Points of Contact: Bicycle Saddle Positioning

The bicycle actually offers three points of contact with your body: handlebar (your hands), saddle (your rear end), and cranks/pedals (your feet). In this section, we’ll cover the intricacies of saddle positioning. While it’s important to get a well-fitting and supportive saddle, please remember that saddle height, angle and fore-and-aft adjustment will play a big role in how the bike fits your body and riding style.

Seat Height

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Set the saddle so it’s at about the level of your hip bone when you stand next to it. With the bike in the trainer, or someone else supporting it, sit on the saddle making sure your hips are level. The saddle height should allow you to just touch the pedal with your heel when the pedal is at the bottom of the stroke, and in line with the angle of the seat-tube. When you’re pedaling using the balls of your feet, this should allow you to retain a very slight bend in your knee, and keep your hips level. If you have to rock your hips side to side to complete the pedal stroke, the seat is too high. When seated on the bike, you should only be able to put the toe of your foot on the ground. If you can plant your whole foot, the seat is too low.

You may have to fine tune the seat height as you adjust other parts of the bike, change out the saddle itself, or use different footwear.

Saddle Tilt

The saddle should be set level to the ground. If you find yourself wanting to point the nose of the saddle down to alleviate pressure, you may have to adjust the seat height or find a different saddle. Having the nose pointed down will cause you to slide off the saddle with every stroke, and will put undue strain on other parts of your body (wrists, knees and lower back). You may need less cushioning in a saddle than you think. Instead, find a saddle that’s wide enough to support your “sit bones”, so that your weight is not resting on your soft tissues. (Not sure where your sit bones are? You can feel them when you sit on the edge of a firm bar stool with your thighs angled down.)

One exception to the level saddle rule is a saddle with springs or elastomers in the back. Since they will compress under your weight, you want to angle the saddle nose down slightly, so the saddle will be level when you sit on it.

Fore-and-Aft Saddle Position

Bicycle saddles have two rails along the bottom that allow the saddle to be adjusted forward or back by about 2”. It may not sound like a lot, but tweaking this position will significantly change your weight distribution on the bike, and impact your balance, comfort and efficiency of pedaling. You’ve probably noticed that on most bicycles, the seat tube is not a straight vertical, but leans slightly backward, so that the saddle is positioned behind the axle of rotation of the cranks. This is because as you lean your torso forward —as you do when riding a bike— your rear end will naturally move backward to keep you from tipping forward.

How far back or forward your seat should go will be determined in part by other factors, such as how fast and efficiently you want to pedal vs. how comfortably upright you want to be, as well as the shape and position of the handlebars, and your individual preference. Generally, sliding the seat forward will shift your weight distribution from your arms to your seat, but will compromise power and aerodynamics.

Links to other parts of this guide: