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The Goldilocks Saddle Status and the Position Proposition; Attaining True Perfection in Your Saddle Position – and Transferring That from One Bike to Another, Easily

Now, I’m going to keep this as simple as I can, for an insanely difficult and controversial topic. There are three things at play that pertain to positioning the saddle properly, and two that go to the size of the saddle that are absolute musts to achieve something close to perfection. Maybe “really, really close”.

First and foremost, I’ve never found there to be a saddle that corrects for a lack of saddle time. There are comfortable saddles, sure, but time must be spent in the saddle. There’s no way around this.

Before I get into locating the saddle, let’s talk about saddle size and style. The general rule is, the more flexible you are, the flatter the saddle you can comfortably ride. The less flexible, the more contour you’ll want in the saddle. The contouring of the saddle allows the hips to open up when you ride in an aggressive, road bike position. Getting the contour of the saddle to your liking is a big piece in this puzzle of perfecting the saddle.

After contour, there’s width. I’ve read, from much smarter people than I, that a saddle that isn’t wide enough is excruciating. This hasn’t been my experience at all. My problems have always centered on saddles that were too wide. Now, there are interesting things at play here. First, the more aggressive a position we ride in, the thinner the saddle should be. The more upright we ride, the wider the saddle.

I can comfortably ride on a 143 mm saddle on our tandem, but those are excruciating on my road bikes. I rub the insides of my of my pelvic bones on the edges of the saddle in an aggressive setup. On my Trek 5200 (below, left) I run a 138. On my Specialized Venge (below, right) I run a 128 that is pure heaven next to a 143.

After we get the contour, next we move to width. I was measured at a 143 mm width, but that works for an upright position, call it the tandem riding position I mentioned earlier. The more aggressive I ride, on my two road bikes, the less width I want. When it comes down the the bottom line, I don’t mess with what works and keeps my heinie happy. I just roll with it.

The best way to figure your saddle width is to get measured at a shop that has a proprietor or two who know what they’re doing. Make sure to let them know how aggressive your setup on the bike is (if they don’t already know), or take a picture – or even the bike – with you to get measured.

With that out of the way, we’re going to get down to the nitty gritty and position. I’ve been of two minds on this. For a while, I was like, “Yeah, saddle height is important, but as long as you’re close, say within a few millimeters without going too high, it’s all good”. I disagree with that point currently. I’ve got an exact number that works on all of my bikes – and by exact, I mean that word. Before we get height drilled in, though, I should get into the fore/aft positioning of the saddle, because we do this first because this affects the up/down location.

Simply stated, on a road bike, the fore/aft position gets a normal rider’s leading edge of their knee directly above the pedal spindle when the feet are clipped in and the pedals are parallel to the ground. I like to check this when I’m setting a new saddle by getting the height close to where I want it (my personal norm is 36-5/8″ on the nose, maybe a 32nd of an inch less). Then I warm up for a minute or two and check the level by setting my crank arms parallel to the ground and running a 4′ level from the pedal spindle up to the leading edge of my knee. That should be plumb, up and down.

With that set, I move to the height. I’ll go with the 36-5/8″ and give it a ride, preferably outdoors because the trainer just doesn’t do the real world feel justice. Then I set the tilt of the saddle, while I’m out, so I’m perfectly balanced and cradled with my hands down in the drops or on the hoods. Once that’s done, I can drill in my saddle height over the next few rides. 36-5/8″ is close enough, but I may lower it just a touch if something doesn’t quite feel right over, say, 100 miles in a few days.

And that’s how I get to my Goldilocks saddle height position. It’s not too high (any higher and I’ll have some form of pain), it’s not too low. It’s just right.

It’s a lot of effort, yes, but it pays off… in the end.

I couldn’t resist.

What Does It Feel Like To Have Your Saddle Too Low, Too High… Or When FINALLY Attaining Goldilocks Saddle Status?

So, my wife and I were on our tandem Sunday. She’d mentioned that she’d like to have her saddle raised a little after our ride Saturday. I knew mine was a little low, too, but I forgot to raise either.

A day earlier, as a part of my normal yearly maintenance on the tandem, I’d removed, cleaned and lubed both seatposts. While I marked the insertion depth with electrical tape, I must have installed both seatposts just a hair lower than they’d been before. We’re talking less than two millimeters here.

So, what does it feel like when a saddle is slightly too low?

First, if we’re only talking about a millimeter or two, you’ll be slightly robbed of power. It’ll feel like you’re working too hard for the speed/power you’re generating – but not as much as it is if the saddle is too high. Second, when you pedal hard, which happens a lot on a tandem, it’ll feel like you’re jamming your sit bones/butt into the saddle as you pedal if the saddle is too low. Over the course of 20 or 30 miles you’ll develop a hot spot on your heinie that can be relieved by standing up, off the saddle, but it’ll get worse as the miles tick by. I’m not talking about a “chaffing” hot spot, either… I’m talking about an actual hot spot from the pressure of sitting too hard on the saddle to get the pedals ’round. This is a sure sign, more than what your pedal stroke feels like, that your saddle needs to be raised. Again, mine was just a millimeter or two (same for my wife’s), but I developed the aforementioned hot spot and I could literally feel my sit bones jamming into the saddle as I rode.

Now, the cool thing is what happened when we pulled over to the side of the road so one in our group could take a nature stop… I quickly raised both saddles and we rolled.

We were 2-mph faster and the hot spot pain went away immediately. For both my wife and I.

Now, if the saddle is too high, the pain is different. It’ll be on the inner-thighs from your legs bottoming out at the bottom of the pedal stroke. Your hips will rock as well, to get your foot to the bottom of the pedal stroke. Finally, your power to the pedals will be greatly affected because you’ll have to rock your hips to get to the bottom of the pedal stroke.

The key is to find the “butter zone” in betwixt too low and too high. Once you do, it’s magical. Maybe try a tandem…

Cycling and Saddle Height – You Learn Something New… Erm… Every Few Years. A Tale of Excessive Butt Pain On a Tandem and How I Finally Fixed It By Getting My Saddle High Enough

I ride a pretty spectacular tandem with my wife. We bought a Co-Motion Periscope Scout and had it fitted with road components – a 10sp triple crank with Shimano 105 components. It’s a heavy steel bike, but it’s absolutely beautiful. The welds are utterly gorgeous and it’s adorned with top-notch equipment. The quality of that bike is phenomenal and it’s truly a joy to ride and the steel frame is unbelievably comfortable. There’s one problem, though… it was less than easy getting the saddle right. On a tandem, it’s not like you can just get out of the saddle to climb a hill, relieving your butt of the pressure of sitting on it, so you tend to spend a lot of time seated and pedaling.

Unlike a standard tandem, with a Periscope from Co-Motion you can fit anyone from 4’2″ to 6’2″ on the back…

I’ve had, ever since we brought the bike home, saddle issues with it. Whenever we go beyond 40 miles we’ve had to schedule a late stop so we can give our keisters a rest. I’ve tried three different saddles, a Selle Italia low-end saddle that came with the bike, a Specialized Romin road saddle and finally, a Specialized Toupe sport saddle that originally came on my Diverge AL Sport gravel bike. That Toupe was the best fitting saddle I’d had on the tandem but I just couldn’t pass that 40-mile mark without baboon heinie issues.

A few weeks ago my wife and I did our normal Sunday Funday tandem ride and I told my buddy, Mike that I’d switch bikes and ride home with him for some extra miles. Immediately on getting back I parked the tandem, went in the house, changed shoes (road shoes for the road bikes, mountain for the tandem) and wheeled out my Venge. On hopping on the bike, it felt weird… like I was off balance and the bike wanted to rock side-to-side as I pedaled. I knew exactly what causes that sensation. The saddle on the Venge was higher than the Co-Motion. After 37 miles on the tandem, then hopping straight on the Venge, the difference was plain as day.

Now, I know the Venge’s saddle is perfect. The amount of time, detail and attention that went into getting that saddle in the perfect location borders on the ludicrous. Long story short, I ended up recently raising the saddle on the Venge because I refused to believe that my legs were 1/4″ shorter at 50 than they were at 42… my measurement used to be 36-5/8″ and I was all the way down to 36-3/8″ after lowering it for “feel” over a few years’ time. I raised the saddle 1/8″ (or 3 mm) and couldn’t figure out why I ever lowered it in the first place. Then I raised the saddle on the Trek to match (then lowered the nose by 1/4 turn of the front saddle mount bolt). Well, after riding the Venge, I raised the Co-Motion’s saddle to match the Venge, too… and our first ride since was Sunday… and nirvana.

My wife and I rode 46-1/2 glorious miles on the tandem and I felt fantastic through the entire ride. Oh, there were minor adjustments as the ride wore on, but there was no point at which I simply wanted to get off the bike so I could get off my butt for a minute. A first – and our only stop was at about 14 miles (give or take).

So, after a considerable amount of effort in getting the saddle on the tandem right, I can tell you a saddle too low is just as bad and painful as having it too high. To describe the difference in pain is quite simple, though. If the saddle is (slightly) too high, you’re going to feel like you’re bruising your sit bones, or the bones right in front of the sit bones that form the hip. This pain is ugly. On the other hand, if the saddle is a little low, the pain will be “hot” on your keister… I like to call it baboon or tandem @$$. If you can coast and stand up for a second, the heat goes away and you’ll be good for another few miles but it’ll invariably flare back up again, this is the pain I’m talking about. The saddle won’t be so low that your knees hurt (at the back of the knee… if the back of the knee hurts, raise, if the front hurts, lower), but you’ll feel more like you’re riding on a heating pad that’s set to “scorched sphincter”.

Now, this will work for a single bike just the same. If you’re feeling like your butt’s on fire after 30 or 40 miles, it just could be you have to raise your saddle a little bit… just not too much.

Just a thought. And some experience sprinkled on top.