The Noob’s Guide to Saddle Height – Too High, No Comfort. Too Low, No Power… Some Variations on Getting it Right
I shared a post written by the Ragtime Cyclist a bit ago because it made me laugh. In that post, however, was a link to a BikeRadar article that explained a few different variations on how to achieve the proper saddle height. The biggest problem I’ve seen noobs make, especially on road bikes, is having the saddle set too low.
I was out with my wife at our daughters’ swim practice when I read the post and the linked article so I was intrigued to get home and find out how I measured up using the old heel on the pedal method, then dialing it in by feel over the past couple of years.
The three variations in addition to the old tried and true heel on the pedal and pedal backwards option are as follows:
The 109: Take your inseam, multiply that by 109% and that’s your height from the pedal.
The LeMond: 88.3% of your inseam and that’s the height to the center of the crank*.
The Holmes Method: Requires a tool that measures the angle of one’s knee – skipped it.
*They say there’s a flaw in the LeMond Method: It doesn’t work for people with long femur bones, and you’ll see that in action in just a second.
So, I got home and took a book, slid it between my legs, snugged it against the boys and took the measurement from the floor to the top of the book’s spine. 33.5″ on the nose. 109% of 33.5 is 36.515″….
First things first, set the pedals up so the crank arms follow the slope of the seat tube, like so:
Second, take your tape measure and make sure the tape follows the contour of the tube, like so (if you really look close at the photo, it’s a little off because it’s hard to hold the tape in the right place with one hand whilst snapping a photo with the other). Also, you want to choose and edge that you’ll be measuring with and run that edge up the center of the seat tube:
Bob’s your Uncle. 36.53125″ Less than two hundredths of an inch higher than exactly 109% of my inseam… In bureaucratic parlance: “Perfect – right on the nose”. Or if you prefer fly-over country lingity: “Good enough for government work”. My Venge has the same 36.53125″.
So, here’s the problem with the LeMond Method… 88.3% of 33.5″ is 29.58″. Now, keeping a tape in the proper place at the center of the crank (rather than set on the pedal) whilst snapping a photo actually is impossible. Take my word for it, the LeMond method is 1/2″ lower, and therefore too low. Apparently I have long femurs.
In the end, here’s what’s important: If you have to rock your hips, even a little bit, side to side to get the pedals around, you’ve got the saddle set too high. This will also cause intense nether-region pressure. Even a couple of millimeters too high can cause saddle sores. Worse, too low and you’ll feel like you’re riding through mud. Not a big deal if you’re on a mountain bike on actual, real mud. Not so good on a road bike on smooth, paved roads.