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Cycling: Bicycle Saddle Height – One Millimeter Can Change A LOT…

June 2014
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Wednesday my bike was in the shop to have a rather annoying ticking sound investigated and the mechanic had his shoes with him so he could ride it around the block after each attempt at fixing the Godforsaken clicking… To do get on the bike comfortably though, he had to lower the saddle a lot.

Now, my seat post came with factory centimeter marks and hash marks at every half.  My saddle sits at 12-1/4.  I know this spot, to the millimeter, by sight, no additional marker or tape lines necessary so when I checked where Mike put the post when he raised it back up, I knew looking at it that he was a millimeter high.  I had Specialized’s most intensive (non-pro) fitting done on my Venge so the saddle height was perfect, a perfect blend of power and comfort…  And I’ve got thousands of fast miles on the bike with that setup.

So, what does raising the saddle up one millimeter do?

First, most notably and counterintuitively, with the saddle a little higher I can’t get my head as low when I’m riding in the drops.  On one hand this isn’t exactly a bad thing:  With the post-fitting setup I was almost flat so I had a tougher time craning my neck to see down the road.  On the other, riding with the saddle lower was more efficient (*only from an aerodynamics standpoint but I’ll get there in a minute) and comfortable when in the drops.

Second, I could feel a real difference on the sit bones – I felt a little more “connected” to the bike.  It wasn’t bad, just different, but with that slight change in position a great deal of the pedal stroke on my quads (front of the “thigh”).  With the lower saddle height, again just one millimeter, the workload was more evenly distributed around and down my legs.  I’m on the fence about this though.  Enough, in fact, that I’m considering keeping it the way it is for a week or two…  While my quads tired out a little bit easier on my ride yesterday evening, and I can really feel it this morning, I was noticeably faster as well.  I felt like I had a little more power on the best part of the pedal stroke.  That may sound good at first but, and this is important, I had notably less power at the bottom of each pedal stroke.

As far as any “pain” goes, after just one ride there’s nothing out of the ordinary other than my quads being a little effort-sore.

With all of that said, most recreational cyclists wouldn’t feel a difference if their saddle was raised or lowered by a millimeter – but that’s not the point.  The point is raising or lowering the saddle by as little as a millimeter does make a difference.  If one can accept that, one can grasp just how important the initial bike fitting is.  Everything matters.  Handlebar width, stem length, stem height, saddle height, crank arm length, saddle fore/aft position, cleat position, cleat shims (if one leg is longer than the other, enough that the difference can’t be split with saddle height).  While it is possible for a non-pro, who understands the concepts involved in the bike fit, to get into a fairly comfortable and efficient position on the bike, a true fitting pro can dial that in to virtual perfection.  In fact, on my fitting I had everything perfect except for the saddle height – I was two millimeters too high.

UPDATE: I lowered the saddle after my morning ride. Just one millimeter, on the nose. I was also remiss in not stating the obvious in my post: Part of my problem is that I’ve been training in the exact same position for almost a year now – I’m used to my saddle height, therefore anything different, even a little bit, feels a mile off.


6 Comments

  1. Never had a proper bike fit, but my knee was getting a bit sore underneath, raised the saddle by 1 mm – sorted.

    • bgddyjim says:

      Oh they’re nice! I thought I had mind set up perfect till I got that fitting done. Lowered the saddle (no pain whatsoever) and found a a lot of power I’d been missing out on at the bottom of the pedal stroke.

  2. I did a fitting last year. http://fatguy2triguy.wordpress.com/2013/06/16/its-all-about-the-fit/

    It was well worth every cent that my wifes’ group insurance paid. LOL. Well I did have to pay $20 co-pay.

  3. Chrissie Wellington, probably the best Iron distance triathlete ever, talked about raising or lowering her saddle, even just a little, depending on the thickness of her shorts. So I can see how every little millimeter matters.

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