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 positioned 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 saddle’s optimal 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 seat 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.”

Step 1

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.

DIY1

Step 2

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…

DIY2

Step 3

…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.

DIY3

Step 4

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.

DIY4

Step 5

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.

DIY5

Saddle height and knee pain

Beyond the speed benefits and segment achievements that the right 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 seat 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

Do

* 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’t

* 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

More on bike fit and set-up

  • Crydda

    Having been a keen cyclist for more than forty years; I’ve never been one for all the technical stuff, formulas or mathematics.
    For me, comfort and no pain on 100km plus rides are the ultimate goal and this, of course, depends on a number of factors – body as well as equipment.
    My tips would be
    1. spend £200 to £300 less on the bike and buy quality clothing, especially shorts and shoes.
    2. Make sure your saddle is the correct width for your sit bones.
    3. First off, adjust your saddle height to, what feels about right and then make micro adjustments, up or down and forwards and back, until you’ve found your optimum position. This could take some time, a number of rides and several hundred kilometres, but if you adopt this approach, you will be rewarded, eventually.

    Finally, be careful with your choice of bike. Choose one best suited for your type of cycling. An aero bike is hardly going to be your best choice, if you’re forty plus, 10kgs overweight and only do a ten kilometre commute with an occasional Sunday afternoon couple of hours, but I see this so often and nobody is ever going to mistake you for Mark Cavandish. No wonder new cyclists often get disillusioned, when ego overrides sensible, considered choice – the flasher, most expensive steed, does necessarily mean, it’s the best one for you.

  • AngryDoc

    Pack a multitool and go for a “shakeout ride”. Adjust everything in small amounts and adjust it back if necessary. After a 20-30 mile ride, you will have a great fitting bike.

  • Patrick Crew

    This is one area that fascinates and frustrates me at the same time. Having got back bike into riding last year, lost two stone, gained more flexibility etc I have begun to study the bike position, moving a few mm on saddle height, saddle fore and aft and stem length by a cm to see what happened. I did get knee pain on the front after two hours plus and increasing height helped. Whilst its useful to have the basics above as a starting point, it doesn’t solve what I am going through now, as saddle height has gone up by 1.5cm, strength has improved, but and here is the interesting bit, I do not yet know if the position is optimal. At the point the saddle went up I was getting fitter and more flexible so it always felt comfortable (or not uncomfortable). The only ‘real’ way to determine optimal position is spend on a proper bike fit that looks at the biomechanics, power output, cleat position etc. I like, many, have a twisted spine, marginal, but a common problem, the upshot is that one leg is marginally longer than the other, one foot is also smaller than the other in determining cleat position and indeed whether I need shims, which in turn determines saddle height and fore and aft position. Combining biometrics and power outage seems to be the only measurable solution to a true bespoke bike fitting. Everyone is different, I have a long body, shortish legs, with long calves and shortish thighs. Sitting on a bike with the biometrics being measured allows you to see your pedal stroke and whether its optimal for developing maximum power throughout the entire pedal stroke (measuring power outputs). In my case I still do not feel I am making the most of the up stroke. So I have taken the plunge and I am going to spend 2-3 hours having a bike fitting and see all of the above in action. I would like to think I am close to the best position, will be interesting to find out how close I am. As others have said, before dishing out on all that lightness, spend the money on a reputable bike fit to make sure you are riding in the best possible position and that its comfortable.

  • Jamie Wafc Finch

    I admit I have not had my road bike for that long but what I have found so far slightly contradicts this guide. I followed the guide and my measurements with 10 cm deducted is 76cm. I currently have my seat height at 82cm which is considerably higher. The reason I got so high is because I had knee pain in the front of the knees. I’ve moved my saddle around a bit too. I do however still have knee pain but I can’t go any higher as my bike will become unrideable. The only thing I can deduce from this article is that maybe I should go a bit lower and move my saddle back slightly.

  • Mike Prytherch

    I like the “Do” Take into account that different crank lengths will affect your seat height when changing your bike, so when performing the rules set-out, when do they take into account if the crank length is 165 or 175 or bigger

  • Dave Smart

    Many years ago, another piece of incompetent research (hamley and thomas 1967) set the optimum saddle height at 1.09 x inside leg and that is still quoted to this day. Garbage in, gospel out!! The primary factor you have to focus on, to achieve the best possible “gross efficiency” is technique – muscle motor patterns – biomechanics. Saddle height, the fore/aft setting, crank length AND cadence are ALL determined by an individual’s specific technique, which anyone is free to modify, if they so wish. By adjusting only ONE variable, this research is based on a pig-ignorant false premise and can teach us nothing. (My apologies to the pig – a very intelligent animal, I understand) 5mm “could still make a significant difference.” You’re joking! Slide forward one inch and your saddle height drops one centimetre. Try investigating the pros and cons of that (very common) bad habit. Then we might get somewhere.

    • unknown

      Sliding forward usually indicates a height problem. Lower the saddle and you should stay planted in the saddle when putting that power out your be able to put more power out for longer because it’s more comfy then the 30second- 2 miniute rivet attack..

  • ted hutton

    in the 1950’s we used to ride fixed wheel and I found that the best saddle height

    was to have the saddle so that you could pedal with proper ankling without your

    hips rocking from side to side but not too low as to have your thighs touching your

    rib cage but the trouble is we dont all have the same measurements so get comfortable

  • Simon Roberts

    Yes, come on guys – Interesting article, but I need to know how to find MY optimum height without an expensive bike-fit. More articles on ‘Old school’ Bike fit please.

  • William

    Another completely pointless article by CW

    What should the height be?
    Did they confirm that the cyclsts tested had their saddles at the exact correct height before adjusting?
    What was the effect of moving the saddle back or forward?
    What was the effect of reach?

  • Spott

    This article is purely bad science. Since when is a decrease of ONE HALFOF ONE PERCENT considered “significantly lower” and “a very big difference”? Also, I very much doubt that biometric GE can be measured to 1/10 of one percent.

    Sure, correct saddle height is beneficial to the rider, in many ways. But it is not nearly as critical as the author of this article, or the reseachers in this study, would like to fool you into believing.

  • Peter Cash

    The ‘preferred’ height is… the rider’s normal height? The height according to a bike-fitter? Calculated according to a formula of some sort? You really ought to have told us at some point!

  • Ken Evans

    Everybody is different, you need to find what works best for you. Michel Pollentier rode more awkwardly than a crab trying to ride a unicycle, Chris Horner climbs very strangely. Don’t just copy the pro stars, don’t just repeat what the text books say. People sometimes have imperfections such as un-even leg lengths. Every millimeter matters, pros will often adjust their positions from one day to the next, just for a change. Everybody needs to experiment to find what suits them. Bike fitting services are the first place to start.

  • ted hutton

    Nice article but does not answer the question how to get the correct height there are so many supposed methods but they all seem to contradict each other . So is there a universal approved method .I would be most interested to hear of one TED HUTTON

    • http://www.360bikefit.com RichS

      No Ted there isn’t a universally approved method and while the various bike fitting systems place marketing and revenue ahead of the rider, there never will be.
      The short answer is that there is a ‘right’ saddle height for everyone but it isn’t the same for everyone. It will depend on rider experience, age, physiology, flexibility, adaptability and these factors change for each rider (and also over time too). Get someone to fit your bike to you properly (not a quick 15 minute session by the bike seller). It’s a worthwile investment if comfort and performance are your long term goals.

  • Andy Taylor

    So what’s the best way to get it spot on then? That would be the most valuable piece of information to have in the article (assuming not everyone can afford to get properly fitted).

    • http://www.360bikefit.com RichS

      Andy. I don’t know your situation but I am a bike fitter (which might make me biased to a certain degree) but many people spend upwards of £2000/$2500 on a bike but think that £175/$250 is too much to spend on a fitting. If long term comfort and lessened injury risk is your goal then the bike fit is worth it. I’d also argue that the increase in performance you’d gain from a proper fit outweighs the gains you’d make from spending $250 extra on a bike. So maybe get a 105 bike instead of Ultegra and spend the extra on a proper bike fit or an alumiium stem instead of carbon. Doesn’t matter how light your bike is if your hamstrings/calves/hip flexors etc can’t complete the last part of your ride at maximal effort

  • Robert

    It seems that in the study cited the cyclists were not given any time to adapt to the new positions, so it is perhaps no wonder that GE was affected. For example, if they had ridden in the new ‘higher’ position for a few hundred miles, giving time for the tendons to stretch and the muscles to adapt to a modified motor program, the GE might well have being higher than previously. Another way to view the study would be to say that it found that the most efficient saddle height at any given moment is whatever you have got used to, even if this is higher or lower than the true optimum!

  • keith aitchison

    ….and the right height is?

  • Chris

    So then what IS optimal saddle height… inseam * .883…. 25 degree bend, 30 degree bend?? Any cyclist who has been racing or riding for several years will feel the slightest change.. the question is without a fitting session, what IS the ideal spot…