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The Finer Points of Road Cycling: Why Leveling a Saddle is Only a Starting Point


A road bike is a finicky machine.  Get the setup right and a decent bike will be wonderfully comfortable to ride on.  Get the setup wrong and there are medieval torture devices that would be more comfortable.  It just is what it is.  Look at this photo I took the other day that features my “A” bike and my rain and train bike:


Do you see the difference in the saddle level between the two bikes?  It’s hard, so let’s take that same photo and add a line in there, because really we’re only talking about a difference of a few millimeters…

It should be fairly obvious that the saddle on my Venge is a little lower on the nose that the 5200.  Let’s add another line to show the bar height and this should help:

Venge-5200_Saddle - Copy

Keeping this simple, the handlebar on the Venge is about three quarters of an inch lower that the 5200.  Now, of course there are variations in the ground that the bikes were sitting on so the photo isn’t quite “perfect” but that imperfectness is good enough for government work and the actual measurements confirm what photo shows, without glazing one’s eyes over with measurement minutiae.

Also, with that saddle style (contoured), following standard practices one would level the middle-front section of the saddle rather than the entire saddle front to back… if and only if you’re bike is set up for a pro – while I have aggressive setup (the drop from the nose of my saddle to the handlebar), neither of those bikes approach a pro setup.

With my contoured saddle (I have a Specialized Romin saddle on both bikes), the idea is to support, front and back, my butt as I’m set up on the bike.  I ride just a little lower on the Venge so I need the nose of the Venge’s saddle to be just a little lower so I am properly supported on the bike.  Conversely, I ride just a little more upright on the Trek so having the nose raised a little bit supports me properly.

The point, my friends, is that you should never have to suffer in the saddle beyond pushing yourself to ride harder, faster and farther.  While comfort comes with saddle time, if your setup is so far off that you can’t bare to put your but in the saddle, you’re defeated before you start.

The best idea for a newbie is to work with someone at a shop to set your bike up.  When you’re having the bike setup done, you’ll be set on your bike on a trainer and asked to ride for a few minutes.  What you’re looking for as far as feel goes, is to have even pressure from front to back in the saddle.  If you feel too much pressure up front, you’ll want the saddle nosed down a touch.  If you feel like you’re being pushed to the front of the saddle, you’ll want to nose it up a bit.  As you close in on perfect, you’ll feel an even balance front to back when you’re riding with your hands on the hoods. Later, while you’re riding outdoors, try to feel what the saddle is relaying to your body – are you being pushed to the front of the saddle or feel too much pressure up front?  Go ahead and adjust until you feel evenly supported.  While leveling the saddle is an excellent start, don’t be afraid to fine tune it – your butt will love you for the extra effort.


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