Bike Shorts: 4 Bike Positions To Check if You’re Uncomfortable on a Bike
Positioning is critical for a cyclist. When you spend hours on the road every week, even minor misalignments between your body and the bike can magnify and cause significant problems.
If you’re out of position on the bike, your saddle is the most likely culprit. But you won’t necessarily feel the effects of an incorrect bike position in your butt. The consequences might show up there, but you could also experience discomfort or other issues in several other areas.
“Bad saddle positioning can ruin an otherwise great ride,” says longtime cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie.
He even notes that discomfort in your hands is more likely tied to bike saddle positioning than to your handlebars. So, if you can’t get comfortable on the bike, you need to look at these four things before you make any adjustments to your handlebars.
How High Are You Sitting?
Telltale Signs: Discomfort in the front of the knee, lack of climbing power, pain in the back of the knee
If you’re experiencing issues in your knee or struggling to find climbing power on hills, the first thing you should check is your saddle height. Adequate height is key to achieving the correct sitting position on the bike saddle. A saddle that’s too low will definitely reduce your climbing power and cause some discomfort or pain in the front of your knee from repetitive motion. If it’s too high, you’ll feel it in the back of your knee from having to stretch your leg too far.
“This is everything as far as the cyclist is concerned,” says Coach Darryl.
To get the saddle height correct, you’ll want a knee angle that reaches 30–35 degrees when fully extended on the pedal. To measure that angle, you need to compare your leg on the bike to what it would be if it were fully straightened — so it’s a 30-35 degree difference between the two. Adjusting your saddle up or down will reduce or enlarge the angle, respectively.
Is Your Knee Lined Up With the Pedal?
Telltale Signs: Lack of pedaling strength, discomfort in the front of the knee
This second set of issues has to do with your saddle’s front-to-back positioning on its rails. If the bike is positioned too far back, you’ll feel like you’re pedaling on a recumbent bike, where every stroke feels a little less productive than it should be.
It’s more common, though, for your saddle will be too far forward. When this is the case, you’re pedaling slightly backward at the bottom of your stroke. Similar to having your saddle too low, this takes away a lot of your pedaling power and can lead to discomfort in the front of your knee.
When your saddle position is just right on a road bike, your front knee will be slightly behind the pedal when your pedals are parallel to the ground (at nine and three on the clock).
Is Your Saddle Centered?
Telltale Signs: Generally unable to get comfortable, slight reduction in pedaling power
One particularly sneaky issue that many cyclists don’t notice is the side-to-side angle of their saddle. If the nose is pointing to the left or right, it will actually make one of your knees farther forward than the other. This issue affects your bicycle’s pedal position, making pedaling awkward and uncomfortable, and can reduce your power.
In most cases, you want the saddle nose to be perfectly centered with the bolt in the middle of your steering tube. The only exceptions to this are that some women and people with one leg longer than the other will prefer it slightly off-center.
How’s Your Saddle’s Pitch?
Telltale Signs: Sit-bone pressure, saddle sores, pain in the hands
The final bike saddle positioning issue produces a different set of problems than the other three. If your saddle nose is pitched too high, you’ll be sliding backward on the saddle. This bike position puts pressure on your sit bones and can lead to saddle sores. Conversely, if the nose is pitched too far downward, your weight slides forward, putting pressure on your hands and wrists as you hold the handlebars.
For most saddles, you really want the pitch to be perfectly flat and level with the bike. However, on a Selle Anatomica saddle, it’s better to raise the nose up slightly — just 2–3 degrees — to ensure the leather can create the proper hammock for your buttocks.
For full details on these and other saddle positioning tips, see our “Complete Guide to Bike Saddle Adjustments.”
Look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.
Image courtesy of Bilenky Cycle Works