Getting Your Saddle Height…Right!!

 

Why Is Saddle Height So Tricky!?

It’s a constant source of confusion and frustration…what should your saddle height be?

I experimented mainly within about a 10mm range for most of the time, up and down from around the 78cm mark (measured from the centre of the BB to the top of the saddle along the line of the seat tube).

I did occasionally stray even higher. Now I’m a bike fitter I cringe at a few. photos and videos with me using seat heights around 80-81cm…WAY too high for me.

For reference…I’m now pretty dialled in and I use 7.5mm shorter cranks and my seat is at 76.8cm!! So roughly 1.2cm lower than my average used and that’s with 165mm cranks instead of the 172.5’s.

So why is it so hard to figure out! I’ll try and explain what I’ve learned over the years and how to avoid the big mistakes.

Why are Most People Setting it Too High?

The reason I decided to write this post is that I’m constantly seeing people posting/asking for bike fit and aero fit advice on  Facebook and the overwhelming majority have a seat that is not just a bit high,  but WAY too high!

There seems to be a thought that a higher saddle means more power. I definitely fell into that trap. When you think about it, that makes no sense!! The most power will come from having your saddle at the correct height for you.

I think some of the issue comes from the mistaken belief that you’ll get more power from your glutes if you are higher…or maybe more that people think if you are too low, you can’t take advantage of your glutes…either way, it’s a mistake.

 

What Does the Research Say?

As is very common with scientific research, it’s very hard to get any kind of consensus. I’ve read every paper I could find on seat height for cycling (there’s a lot!) for my dissertation. Most of them are testing or trying to establish formulas. Now, these will get you close…especially if anatomically ‘normal’ as the middle of the bell curve is usually served pretty well by this approach.

The too most common measure the distance to your crotch from the floor or your greater trochanter from the floor and then multiply that number by their standard and like magic, that’s your seat height.

However, if you aren’t they actually perform quite badly! I have a few issues with them. They don’t take into account how long your feet are or how much you point your toes when you pedal…both very important!! They also don’t consider the impact of different tibia/femur lengths. You may have the exact same leg length as someone, but a completely different ratio between the bones, it WILL affect things.

It’s become more popular in recent years of practice and research to use knee flexion angle to determine saddle height. This makes a bit more sense as it’s on the bike. Originally,  I was taught static measurement, where you stop the rider at the bottom of the stroke and take measurements and it has to be within a certain range.  Though a lot of research finds this to be quite effective, I’m not a big fan.  Way too many things can go wrong with the measure and again…looking at norms…WHAT IS NORMAL??

The other way is dynamic knee flexion angle, which makes more sense again because at least they are pedalling. This is done with markers on the knee and video cameras like the Vicon system.

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So How do I Find Saddle Height

As a starting point, it’s best to get yourself a video of you riding from the side and the back. This gives you a chance to see how you look.

Ride – Review – Repeat

Then it’s all process, video a ride, review, adjust repeat. Make sure you are very methodical so you know the measurement when you start, so you can put it back the same again if you want. Also, you need to know how much you are changing it. You can learn a lot from this process, but online if you measure carefully and know what you’ve done.

What are you Looking for?

This is the key really! What are you looking for on the video?

It’s hard to boil it down, but if there were only 2 things I’d look at the knee and the pelvis.

For the knee, I’m looking to see the maximum and minimum knee flexion angle. Steve Hogg has a great post on his blog about this. You need the knee to stay under control through the bottom of the pedal stroke. If the saddle is too high, the rider will lose control and the knee will kind of ‘flick’ through the bottom of the stroke…that’s not good. If you see this, lower the saddle a few mm and re-test…keep going until it is under control and you will be much better.

The keystone of cycling is the pelvis and if it’s unstable you will be wasting a lot of energy that could be helping you go faster!

Excessive movement of the pelvis in any direction is not good, so again, adjust, re-test and review until you see the movement of the pelvis settle down.

There are a lot of influences on the body outside of this (feet, cleat, etc), so you will only get so far, but if you get your seat height close it will help your cycling enormously!!

 

Don’t Just Ride EASY!!

It winds me up when people post videos online asking for bike fit advice and they are clearly doing about 30 Watts!!! Unless that’s all you can do and is what you will ride and train at…you need to go harder…A LOT HARDER!!!

Kinematics change as you ride harder, so you need to have a look at some different intensities. To start with I’d say it makes sense to ride at an endurance pace and get close to what you think is a good saddle height. Then you need to start ramping it up to get it closer and make sure your position holds up as you ride harder. If it doesn’t, make very small adjustments now and see how it goes. If you have a power meter you can be fairly objective about the riding intensity, which helps.

 

 

 

Summary

I’m a bike fitter, so it’s no surprise I think a bike fit is a good idea. But there are some simple things you can do to make sure you don’t get yourself into too much trouble with injuries. Trial and error, combined with a methodical approach will get you a long way and you will learn a lot, so can be valuable in the long run.

Any questions, feel free to comment below or email coach@summitcyclecoaching.co.uk

 

 

 

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Getting Your Saddle Height Right!!

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