Setting the right saddle height is essential for comfort, efficiency and avoiding injury. Here we explain why it's important and how you can set your seat for the maximum combination of comfort and speed
Why is it 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. 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.
Do it yourself
Kernow Physio’s Scott Tomkinson has been responsible for advising WorldTour teams. Here he describes a reliable method of how to set up your saddle height in the comfort of your own home.
When it comes to fine-tuning, he 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.”
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 with your feet at shoulder-width apart, shoes off.
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 then 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.
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.
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.
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.”
Bremer elaborated further 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.
Dos and Don’ts
* 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
* 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