How to Set Your Saddle Height – The Ultimate Guide

Setting the saddle height correctly is one of the most important adjustments a biker needs to make in order to achieve the optimal cycling experience. This article will help you find the right saddle height for you. Adjusting the saddle height properly in your bike will in turn result in more enjoyable rides without unnecessary injuries and pain. It will also eliminate inefficiency and allow you to focus all your energy on longer rides and pushing yourself.

Saddle height refers to the distance between the centre of the bottom bracket and the center of the saddle. It is the first adjustment you should make in your bike to ensure you are not exposing yourself to additional dangers of long-term injuries and uncomfortable rides. We went through various articles and tried out the methods ourselves to compile a thorough list of options that worked for us. But before we jump into that, here is a list of tell-tale signs your saddle height is wrong:

Signs your saddle height is off

  1. Knee pain: If your saddle is too high or too low, you will feel it in your knees. It’s one of the most common signs that your saddle height is wrong. 
  2. Pain in the hamstrings: A saddle that is too high may result in discomfort in hamstrings. The biker would have to extend his leg while riding more than he optimally would have in order to pedal.
  3. Position while riding: The biker might move excessively on the saddle if it’s too high in order to reach the pedals. This would include rocking and rolling of the hips.

Finding Your Optimal Saddle Height

1# Heel-to-pedal

This is the method recommended by former pro-rider Jimmy George in the CyclingWeekly article titled: “How to set your saddle height: a beginner’s guide” (https://www.cyclingweekly.com/fitness/bike-fit/set-saddle-height-how-to-25379). It basically centers around what feels optimal when you take a riding position and is considered the gold standard by George.

In order to find your saddle height this way, get on your bike while wearing flat shoes you plan to ride in and unclip. Your heel should be in the middle of the pedal, and the pedal should be positioned all the way at the bottom so that the crank is in line with the seat tube. The crank arm’s position should almost be an extension of the seat tube when you look at it from the side and should point downward. Your correct saddle height is one where you can reach the pedal in this position without having to roll your hips. Your legs should be completely straight when you do reach it. Your legs should bend slightly when you clip in. 

Saddle Fore/Aft

In the same article, George also recommends checking what he calls “layback”. The back of the knee should be in line with the ball of your foot when looking at it from the side (It would help to have a friend to check this one for you) and the ball of the foot should be above the pedal axle. If this is not the case even though your leg is straight and the height feels okay, you might have to adjust the saddle fore/aft, which refers to where the saddle is situated on the rails. This is also an important adjustment that will affect your comfort and health as a biker. Another way to check if the saddle is positioned correctly for you is to see if your knee is directly above the pedal spindle when the crank arm is at a 3 o’clock position. The general consensus among bikers regarding knee bend seems to be that your knee should be at a 25-30 degree angle when the cranks are level. If you do end up moving the saddle forward or backward, make sure the saddle height still works for you using the above-mentioned saddle height test as adjusting saddle fore/aft can lead to minute changes in height as well.

The rest is essentially trial and error. Once you’re done with this process, check how comfortable you feel on your rides and adjust your saddle based on your riding experience. Each time you make a change ask yourself if your cycling improved since changing your saddle height and make adjustments based on that. The chances are you will not require major changes if you did the initial measurement correctly.

#2 LeMond Formula

This is a mathematical formula that determines what your saddle height should be based on your inseam measurement. It was named after and used by three-time-Tour-de-France-winner Greg Lemond, who learned it from his mentor and ex-pro Cyrille Guimard. Saddle height, to reiterate, is the distance between the center of the bottom bracket and the midpoint of the top of the saddle. Inseam is an inner leg measurement that tells you how high your crotch is from the floor when you are standing straight. The best way to measure it is to place a book inside your thighs, spine of the book facing upwards while standing straight with your back to the wall and your feet 6-8” (15-20 cm) apart. Make sure the placement of the book is as high as possible without causing discomfort. Then take a pencil and mark the highest point where the book makes contact with the wall and measure the distance of the marked point from the floor. This gives you your inseam measurement. Multiply it by 0.883 to find your saddle height per the LeMond Method.

Saddle Height = Inseam Length * 0.883

LeMond method is formulaic and easy to apply especially if you know your inseam length already but it might not necessarily give very accurate results. People with the very same inseam length will not benefit equally from the same saddle height. LeMond method doesn’t take into consideration things like the biker’s flexibility, muscle tension and movement. So you can view this calculated saddle height as a beginning point. Similar to the heel-to-pedal method, be ready to make future adjustments based on how your rides feel.

LeMond has a formula for bike frame size based on inseam length as well, which states:

Bike Frame Size = Inseam Length * 0.65

According to an article on ebicycles.com titled: “Determining Your Bicycle Saddle Height” (https://www.ebicycles.com/article/determining-your-bicycle-saddle-height/), 0.65 is sometimes replaced with 0.67 to be in line with modern day bike measurements. For a thorough guide on finding your bike size and using online bike size calculators, head on over to our article titled: “How to Find Your Bike Size” (https://cyclesimply.com/how-to-find-your-bike-size/). 

109% Formula

This is another mathematical formula that determines what your saddle height should be based on your inseam length. To use this method, we multiply the inseam length by 109% to arrive at saddle height. Saddle height, for the purposes of this formula, refers to the distance from the top of the saddle to the extended pedal when it’s in a 6 o’clock position. Hence, the difference between the coefficients of the LeMond Formula and the 109% formula (0.883 vs. 1.09). The definition of saddle height varies across the two methods. Similar to the LeMond Formula, we would recommend treating the result from this formula as an approximation. For a lot of people, it’s not an exact science and they don’t find their optimal saddle height from a formula right away. It’s an ongoing process where bikers take note of what feels better for them when they go cycling and make adjustments accordingly.

#4 Online Saddle Height Calculator

If you are into formulaic methods for finding optimal saddle height, another alternative is this online saddle height calculator on ebicycles.com. (https://www.ebicycles.com/bicycle-tools/saddle-height/) The good thing about this calculator is that it differentiates between different bike types. You can utilize this calculator to find the optimal saddle height for road, mountain, BMX and even kids bikes. The kind of measurements needed to calculate your saddle height depends on the bike type you pick but every one of them requires you to input your gender so it differentiates between male and female riders as well. The measurements needed to calculate your saddle height for each bike type are listed below (this is based on the current version of the calculator, recorded on July 14, 2021):

  1. Road Bike: Height (in), Leg Length (in)
  2. Mountain Bike: Height (in), Leg Length (in)
  3. BMX: Height (in)
  4. Kids Bike: Height (in), Leg Length (in)

Other Adjustments to Make

We already mentioned one of the biggies, saddle fore/aft, in our explanation of the first method to find your saddle height: “Heel-to-pedal”. Setting the position of the saddle correctly could mean the difference between an uncomfortable ride and a comfortable one. More importantly, setting it wrong could result in long-term injuries, which we certainly want to avoid. In this section we will briefly touch on other adjustments you could make to achieve the best riding experience possible.

Saddle Tilt

As the name suggests, saddle tilt refers to how your sadle is angled. If the saddle is tilted too downward, this will cause you to slide down your saddle towards the narrower part. This will lead to discomfort in your upper body as you try to support your weight putting pressure on your hands on the handlebar. If the saddle is tilted up too much, you could feel pain in your bottom and have an awkward posture while cycling. A good place to start is to have it parallel to the ground. Some riders prefer theirs slightly upward or downward tilting but not too much. You could adjust your saddle based on how your rides feel afterwards.

Crank Length

Cranks are essentially the levers attached to the pedals and they are measured as the distance between the centre of the bottom bracket axle and the center of the pedal axle. The most common crank lengths are 170 mm (for small bike frames), 172.5 mm (for medium bike frames) and 175 mm (for large bike frames). For a lot of bikers, their optimal crank length lies somewhere between 170mm and 175mm even though they have different heights and inseam measurements. Therefore it shouldn’t come as a surprise that according to Phil Burt, “There are likely wrong crank lengths for you, but not necessarily a right one”. (https://www.bikeradar.com/advice/sizing-and-fit/what-is-the-best-crank-length-for-cycling/)

In the same article on bikeradar.com, Phil Burt explains that when it comes to crank length issues, bikers suffer from problems that usually have to do with the crank being too long but he doesn’t come across a lot of problems stemming from shorter-than-typical cranks. However, if you do want to know what your optimal crank length, there is a study by J. C. Martin and W. W. Spirduso title: “Determinants of maximal cycling power: crank length, pedaling rate and pedal speed” which provides a formula you can use. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11417428/). According to their findings, the optimal crank length is “20% of leg length or 41% of tibia length.” However, the same study does mention that using the typical 170mm crank length shouldn’t compromise most adult bikers’ maximum power too substantially. Ultimately, the best crank length for you will not only depend on your body measurements but also on your cycling style and preferences. We did provide the formula here just so you can see for yourself if your calculated optimal crank length is in line with what you already have and experiment with it if you feel like it.

Conclusion

We want to reiterate the point that no two bikers are the same and one method that works for a biker might not work for the next one. You could find the perfect saddle height for yourself within a week of starting to cycle and for others it could take longer. It’s important to acknowledge that for most people, it’s an ongoing process of trial and error. Therefore, a biker should ask himself if he feels like there’s some room for improvement when he goes on rides. Maybe he feels lowering or elevating the saddle height slightly will improve his cycling experience. This way he can make that adjustment and see if he feels more comfortable on his next ride.

Regardless we feel that there’s some value in not going into it completely blind and this article provides a good starting point. Now if you think you have a good idea of what your saddle height should approximately be, you can adjust your saddle accordingly and embark on this journey.

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