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Getting the Saddle Height Right to Burn Hills and Go Faster

Part of the problem of cycling pains comes down to getting the right bike fitting, and a big part of that is getting the saddle height right.  And you have probably heard that you should be sat on the bike with your knee slightly bent at the bottom of the stroke.  But there is a huge variance on what is possible with that sort of guideline. And here’s the great news: get the saddle height right and you go faster and can cycle longer, as well as avoiding injuries. This short post guides you through the setup, and why you need to do it.

Joints are the name of the game, and making sure that you aren’t going to hurt with miles in the saddle.  You need to get your angle right for your knees, which relies on cleat angle.  You need to get your lean over just right, whether you are after the more relaxed angles of a tourer, or else a racier lean over which needs stretch.  What is for sure is the power to the wheels is going to come through your legs, and that needs an optimum set up.

Get too cramped up and your legs won’t work properly.  There is a certain elasticity that I have noticed that your legs want to return back to their starting point when they flex just a little.  if you go for a light run, then you’ll notice that you don’t kick your heels up quite the same.  Go for a walk and that’s certainly true.

If you are weight training, then you should know that you shouldn’t over extend on your moves because joints weaken the more that they are pushed to their extremes.  Just as importantly, your muscles are their strongest when they are most contracted/at their shortest.

So it is that if you are cycling, sitting in a squat position on your bike, which i noticed someone sat on their bike today was doing, isn’t going to make the most of this return energy nor will it work for your muscles if they are over stretched.  What I am saying is this: when you are at the weakest point in your down stroke, pedal just crossing into the 1 o’clock position, then you want to give your downstroke the maximum potential to move you forwards, so your muscle needs to be as short as is practical.  Taking this further, you need to be as far away from your pedal as possible at this point.  Then in terms of the upstroke, which assists the downstroke even though it is not as powerful, your leg wants to be stretched so that it naturally will want to flick back up with elasticity movement rather than energy working power.

Work with you body.

But there is of course a problem, and that is if you over reach then you will hurt yourself, and begin to work against your own efficiency.  So where is the point of the happy medium?

Well I got a bike fitting when I went to get my Cannondale Caad10, and I brought that print off home the other day – yes, I had left it in the bike shop!  I had had a problem with the saddle, it sank on me when I was out and about a couple of weeks back!  So I got out the new torque wrench I bought, and went with paper in hand and a tape measure.  Sure enough I had raised it back to the wrong limit.  Why do I tell you this?  Well there is a rough and ready way of checking your saddle height to make sure you can find the right happy medium.  That is, one where you get an efficient stroke but you aren’t over reaching.  And the rough measure came out exactly the same as the bike fit!

1) Your saddle shouldn’t be so high that you are rocking your hips to be able to reach the bottom of the down stroke.

2) You should be sat in your cycling position on your bike, and when your pedal is at its extreme position away from your hip, put your HEEL on the pedal, and not your toe.  Your leg should be dead straight.  Check with the other leg.

Don’t forget, you might have to adjust your cleat.  Also, if you have to move the saddle along way to get the fit of your saddle right, then just move it a small amount, ride it for a while, do some stretching exercises, then extend it again.  This way you are giving your body a chance to adjust.

So if you can’t get or can’t afford a bike fitting, use this easy method.

One more warning: don’t raise your saddle beyond the limit of your stem.  If necessary, buy a longer stem.  At 5’9” I have a 52cm frame, and the saddle is as high as it will go, but this gives me a great racing position.  Also, with the right height I burn hills.