Setting the right saddle height is essential for comfort, efficiency and avoiding injury. We give you two easy methods that will help you to determine the correct saddle height at home
Saddle height is typically measured as the distance between the centre of the bottom bracket and the middle of the saddle. A saddle that is too high or too low can result in wasted energy at best, and injury at worst (more in that further down the page).
The optimum saddle height is a cause for great debate, and those seeking absolute performance will probably want to seek out a professional bike fitter who will determine the ideal saddle height based upon their flexibility, strength, and unique body dimensions.
However, for those simply looking to avoid injury and pedal in comfort, there are two popular methods that will get you in the right ball-park, explained below.
Road bike and hybrid bike saddle height
Some riders change their saddle height depending upon what bike they’re riding.
Generally speaking, road cyclists will ride with their saddle height slightly higher than hybrid bike riders, and the same can be said of cyclocross riders. The lower saddle height allows for an easy connection with the ground when required – something roadies are less bothered about.
Therefore – it’s understandable why people vary their saddle height between bikes. However, your legs are the same length and doing the same job – so really the optimum distance between bottom bracket and middle of the saddle remains the same.
Calculating saddle height with inseam measurement
The inseam measurement is easy to do at home. There are several variations – including the ‘LeMond method’ which multiplies your inseam length by 0.883 – but we like the version used by Kernow Physio’s Scott Tomkinson – who has been responsible for advising WorldTour teams on elements of bike fit:
- Stand (shoes off) with your feet at shoulder-width apart
- Place a spirit level (or ruler) between your legs, and pull up slightly to simulate pressure from sitting on a saddle
- Make a mark on the wall at the height of the spirit level (use a pencil if you’re doing this in the living room!)
- Take a measurement from this point straight down (not following the line of the leg) to the floor, with a measuring tape.
- Take 10cm off the measurement. For example, if your inseam leg measurement is 76.9 centimetres, subtract 10cm to give your initial saddle height as 66.9 centimetres.
- Apply this measurement to your saddle height
Once you have this vital measurement, it is applied to your bike from the centre of the bottom bracket to the very top of the saddle (positioned in the middle of the rails) following the line of the seat tube. It’s vital you measure from the centre of the BB.
This method will get you into the correct ball-park. When it comes to fine-tuning your saddle height for optimum performance, Tomkinson points out: “As with any method, there are other variables that will cause your saddle height to need to be tweaked.
“These could include a rider’s flexibility, leg length discrepancy or posture — which could include a number of things such as scoliosis, pelvic instability or medial foot arch collapse.”
Heel on pedal method
This second method has been used by generations of cyclists. It’s simple, and it’s survived the test of time:
- Sit on the bike with it attached to a turbo trainer, or hold onto a wall – just make sure the bike is straight
- Place your heel on the pedal, with it at around the 6’oclock position
- Your leg should be completely straight with your foot in this position
- If you’ve got a bend in the knee, the saddle needs to go up
- If your hips tilt or move at all when you place your heel on the pedal, the saddle needs to go down
How should a bike seat be positioned?
It’s not just about saddle height – you also want to get the fore-and-aft right. A saddle that’s too far back could cause the quads to have to over-stretch, whilst being too far forwards can tighten the hip-flexors.
>>> Ride off road, too? Here’s how to set your saddle height on a mountain bike
Again, a performance bike fit will look at a number of factors. But to be comfortable and injury free, you ideally want to have your knee sitting over the pedal spindle – this is usually called the ‘KOPS’ (knee over pedal spindle) approach. You can determine this by dropping a plumb line from your knee to the pedal and adjusting forward and backwards accordingly.
In terms of gradient – a flat saddle usually leads to a happy body. Many riders who are suffering with saddle sores can be tempted to tilt the saddle, so that the nose points downwards. This will relieve pressure a little, but can place undue stress on the lower back. Ideally, a saddle should be fairly flat, though a very slight tilt is ok. A saddle that tilts upwards will generally cause pain in the lower back as your pedalling motion changes.
Why is saddle height so important?
A cyclist typically pedals at 90 rpm – that’s 90 times every minute that your legs turn the cranks and extend from the top of the stroke to the bottom. If your saddle is too high or too low, the wrong muscles can be forced to over-work.
Results from research by Spanish scientists have shown that a variance of 1-1.5cm from your optimal saddle position can have a huge effect on energy expenditure when riding.
In fact, the research indicates that a change of just 0.5cm can still make a noticeable difference. The study suggests that setting the saddle height too high is worse than setting it too low. Once you get used to your ideal saddle height, you’ll certainly find that making adjustments alters your comfort on the bike.
Tobias Bremer, lead physiotherapist at Physio Clinic Brighton agreed on the importance of saddle height and told us: “The saddle position is central to all aspects of pain-free riding. Its relationship with pedal position is important, as the knees take many revolutions per minute and are likely to suffer from repetitive strain injuries.
“If your saddle or pedal set-up is such that you go into more knee extension than the optimum range of motion of between 150 degrees at full extension to 70 degrees of knee flexion, the likelihood of developing IT band syndrome goes up enormously. This accounts for 15% of all reported knee pain in cyclists.”
Factors to bear in mind when setting saddle height
There are several factors that can adjust your saddle height without you actually un-doing the seat post clamp and raising the seat post.
Firstly – not all bikes share the same crank length. A longer or shorter crank will create a different knee angle – so if you upgrade these or buy a new bike, account for the differance. A new saddle or cleat set up may also create a differance – so measure the distance before and after making changes.
The ideal saddle height may change for you over time, too. For example, if you work hard to improve your flexibility (or stop working hard and become less flexible), you may need to adjust your saddle height accordingly – more flexible people can generally ride with a higher saddle.
It’s also a good idea to make adjustments slowly – if you chance your entire set up in one go, it’s hard to know what worked and what didn’t. And finally – when you tighten the seat post back up, make sure your saddle is straight – the tip should be in line with the centre of the handlebars.