seat than they would stop at a gas station and ask for directions. Georgena Terry, a former mechanical engineer who founded a national women's cycling equipment and apparel company in the basement of her Rochester, N.Y., home in 1985, introduced a seat in 1997 that butts were drawn to like tired feet to a showroom recliner.

It was brilliantly simple: remove the offending part of the seat by cutting a hole in the middle. And to prove her ingenuity was matched only by her sense of humor, Terry named her split-seat invention "The Liberator."

"I remember when we took them to a trade show and everybody laughed at them and said they looked like a toilet seat," said Paula Dyba, marketing director of Terry Precision Cycling. "But before we knew it, bike shops started to order them like crazy and we were swamped with catalog orders."

Dyba said the design caught on with men, the ones with numbness and other health issues related to traditional, less forgiving seats. "They had no alternative until they found us," said Dyba, adding that men bought more than 50,000 Liberators in 1998, the same year a controversy surfaced over whether sterility was linked to bicycling.

While the traditional narrow, rigid seat is still popular among purists, Liberator-influenced, cut-out seats attract attention at bicycle shops and department stores. Designed to cradle your sit bones in marshmallow softness, they are made from all manner of high-tech gels and memory foams.

They are basically the same for both genders, though the women's versions are slightly wider since their sit bones are farther apart. *