How to set your saddle height: a beginner's guide

A simple step by step guide to getting your bicycle saddle height right for both comfort and efficiency - eliminate pain and get the most from your body

Saddle height
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Setting the correct saddle height is essential to comfort, performance and injury prevention on the bike, and finding the optimum saddle height is the foundation of a bike fit

While setting the correct saddle height can take some time and requires plenty of tinkering, the results they produce to both comfort and overall performance make them absolutely essential. The right guidance makes it fairly easy to get sorted at home too, meaning you don't have to spend extra money on bike fits. 

The saddle height measurement is the distance between the centre of the bottom bracket and the centre of the saddle.

Former pro rider Jimmy George, who now works as a bike fitter, doesn't underestimate the importance of finding the optimum saddle height either.

“When I do bike fits, after the cleats, it all starts with saddle height," George said.

Everything else – handlebar height and reach - comes after. Getting your saddle height is important because you need to be comfortable when you ride, as this will enable you to ride longer and to push harder. 

"Getting the height right will also prevent injury – compression injuries from having it too low and over-stretching issues from having it too high. Really, cycling shouldn’t result in any injuries, unless you fall off the bike.”

There are many methods and formulas now used in calculating a rider's saddle height, but George suggests the old favourite works just as well.

Jimmy George at V02 cycling at work. Image: V02 Cycling

Image: V02 Cycling

(Image credit: Picasa)

George's recommended method entails sitting on the bike, unclipping, and placing your heel in the middle of the pedal axle with it at the furthest point so that the crank is in line with the seat tube. Your leg should be completely straight, so that when you clip in there is a slight bend - though your hips shouldn't have to rock to reach the pedal. 

Checking if the back of the knee cap is in line with the ball of the foot, when a plumb line is dropped from the knee, is imperative for this method to work, because the ball of the foot shouldn't protrude over the axle of the pedal. 

This method therefore requires adjusting the saddle forwards or backwards. When complete, checking the saddle height again will help make it more accurate. 

A process of trial and error through riding the bike will find the optimum saddle height thereafter, with only minimal 1mm changes needed. Going too high will mean you rock on the saddle or feel a strain at the back of the knee, while going too low causes compression at the front of the knee. 

Signs your saddle height may be wrong

Knee pain is one of the most common indicators of an incorrect saddle height.

Typically, a saddle that is too low will result in pain at the front of the knee, but one that is too high creates pain behind the knee - or in the hamstrings as a result of overextension. 

A rider whose saddle is too high usually rocks as they pedal too, and the excessive movement required to reach the bottom of each pedal stroke as your hips roll can also cause pain. 

Is there another method?

One slightly more technical method focuses on inseam measurement.

To find the initial number, stand with your feet hip width apart (shoes off), place a straight instrument between your legs, such as a ruler or a spirit level, and mark a point on the wall where the top of it sits. Note down the distance from floor to the dot. Then multiply this by 0.9 to give you 90 per cent.

saddle height

Measure your inseam using a spirit level then apply to your saddle height
(Image credit: Andrew Sydenham)

However, because this method is basic mathematics, and bodies aren't formulaic, it doesn't always produce the most accurate of results for finding the correct saddle height. 

Different muscle tensions can cause the saddle height to feel either too high or low, meaning this method doesn't necessarily take individual differences into account. A mobile person could feel that the saddle height using the formula is too low, while someone with tighter muscles might feel that it is too high. 

Still can't get it right?

If, after numerous trial and error attempts, you still can't find the right saddle height for you, then a bike fit may be necessary. This is because there are other factors involved in finding the optimum height, such as saddle tilt, fore aft and cleat adjustment, that make it so difficult when doing at home. 

However, as a beginner, riders should find that the aforementioned methods should work adequately, until they become more serious cyclists.