Making life easier… (10) Saddle up?

Correct saddle height is the most important adjustment you can make to your bike. Many cyclists don’t realise their saddle is too low. This short article points out the signs of poor saddle height adjustment and tell you how to work out your ideal saddle height.

Image as described adjacent
Your leg should have a slight bend when you pedal with the ball of the foot

Signs of a low saddle

Can you quite easily touch the ground without getting off the saddle when you stop at junctions? Is pedalling hard work? Do the backs of your legs ache after you’ve been riding? Do you pedal with your heel or instep? If you can answer ‘yes’ to any of the these questions, your saddle probably needs raising. It’s quite a common problem: children learn to ride with lowered saddles and sometimes saddles aren’t raised as frequently as they should be. Being able to touch the ground while seated can then become second nature.

The right height

The simple fact is that pedalling is most efficient (and most comfortable) when the pedal is under the BALL of the foot (that’s about 1/3 of the way back from your toes), and not the heel or the instep. This means that your legs are almost – but not completely – fully extended at the bottom of each stroke, ensuring that leg muscles are fully used without being over-stretched. This also lets you use your ankles too. All this means that, when you come to a halt, you need to slip forward off the saddle to get your feet on the ground. Simply hop up onto the saddle as you push off!

Image as described adjacent Image as described adjacent Image as described adjacent
Where the pedal should be for efficient pedalling! The pedal shouldn’t be under the instep The pedal shouldn’t be under the heel

A correctly adjusted saddle lets you completely straighten your leg while your HEEL is on the pedal (when the pedal is furthest away from the saddle). Incidentally, having your saddle at this height naturally deters you from pedalling with your heels or insteps on the pedals. In the 60s, researchers at Loughborough found that optimal saddle height (from top of saddle to top of pedal in its furthest position) was 109% of a cyclist’s inside-leg measurement. Use both of these guidelines to work out your ideal saddle height.

Image as described adjacent
Correct saddle height test: make sure that you can completely straighten your leg with the heel on the pedal

Adjusting saddle height

If you need to radically change your saddle height, make the adjustments gradually so that your body has time to adapt! To move the saddle, start by loosening the seat post, which is secured with either a binder-bolt or with a quick-release clamp. Then, while you twist the saddle to and fro, move it to the correct height, partially re-tighten and re-check the height. Make sure that the nose of saddle ends up pointing exactly to the front. If you find your seat post very difficult to turn, try letting some lubricant spray (like WD-40) penetrate between the seat post and the frame tube, then try again.

When you are satisfied with your saddle height, tighten the binder-bolt or quick-release clamp tight enough that the saddle cannot be twisted by hand. With a quick-release system, start with the lever ‘open’ (perpendicular to the frame), tighten the clamp nut finger tight then close the lever in towards the frame. If you can still twist the saddle in the closed position, you need to tighten the clamp nut even more.

Image as described adjacent Image as described adjacent
If you can see this safety mark, your saddle is extended too far Quick release seat clamp-bolt
Image as described adjacent Image as described adjacent
Hexagonal (Allen) seat clamp-bolt Traditional seat clamp-bolt

If you cannot get your saddle high enough without the seat post safety-limit mark becoming visible, you need a longer seat post. Lightly smearing a seat post with grease before fitting into the frame helps prevent it ‘freezing’ into one position.

Now, time to try out your new saddle height. It usually feels a bit strange at first but persevere: you’ll soon notice how much easier riding has become!