Determining Your Bicycle Saddle Height
It’s common sense that the correct saddle properly fitted to your bike should improve your riding performance, or at the very least make it a more enjoyable experience. The position of your body will affect how you ride, how much power you deliver to the pedals and how comfortable you are. However, a comfortable position may not be the most energy efficient so it’s worth going through and sizing your bike and saddle correctly. This guide provides explanation and instructions for properly setting the height, fore/aft position, and tilt of your bicycle saddle:
Adjusting Your Bicycle Saddle
Adjusting Your Bicycle Saddle
A properly adjusted saddle can minimize discomfort on the bike and make you're pedaling more efficient. Remember, a bike is unlikely to fit you perfectly when you buy it unless you got it custom-built or did an in-store fitting after you made the purchase. Take some time to get the correct saddle position as it will improve your overall riding experience.
Saddles can be adjusted in three ways: saddle height, fore/aft position, and tilt. Adjustments can be made via the seat post and clamps holding the saddle on the post. To adjust you simply loosen the bolt/clamp, adjust and re-tighten.
Saddle Height Calculator
To quickly find your ideal saddle height, you can use this tool. It calculates your saddle height based on your body’s height and leg length measurements. Printable instructions and diagrams are provided, and it works for the all bikes.
The saddle height controls the leverage for your pedaling. Too low and it puts stress on your knees, too high and you may rub the saddle excessively. Children, or their parents, often put the saddle low for safety and to build confidence but it doesn’t allow them to pedal efficiently and may make cycling more difficult. This habit of having a low saddle may then continue with them even when they become adults.
There are a number of ways to get the right saddle height. A good way of doing it is to sit on the bike with both feet on the pedals – get a friend to help, use a trainer or lean against a wall. Place your pedals in the 6 o’clock and 12 o’clock position. Your bottom leg should be fully extended when the heel is placed on the lower pedal. If it’s bent you need to raise the saddle. If you have to rock your hips to reach or simply can’t reach, then lower the saddle. You can also tell if the saddle is too high if you find you are sitting on the narrow front part of the saddle – although this could also be related to saddle tilt.
The idea is that when you correctly position your foot on the pedal your knee is just slightly bent at the bottom of the rotation. Also, make sure you don’t raise the seat post beyond the manufacturer’s recommended height as it could become unstable and even break off when riding.
Saddle Fore/Aft Position
The fore/aft position of the saddle will determine how your body is balanced which will also dictate how comfortable and effective you are on the bike. If you look at a normal bike the saddle is placed behind the bottom bracket. Place the saddle too far forward and you will not get maximum leverage and if it’s too far back it will hurt your back and produce muscular strain.
One way of positioning the saddle is to put it 2 to 2.5 inches behind the centerline of the bottom bracket axle or spindle. You can check this distance by putting your elbow on the nose of the saddle and your fingertips on the handlebars – they should just touch. Of course, if the frame or stem is the wrong size or you have a long/short arm it might not quite work. Another way to work it out is to put both pedal cranks into a horizontal position and make sure your kneecap is directly above the pedal spindle.
The saddle tilt is also important. If the nose is tilted down too much it will slide you onto the narrower part of the saddle, movement which then tends to be countered in the hands, putting the strain on your arms and shoulders. If it’s tilted up too much you’ll feel it in your genital area. The general rule is to set the saddle parallel to the ground however some women prefer a slight down-tilt (particularly if they use saddles designed for men) and men a slight up tilt, but this should be very small. Whatever position you want to try, test it out for a week or so, change it again slightly and try it again until it’s just right.
Theories and Best Practices
Get out there on the bike. The more you ride, the more your body will adapt to the bike and become stronger and more flexible. You will probably feel more comfortable, as well, without having to make extensive changes to your bike. There may also be the need for adjustments to the stem, bars, and cleats, however here are some proven methods for establishing the height of the saddle.
Scientific tests have proven that the most efficient saddle height is 109 percent of the inside leg measurement, although obviously there are variations for individual differences. This seems to give a good combination of both maximum muscle stretch and pedaling fluidity – a win-win. To get this measurement you need to measure the length of your leg on the inside from the floor to the crotch. Do this standing and without shoes on. Multiply this length by 109 percent and that will give you the length from the top of the saddle to the extended pedal at the bottom of the stroke (with the crank lined up with the seat tube).
If you find your current saddle height vastly different from this formula, then make the adjustment gradually. Do note that saddle height is something you will become accustomed to.
Three-time Tour de France winner Greg Lemond uses a formula to size bikes that was taught by French coach and ex-pro Cyrille Guimard. Guimard tested his Renault team members and discovered the traditional ways of setting up bikes resulted in a low saddle height. By raising the saddle he found the muscles were able to power the pedals better.
Lemond believes a combination of measurements is what establishes the right cycling position. These are saddle height, shoe cleats, fore-aft position, stem height and length, the right angle for the handlebars and brake levers. It is advised you get hold of Greg’s book, Greg Lemond’s Complete Book of Bicycling (1987) to fully understand his methods. However, the formula for frame size and saddle height are as follows:
Bike frame size (in cm) = inseam (cm) x 0.65*
* The original formula is sometimes now adjusted to 0.67 to fit modern bikes. Originally bikes were measured as center-to-center (center of the bottom bracket to the center of the top tube) but with today’s odd-sized tubing, sloping top-tubes, and other non-traditional geometries, center-to-top is more accurate.
Saddle height (cm) = inseam (cm) x 0.883
This is measured from the center of the bottom bracket to the low point of the top of your saddle. It assumes riders are wearing standard cycling shoes and your knees are bent at 15 degrees at the bottom of the pedal stroke.
Ideal knee bend (25% to 30%)
Knee pain is common with long-distance cyclists. If you experience knee pain, you may have the wrong seat height, incorrect gearing or a poor foot position. However, it is usually a low saddle that leads to overstraining the knees. While a saddle that is too high means you won’t be able to pedal at the bottom of the stroke efficiently and could even lose control of the bicycle.
The consensus seems to be that your knee should be over the pedal spindle, or at a 25-30 degree angle when the cranks are level, but again there can be individual differences.