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Saddle Height: A Comprehensive Guide To Setting Your Saddle Height




Every cyclist dreams of that perfect, effortless ride, where every pedal stroke feels just right. Your saddle height plays a pivotal role in turning that dream into a reality and serves as the foundation for your position on the bike. Let’s delve into how you can adjust your saddle height for optimal comfort, efficiency, and to avoid those pesky injuries. Checking your saddle height at home on a trainer is a great way to start your bike fit journey. In this article we’ll walk you through:

  • Why Saddle Height Matters

  • What Influences Saddle Height?

  • The Triad of Saddle Position: Height, Fore-aft, and Tilt

  • The Challenge of Measuring Saddle Height: Factors to Consider

  • Traditional Methods to Determine Saddle Height

  • Dynamic Fit Methods: Embracing Motion Analysis

  • How To Know When Your Saddle Height Is Right?

Why Saddle Height Matters When it comes to optimizing a cyclist’s position on their bike, the starting line — and often the most critical element — is the saddle height. But why does it hold such a revered position in the realm of bike fitting? Well, saddle height impacts a broad range of elements within your fit and your overall cycling experience including:

  • Physical Comfort: At its core, the correct saddle height provides the foundation for a comfortable ride. An incorrectly positioned saddle can lead to pain and discomfort in areas such as the knees, lower back, perineum and the sit bones. Over time, these discomforts can escalate into chronic pain or injuries that can keep you off the bike.

  • Range of Motion: The saddle height directly impacts the hips and knee’s range of motion during each pedal stroke. A proper height allows the hip and knees to extend and flex optimally, promoting proper muscle engagement and minimizing joint strain.

  • Optimal Power Transfer: The height of the saddle influences how effectively a cyclist can transfer power to the pedals. A saddle that’s too high or too low can compromise the rider’s leverage, leading to diminished power output and inefficient energy expenditure.

  • Muscle Engagement: Saddle height plays a key role in determining which muscle groups are engaged during pedalling. The right height allows for a balanced use of quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and glutes. An imbalance, due to incorrect saddle height, can lead to certain muscles being overused while others are underutilized, resulting in potential strain or injury.

  • Foundation for Other Adjustments: Think of saddle height as the reference point upon which other bike adjustments are made. Once the saddle height is dialled in, it becomes easier to adjust the fore/aft saddle position and even other components like the handlebar height and reach. Without first securing the (approximate) saddle height, other adjustments might be rendered moot or less effective.

  • Consistency in Riding Technique: A (relatively) consistent saddle height across bikes fosters a consistent pedalling technique and muscle recruitment pattern. Riders can more easily develop a rhythmic and efficient pedal stroke, which is particularly beneficial for long rides and climbs.

In essence, saddle height is much more than just a vertical adjustment on a bike. It’s the linchpin that holds together a cyclist’s comfort, efficiency, and performance. What Influences Saddle Height? Though finding the right saddle height may seem like it should be quite simple, there is a reason it is the focus of so much attention and debate. As discussed above, saddle height is perhaps the most important part of any cyclist’s fit, and unfortunately there is no hard and fast rule for finding the right height for any rider. So when embarking on your search for the right saddle height, we think the most important thing you can do is understand the principles that drive what you are searching for.

  • There is no single perfect saddle height for you. There is a range of acceptable saddle heights that may each feel or perform better or worse in a variety of situations. Getting caught up in finding a millimetre perfect saddle height is a fool’s errand and will leave you forever searching.

  • Mobility and Flexibility: how your body moves will help determine the best saddle height for you. In general, the less flexible you are, the lower your saddle needs to be.

  • Riding Position: Although your saddle height is the foundation of your fit, your target riding position helps to determine your ideal saddle height. This can be quite confusing for riders that engage in a variety of cycling disciplines, as their ideal saddle height may not be the same across all their bikes.

  • Ankle Position & Pedalling Style: A subject of great debate, a riders’ ankle position (relative to the pedal) can significantly impact saddle height. Though certain ankle movement can indicate issues with saddle height, there is a large degree of personal preference in how a rider pedals that will influence their resulting saddle height.

  • Foot Size: Every rider has a unique foot size, and the length from ankle to the pedal axle has a significant influence on ideal effective saddle height for a rider. A rider with larger feet will often require a taller saddle height as compared to a rider with smaller feet, even if all other factors remain constant.

  • Knee Extension: Perhaps the most studied aspect of saddle height, a rider’s knee extension can provide the most insight into their effective saddle height. Though some have touted knee extension as the end all metric for determining saddle height, it is indeed just one variable in identifying a good saddle height.

The Triad of Saddle Position: Height, Fore/Aft, and Tilt



A Good Saddle position includes saddle height, fore-aft and tilt. While saddle height often takes the spotlight in discussions about bike fit, it’s crucial to understand that saddle height doesn’t operate in isolation. To truly optimize your position on the bike, we need to evaluate saddle height in tandem with saddle fore/aft and tilt, with the three working together to establish your saddle position. To better understand the important relationship between these three adjustment, here is a summary to get you started:

  • Saddle Height: This parameter largely determines how extended the cyclist’s leg will be at the bottom of the pedal stroke. Setting the correct saddle height can prevent joint strains, maximize pedal power, and enhance endurance. However, adjusting height can inadvertently shift a rider’s centre of gravity, affecting their balance and reach to the handlebars.

  • Saddle Fore/Aft: Often overlooked, the forward and backward position of the saddle influences the rider’s weight distribution on the bike and the engagement of different muscle groups. A saddle positioned too far forward can make the rider lean heavily on the handlebars, leading to hand and wrist discomfort. Conversely, a saddle too far back can strain the lower back and shift too much responsibility to the hamstring muscles. Saddle fore-aft is inextricably linked to saddle height, as moving a saddle aft (rearward) will increase the effective saddle height, and moving a saddle fore (forward) will reduce effective height.

  • Saddle Tilt: The angle at which the saddle is set can drastically impact rider comfort and stability. A saddle that tilts too far downward can cause the rider to slide forward, placing undue pressure on the hands and wrists. An upward tilt might lead to pain, discomfort, and numbness in the perineal region and lower back. The right tilt provides a balanced platform, ensuring that body weight is evenly distributed across the saddle. This also impacts how the pelvis interacts with the saddle and resultantly can impact the effective height.

The dynamic interplay as described above means one can’t be adjusted in isolation without considering the potential impact on the other two. In essence, to achieve a truly optimized cycling posture, one must view saddle height, fore/aft, and tilt as a triad, where each element influences and is influenced by the others. A holistic saddle position evaluation ensures not only comfort and performance but also safeguards the rider against potential long-term injuries. The Challenge of Measuring Saddle Height: Factors to Consider Unfortunately, even the simple act of measuring saddle height isn’t as simple as pulling out your tape measurer. Various factors intertwine to create the perfect setting tailored to each individual cyclist and the gear they are using. So even though many riders may “know” their saddle height to the millimetre, this maze of elements can make determining saddle height more intricate than it might initially seem.

  • Cleat Placement: Similar to how foot size impacts finding your saddle height, where your cleats are positioned on the shoe can significantly affect your foot’s orientation and the angle at which it interfaces with the pedal. A more forward or rearward cleat placement alters the effective leg length during the pedal stroke, necessitating adjustments to the saddle height. So any saddle height measurement is also reliant on the specific cleat placement used when the saddle height was set.

  • Pedal and Shoe Stack Height: The combined height of the pedal and shoe, known as the stack height, can vary considerably across different brands and models. A shoe with a thicker sole or a pedal with more height will effectively increase the distance between the foot and the crank, impacting saddle height.

  • Crank Length: The most common way to measure saddle height is from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the saddle. While this is a fairly standard method that is generally quite useful, it completely ignores the length of the cranks. As the crank arm length plays a role in determining the rider’s overall leg extension through the pedal stroke, ignoring this measurement (which is not an absolute) can definitely cause issues when transferring saddle height to a different bike with potentially different length cranks.

  • Saddle Size & Shape: Not all saddles are created equal. Saddles can vary in terms of width, contouring, padding thickness, and overall design. A rider might sit deeper into a well-padded saddle compared to one with minimal cushioning. A saddle that is too narrow may also insufficiently support the rider’s sit bones resulting in them sitting lower. Similarly a saddle’s curvature can also affect the rider’s effective sitting height. For instance, a saddle with a pronounced dip in the center might “cradle” the rider more, effectively reducing the saddle height. While it may seem as though measuring to the top of any saddle would provide an accurate measurement of saddle height, there can be significant variance in how riders sit on different saddles, which impacts the effective saddle height.

  • Tilt and Fore/Aft Position: Beyond just height, the saddle’s orientation plays a role in how the rider interfaces with it. A saddle tilted slightly forward or backward can change the rider’s pelvic position and ride height, consequently impacting their effective leg length during the pedal stroke. Similarly, the saddle’s fore or aft position can alter the rider’s centre of mass on the bike as well as their relationship with the pedals which can be crucial for both comfort and power output.

  • Handlebar Position – Though it may seem as though what happens at the handlebars has very little to do with the saddle, the handlebars reach and height can impact the preferred saddle height. Longer reaches and greater levels of saddle to handlebar drop have a tendency to roll a rider’s pelvis forward, changing how they interact with the saddle. The result of this is that different bike types (e.g. a road bike vs MTB) require different saddle heights as a result of their significantly different riding positions.

Considering all these factors, it’s clear that measuring saddle height is not a straightforward task. A change in any of these elements can necessitate a reassessment and potential adjustment of saddle height. As such, achieving the perfect saddle height often requires a blend of objective measurements, personal feel, and, ideally, dynamic analysis to ensure the riders’ body ends up in the desired position rather than simply the measurements of the bike.

Traditional Methods to Determine Saddle Height

Though setting saddle height can feel quite complex, there are some relatively simple (however imprecise) methods to get you in the ballpark. Keep in mind these methods will only help you set saddle height, but do not take into account any of the other dimensions discussed above. Here are four of the most common rules of thumb (in increasing order of complexity) that you can use to get started on your saddle height journey. 1. Heel (or Heel-toe) Method How it works: Sit on the saddle with the crank arms in line with the seat post. Place your heel on the lower pedal, and adjust the saddle height until your knee is fully straight (locked out). As you pedal backward, your heel should maintain contact with the pedal throughout the cycle, without needing to tilt your pelvis through the bottom of the pedal stroke. When you place the ball of your foot over the pedal’s axis, this should give you a ballpark saddle height. TIP: We’ve found that lowering your saddle 10-15mm from the above method gets you one step closer to a great height. Pros:

  • Requires no special equipment.

  • Quick and straightforward, making it suitable for on-the-go adjustments.

  • A good starting point for those new to cycling.

Cons:

  • Offers only a rough estimate and likely to require further tweaking.

  • Doesn’t account for nuances like pedalling style or mobility.

  • Doesn’t account for equipment factors such as cleat positioning and shoe/pedal stack height.

  • Often overestimates saddle height

2. LeMond Method How it works: First, determine your inseam by standing barefoot with your back against a wall, feet shoulder-width apart. Slide the spine of a hardcover book firmly up between your legs, mimicking a saddle. Mark the wall where the top of the book’s spine meets it, and measure from this mark to the floor to find your inseam. Your saddle height is then determined by your inseam multiplied by 0.883. In the LeMond method, your saddle height is defined as the distance between the centre of your bottom bracket spindle to the top of your saddle (following your seatpost) Pros:

  • Offers a mathematical basis, lending some consistency.

  • Still relatively simple to execute.

Cons:

  • Doesn’t account for equipment factors such as crank length, cleat positioning and shoe/pedal stack height.

  • Often overestimates saddle height

  • Doesn’t account for nuances like pedalling style or mobility.

3. Hamley Method How it works: Using the inseam measurement (same method as above), multiply it by 1.09. In the Hamley method, your saddle height is defined as the distance between the centre of your lower pedal axle (with your cranks inline with your seat tube) to the top of your saddle (following your seatpost), thereby taking in one additional variable and accounting for crank length. Pros:

  • Incorporates crank length, which can offer a slightly more tailored result.

  • Offers a mathematical basis, lending some consistency.

  • Still relatively simple to execute.

Cons:

  • Doesn’t account for equipment factors such as cleat positioning and shoe/pedal stack height.

  • Often overestimates saddle height

  • Doesn’t account for nuances like pedaling style or mobility.

4. Holmes Method How it works: Set your bike up on a stationary trainer and start pedaling until you’re comfortable. Stop when one pedal is at the bottom of the stroke. An assistant should use a goniometer to measure your knee extension angle. Landmarks for this method include the lateral femoral condyle at the knee, lateral malleolus at the ankle, and greater trochanter at the hip. The goal is to achieve a knee angle between 25 to 35 degrees. TIP: you can also complete a version of this method yourself by setting up a camera, taking a video of you riding, then finding the point in the video you’d like to measure to establish your knee extension angle. Pros:

  • Research-backed method suggesting injury prevention and performance enhancement when completed accurately.

  • Accounts for some dynamic factors during cycling.

Cons:

  • Requires an assistant and a goniometer.

  • Not as straightforward as other methods.

  • Differing target knee angles between static and dynamic measurement can be confusing.

  • Potential for variation or error in measuring.

Dynamic Fit Methods: Embracing Motion Analysis with 3D Dual Sided Video Motion Capture




Dynamic bike fit techniques involve evaluating a cyclists position in motion. Bike fitting’s progression has brought a stark contrast between traditional static methods and the modern dynamic approach. The dynamic fitting paradigm, exemplified by the 3D Dual Sided Video Motion Capture System we use here in the Bike Fit Studio, offers cyclists a data-driven and comprehensive saddle-setting experience based on their actual position on the bike and riding dynamics. Benefits of Dynamic Bike Fitting:

  • Dynamic Analysis: Unlike static measurement methods or some 2D Video Capture Systems, which capture a single snapshot, dynamic fitting observes a rider as they pedal. This offers a genuine insight into the rider’s posture, pedaling technique, and biomechanics while they are riding their bike. The growing body of research around static and dynamic fit practices has highlighted significant differences in measurements obtained depending on the method employed.

  • Unearthing Biomechanical Nuances: Dynamic fitting can bring to light subtle asymmetries, imbalances in pedal stroke, pelvic tilts, Knee Lateral travel, Hip & Shoulder Vertical & Horizontal travel, Ankle Flexion, Angle and swivel plus many more Biomechanical movements that remain completely hidden in static and 2D Video Capture evaluations.

  • Muscle Engagement Insights: By assessing a cyclist’s motion dynamically, it ensures that muscle engagement is optimal throughout the pedal cycle, fostering better power output and mitigating overuse injuries.

  • Immediate Feedback: Adjustments made during a dynamic fitting session can be immediately assessed, creating an efficient feedback loop that guarantees each tweak enhances comfort and performance.

How To Know When Your Saddle Height Is Right?



Feeling confident in your saddle height can be one of the most challenging aspects of your fit. So you’ve now got a whole bunch of ways to try and find the right saddle height, but how do you know when you’ve got it right? The short answer is that there is no short answer and it comes down to a number of factors. A helpful way to figure out if you’re on the right track is to ask yourself these questions. If you can answer yes, you’re probably doing alright.But WAIT! Before you ask yourself these questions, give yourself a few rides in the new position for your body to adapt. Changing saddle height can feel very weird and even create minor muscle discomfort as a result of changes to how you move. So don’t be too quick to judge.

  • Is my pelvis stable while pedalling with my sit bones comfortably supported?

  • Am I able to maintain power and control throughout the entire pedal stroke?

  • Am I comfortable, without the urge to frequently adjust my seating position/shift around in the saddle?

  • Does it feel as though I’m engaging all muscles in a balanced way, without any discomfort or strain?

  • Do my feet maintain a relatively consistent position throughout the pedal stroke without feeling like I’m reaching through the bottom?

Remember, cycling is repetitive. An incorrect saddle height can lead to issues ranging from knee pain to wrist discomfort. But pain isn’t the only indicator; sometimes, it just feels “off”. Final Thoughts Setting your saddle height is foundational to any good bike fit and can have a huge impact on your enjoyment of cycling. While traditional methods can serve as a great starting point, integrating technology like 3D Video Capture & Saddle Pressure Mapping can provide the dynamic analysis necessary to truly fine-tune your setup for your body, equipment, and the way you move. Investing in your position is considered by many as the best place to spend your energy to improve your riding experience. Saddle height is without a doubt the first place for every cyclist to start.


So How can we Help?

Here at Performance BikeFit we use the very latest 3D Video Capture Motion Analysis systems along with Saddle Pressure Mapping Analysis to see exactly how you interact with the Bike while pedalling from both the Right & Left Side simultaneously, allowing us to identifying any asymmetries & body imparlances which could impact your cycling performance along with being able to see exactly where you sit on the saddle to improve comfort & performance further.

So if you have followed some of the Static Measurement methods mentioned earlier and it still does not feel quite right then investing in one of our Bike Fitting Sessions would be the best thing can to do and save yourself a lot of guess work, trial and error and pain along the way.





Many Athletes have used Performance BikeFit to improve their cycling position. Whether you are a veteran or new to the sport, With over 10 years of Bike Fitting experience Performance BikeFit can help you improve your position and improve your enjoyment of cycling indoors and Out.


© 2024 Performance BikeFit


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