Bike seat height is the starting point on bike fit and the positive impact of doing it right is huge.
There are a lot of bike seat height methods out there and trust me after 20 years of riding I’ve tried them all. The majority of them aren’t even worth the try.
With the advice of bike fitters and sports physiotherapists, I boiled them down in a step-by-step guide.
To add flavor to our brew you’ll also find how to set your seat fore/aft position in this guide.
To start on the right foot, before we even touch our seat we need to make sure your cleat position is spot on. Cleat position affects seat height directly so if they are wrong, to begin with, your bike seat height will be wrong too.
They are not? Check out this cleat position guide.
They are? Let’s ride on!
What are you going to learn? The brewing recipe:
- How to know that your bike seat height is wrong?
- Benefits of a well-adjusted bike seat height
- The easiest bike seat height method
- The most efficient bike seat height method for all types of bikes
- The perfect fore/aft seat position
- The finish line
How to know that your bike seat height is wrong?
A bad bike seat height will translate into pain. Knee pain is the most common type but it will also reduce your power and your muscles will get tired faster.
If your seat is too low you’ll feel pain in the front of the knee and the back if it is too high.
Pain can also appear in the hamstrings due to overextension.
Signs may vary from person to person but you see the trend now, if it hurts it is wrong!
If you rock as you pedal, your seat is too high so you’ll need to roll your hips to reach the pedals. Get a friend to watch you while riding and return the favor.
Benefits of a well-adjusted bike seat height
Increased power output – Release the beast!
The right length between the seat and the pedals will put you in that sweet spot where your knees don’t bend more than 30%.
The muscles’ energy will be better distributed without putting excessive pressure or overextension in the knees.
You’ll be able to control all the range of movement for every stroke.
Helps to avoid long-term injuries and improves comfort
The position will be more natural for the mechanics of the body. Which in the long term will produce fewer injuries and your comfort will increase.
The easiest bike seat height method
Straight to the point, the simplest bike seat height method is the heel-to-pedal method.
It doesn’t take into consideration everything that can affect your bike seat height, but it will take you very close to the sweet spot.
Here is how to do it:
- Gear up: Especially put on your cycling shoes and shorts to avoid miscalculations.
- Get your bike still and balanced: With the help of a friend, stationary trainer, a doorway, or leaning against a wall.
- Hop on the bike: Once on the bike assure that you are safe and place your heel on the pedal.
- Put pedals into 6 and 12 o’clock positions: If you aren’t on a stationary trainer, pedal backward to get the right position.
- Check your leg position and knee bend: Your leg at 6 o’clock should be fully extended. If your knee bends, that means your seat is low and if you can’t reach the pedal or rock to do it your seat is too high.
- Repeat: Change the bike seat height accordingly (a few inches at a time) and repeat the process until you get it right!
Then give it a try, go for a ride and see how you feel, always listen to your body, your comfort is always first.
*Warning: Respect the manufacturer´s height recommendation as raising the seat beyond can make the bike unstable or even break. If you need to go beyond this point your bike size is too small.
The most efficient bike seat height method for all types of bikes
The 109% method has been proven by scientists to be the most efficient. as it will give you maximum fluidity while pedaling and the right muscle stretch.
What makes this method so accurate compared to others like .883? The answer is simple, it is because it takes into account the crank length.
For this bike seat height method to work we are going to need to take some measurements and some items.
What do we need?
- Metric tape measure: Centimeters are better for this purpose
- Book: One with a thick binding
Nothing complicated right? Ok, let’s get to it. Here is how:
- Put on your cycling shorts, barefooted or with your cycling socks.
- Stand near a wall with feet shoulder-width apart.
- Put the book between your legs. Where the seat normally sits at the bottom of your bike shorts and hold it.
- Put the binding of the book against the wall, and make a pencil mark right on top of the book. If you don’t want a childish piece of art on your wall, get someone to help you do the mark.
- Measure the distance between the floor and the mark and voila! you have your inseam measurement.
- Multiply your inseam measurement by 1.09, write down the result. This is your bike seat height.
- Put the bike pedals at a further distance from the seat. In road bikes, the pedals should be aligned with the seat tube. If you have another type of bike, imagine a straight line between the seat tube and the pedals.
- Measure from the top of the pedal to the top of your seat. Right in the center of your seat post head that holds the saddle rails.
- Adjust your seat to your proper seat height.
Tip: If you are going to rent or borrow a bike bring your tape measure to adjust your seat properly.
The perfect fore/aft seat position
Before adjusting your seat fore/aft make sure handlebars and stems are right. Bike positions are like a spider web, if you pull one end everything else changes at the other.
Why is the most popular method wrong?
Yes, I’m talking about the knee over pedal method. Which consists of aligning them with a cord attached to a plumb.
Having the perfect seat fore/aft position is very tricky. Everybody is different and things like:
- The length of your tibia or femur.
- Your optimal cleat position.
- A protuberance on your knee.
These small variations in your body will impact the proper position and void the other methods.
Let’s see what to look for to know if your seat is in a bad position.
Seat too far forward:
The most common issues that you’ll notice when your seat is too far forward are:
- Less hamstring control of the bottom of the stroke
- A lot of weight on your hands (you’ll feel it after 20 or 30 minutes ride)
- High quadriceps burn when doing a hard VO2 max
- No hamstring fatigue at all (considering that your seat height and cleats are right)
Seat too far back
Unusual things will happen if your seat is too far back like:
- Feet getting numb because you need to toe the pedal aggressively.
- Upper hamstring pain on both sides because of the large duration of crank rotation.
- Quads don’t burn up much unless going up a hill. Some people may experience the exact opposite due to their physiology.
- Problem reaching out the bars (having to project your shoulders forward)
- No weight on hands but having to lock your elbows.
Now that you know what to look for and to avoid let’s jump and set it
Setting up your for/aft position – Its all about balance
This method is going to need a little bit of experimentation so we can find the effective seat setback or effective pelvis position.
It is better to do it with a stationary trainer. If you don’t have one don’t worry you can go for a ride, avoid steep roads for the experiment.
- Set your seat all the way back.
- If you are in a trainer do a 20-minute load ride for 3 to 5 minutes.
- In a trainer: do a balance test, put your hands back to your waist, if you can maintain the position with a slight tendency to lean forward or a slight increase in your rhythm without feeling you are going to faceplant, and your hands feel light, then your seat is pretty close to where it should be.
- On the road: do a 20-minute ride and look for the common issues of a bad seat position we saw before in this section.
- If your balance is not right or you are seeing the issues, move your seat 5 mm forward and repeat steps 2 and 3.
You know that you nail the position because:
- Your hamstrings engage nicely with smooth control of the bottom of the stroke.
- You don’t feel your quads are doing all the work and the balance in your hands feels the lightest.
The finish line
Sometimes having the perfect bike fit can get difficult. If you are having troubles, feeling pain, or want to compete the best option is to go with a pro.
Position on the bike will affect your experience enormously while riding and even after. Make sure to check it constantly to avoid long-term issues or injuries.
Next step: Handlebar reach and drop
Remember to always first listen to your body and take advice from qualified pros. Whatever works for your friends is not always the best for you. So keep that in mind.