Setting the right saddle height is essential for comfort, efficiency and avoiding injury. Here we explain why it's important and tell you how best to set your saddle height for the maximum combination of comfort and speed
Set your saddle height: how to do it yourself
Several factors determine your comfort on the bike – but saddle height plays a huge role. Having your saddle set too low or two high can result in niggles and injury if left unchecked.
The video above was created with bike fitting expert Ben Halim from Bespoke Cycling. It shows two key methods: the first uses your inseam measurement to determine the ideal height of your perch. The second is a very traditional method, in which you place the heel of your foot on the pedal at the bottom of the stroke, and set the height so that your leg is completely straight. When you clip-in this should leave you with a height that’s close to ideal.
If you choose to use the inseam measurement option, we’ve got detailed advice on exactly how to go about it, from Kernow Physio’s Scott Tomkinson, below. Tomkinson has been responsible for advising WorldTour teams on elements of bike fit, including saddle height.
So – are you ready to go? Here’s how to set your saddle height in four easy steps…
Step 1: Place a spirit level (or ruler) between your legs
As a rule of thumb for someone who has just purchased a bike, never ridden it, and has no previous fitting history, we start off by measuring the rider’s inseam leg measurement. It’s important for this that you stand (shoes off) with your feet at shoulder-width apart.
Place a spirit level (come on, everyone has one somewhere in the back of the garage) between your legs and pull up slightly to simulate pressure from sitting on a saddle. We get the rider to ensure the spirit level is level – and if you don’t have one, a ruler will do.
Step 2: Mark the height of the spirit level (or ruler)
Next up, we 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!), and take a measurement from this point straight down (not following the line of the leg) to the floor, with a measuring tape.
Step 3: Take 10cm off the measurement
We then take 10cm off that measurement. This provides a good starting point for a bike-fit. So, for example, if the person’s inseam leg measurement is 76.9 centimetres, subtracting 10cm gives their initial saddle height as 66.9 centimetres.
Step 4: 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.”
Saddle height: why is the correct height so important?
A perfectly set saddle puts you in the optimal position to pedal efficiently but also avoid short-term discomfort and long-term injury. Saddle height is the simplest of adjustments you can make to your bike with probably the greatest benefit.
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.
If you have access to a heart rate monitor and an accurate power meter you’ll find that your optimum saddle height will be the one that produces the lowest heart rate for a given sustained power output.
Saddle height and knee pain
Beyond the speed benefits and segment achievements that the correct saddle height will allow, it is also key to keeping aches, pains and permanent injuries at bay.
Tobias Bremer, lead physiotherapist at Physio Clinic Brighton says: “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/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.”
Common pain caused by incorrect saddle height
If your saddle is set at the wrong height, it’s too far forward or far back on the rails, you’ll may start to notice some discomfort.
Bremer elaborated on saddle height related problems and how to overcome them:
Problem: pain at the front of the knee.
Solution: adjust the saddle upwards and backwards.
Problem: pain at the back of the knee.
Solution: put the saddle down a bit and forwards.
Problem: pain at the outside of the knee.
Solution: adjust saddle height up or down to achieve 150-degree knee extension with the pedal at its lowest point. Also adjust cleat position inwards.
Problem: pain at the front of the pelvis.
Solution: lower the tip of the saddle slightly or raise the handlebars.
Do’s of setting your saddle height
* Make changes to your saddle height in small increments
* Take into account that different crank lengths will affect your seat height when changing your bike
* Keep your seatpost well maintained — you won’t be able to adjust it if it’s seized
* Be prepared to reassess your seat height at a later date, based on improvements in your flexibility
Don’ts of setting your saddle height
* Persevere with a riding position that’s uncomfortable
* Forget that changes to your handlebar or cleat position necessitate saddle height re-evaluation
* Mimic the pros — they’re set up according to their own physical needs and comfort tolerances
* Forget to make sure your seat is in line with your top tube when tightening everything up again
Original article by Marc Abbott