One of the main characteristics and drawbacks of road bike riding is the fact you have to spend many hours dialling in your position before you’re truly comfortable. To get the best out of your bike, I would always recommend a professional bike fit, but if you’re a beginner or prefer doing it yourself, this should help.
Saddle height is an essential ingredient in bike fit that will influence how comfortable you feel, how confident you feel, how quickly you tire and how susceptible to injury you will be. In other words, it’s probably the most important aspect of bike fit.
There is on one height fits all with saddles. Much depends on the geometry of the bike, your age, height, inside leg measurement, flexibility and how you ride. You might have one leg longer than the other or have posture issues that might affect how comfortable you are. All these things makes setting saddle height very subjective.
Set the saddle to high and your legs will have to stretch on the down stroke and your hips will move too much. This can result in faster fatigue, lower back strain and too much pressure on the perineum. Set it too low and you won’t get full extension and power out of your legs, you will feel cramped and you may strain your knees.
Setting the height
There are several ways to set your saddle height. The simplest is to sit on the bike and place the ball of the foot onto the pedal at the 6 o’clock position. Set the saddle so there is a slight bend in the knee and then try it. It’s a rough way of assessing saddle height but can work. All you then need to do is get out on the bike and fettle it a little until you’re comfortable for long periods of time.
The 109% method uses your inseam measurement. Measure your inseam accurately and then add 9%. Use this to measure from the pedal axle at 6 o’ clock to the top of the saddle.
The LeMond method uses the same inseam measurement, only this time use 88.3% of that from centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the saddle.
All three of these measures are rough guides only. They the 109% method has the most credibility but doesn’t take variations in bone length into account. So if you have a long femur or foot, you might not get the best fit.
A more accurate method is to stand with a spirit level between your legs. Simulate the saddle with the level, hold it straight and measure from the top of the level straight down to the ground. Take off 100mm and you have a fairly accurate number. Apply that number from the centre of the bottom bracket to the very centre top of the saddle and set the height there.
There are more methods, such as the Homes method but it needs a special tool called a goniometer to be accurate. Other methods involve lots of maths and angles and are too complicated for my little brain. In the end, I went for a bike fit and one hour in the shop getting professionally fitted has lasted me over a year and 2,500 miles of pain free cycling.
If you’re planning to race or cover a lot of miles, a professional fit will do you wonders. However, these methods will give you enough to go on if you’re a beginner or are setting up a new bike.
How to tell if you get saddle height right
The simplest way to tell if you have your saddle set to the correct height is when you’re out for a few hours, feel comfortable and can get decent power down without any knee problems. If you feel comfortable, the saddle is right enough for now.
If you have any issues with your knees or pelvis, tweak the height a little.
- If your pelvis becomes uncomfortable lower the front angle of the saddle or raise your stem
- If the front of your knee becomes uncomfortable move the saddle up
- If the back of the knee becomes uncomfortable move the saddle down
- If the outside of the knee becomes uncomfortable move the saddle up or down and perhaps adjust your cleats. Change one thing at a time and give it a chance before trying something else
When it comes to making changes on a road bike, those changes are measured in millimetres. If you need to raise or lower your saddle, do it a couple of millimetres at a time. Then give it a few hours of saddle time to bed in. If you become uncomfortable right away, revert the changes and start again. Otherwise, give it a week or two before making more adjustments.
Only ever make one adjustment at a time too and give it time to get used to it. The average is three weeks to know if a saddle is right or not.
If you change your cleats or pedals, saddle, stem length or slam the bars, be prepared to revisit saddle height as a result. All those changes can influence how comfortable you are in a given position.
Also, be prepared to revisit your saddle height as you gain fitness and flexibility. If you’re comfortable and can get all your power down, there’s probably no need to bother but if you think you can adopt a more aggressive position now you’re fitter and more flexible, give it a try. Just record your original seat position before you change it so you can revert if necessary.