The Right and Wrong Way to Measure for Saddle Height
Committed cyclists can be particular about a lot of things, from their riding routine to their cleats of choice. None, however, provokes more fastidious tweaking than saddle height.
Get your saddle set at the wrong level, and you’ll pay the price in one form or another. Set it right, and you put yourself in a position to pedal with power and comfort, whether it’s for a couple of hours or a full day.
Unfortunately, many riders rely on the wrong kind of measurement to establish their saddle height, and they’re never quite in the right position for comfortable, efficient rides. As longtime cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie notes, it’s because they’re focused on the wrong part of the bike. And when it comes to saddle height, a simple, small shift goes a long way.
Why Saddle Height Matters
If you have a bit of experience pedaling, you’ve probably experienced first-hand why saddle height is such an important measurement for saddle positioning. If the saddle is too high, you’ll end up with pain or discomfort in the back of the knee. Too low, and you sacrifice some of your pedaling power — just a few millimeters could lead you to fall behind weaker cyclists on hills.
Even if you get a bike fit when you purchase a new bicycle and have a perfectly dialed-in saddle height, you may experience what Coach Darryl calls “bike fit creep.” Over time, your weight changes, you put on more layers or you buy new cleats, and suddenly your positioning is just a little off.
When that happens, it won’t take long for you to notice. You’ll either come home from a ride with sore knees or feel you’ve been just a little slower on the climbs, and that should be a red flag that it’s time to reset your saddle height. But how do you know where to put it?
Two Ways to Measure Saddle Height
There are two ways to measure saddle height, and one of them is far more accurate. Essentially, when setting your saddle height, you’ve got to learn to think like a bike coach, not a bike seller.
Bike sellers generally focus on their product: the bike. They tend to measure saddle height based on the distance between the bottom bracket and the top of the saddle. Although this provides some guidance, this method inherently falls short.
“When a cycling coach does a bike fit, they think cyclist, not bike,” says Coach Darryl. “They concentrate on making adjustments to the bike based on where the cyclist connects with the bike at the pedal, not the bottom bracket.”
The correct bike fit is thus from the top of your pedal — in its lowest position — to the top of the saddle. This method of measuring saddle height ensures that you have the right knee angle at your fullest point of extension at the bottom of your pedal rotation.
How Saddle Height Varies
Because this measurement is specific to the pedals and the cyclist, it can vary from bike to bike or change over time.
In some cases, you may have two bikes with identical frames that require different saddle positioning. Why? Because the crank length — the distance from the center of the pedal crank to the center of the pedal — is different. If one bike’s crank is 2.5 millimeters longer than the other, the saddle must be 2.5 millimeters lower on that bike to account for the longer distance from pedal to saddle.
Similarly, a change in pedals may necessitate a shift in saddle height. Darryl experienced this a few years ago when SpeedPlay pedals changed their stack height (pedal thickness) to incorporate a power meter. Thicker pedals meant his legs weren’t stretching quite as far, and he had to adjust his saddle height upward to offset this distance. Changing saddles would have the same effect.
Even subtle changes from season to season may necessitate saddle height adjustments. We already mentioned weight changes, but the extra padding of socks and cycling pants in winter may be enough to change the distance between the bottom of your feet and the saddle.
Don’t Get This Critical Measurement Wrong
A saddle height measurement that starts from the bottom bracket can’t account for any of these nuances. That fixed point never changes — it stays the same regardless of what the cyclist is wearing, what pedals they use, or how their body changes.
By measuring from the pedal to the saddle, you get a precise placement for saddle height. That placement can be adjusted to fit changes in your body or gear, and it can be transferred from bike to bike. And that precision makes all the difference when you’re looking for pedaling power and maximum riding comfort.
Changing saddles can significantly affect how high your saddle should be. Learn how to choose the right saddle so you never have to think about this variable again.
Look for more of Darryl’s insights at his website.
Photo by Yomex Owo on Unsplash