Setting the correct seat height would seem to be such a fundamental part of cycling that you would have thought the boffins had agreed long ago on the best method. But you’d be wrong.
One thing all the experts agree on however is that if you get the height wrong, the effects can be catastrophic. A brand new study suggests that setting the height too low can decrease time to exhaustion by as much as 12 per cent.
- The Heel method
This is the most common one.. You place the heel of your shoe on the pedal and set the saddle height so your leg is straight at the bottom of the pedal cycle with the pelvis remaining in a horizontal position.
Professor Will Pelever of Mississippi University for Women has written several papers comparing methods for finding the best seat height and says, “The main problem is that this method does not take into account individual variations in femur, tibia and foot length.”
- The 109% method
A more robust method was developed by Hamley & Thomas in a 1967 paper. They experimented with different saddle heights and found that the ideal was achieved when the saddle was positioned at 109% of your inseam length when measuring from the pedal axle to the top of the seat height.
Your inseam measurement is basically the length from your crotch to the floor. To calculate this, face a wall and put a thick-ish book between your legs as if it were a saddle. Ensuring that you are standing straight with your heels on the floor, mark a line along the top of the book edge touching the wall.
The distance from the floor to the height of the mark is your inseam measurement. It’s best to measure it several times and take an average.
This has proved an extremely popular method and is recommended by many top-level coach
- The Le Mond method
This is a popular variation on the 109% method and pioneered by the three time Tour de France winner Greg Le Mond.
Also using inseam length as a guide, this formula calculates 88.3% of your inseam length and uses it to measure the distance from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the seat height.
Interestingly, Pelever has shown that this often produces a different seat height from the 109% method and although it seems to work for many people, it may not be ideal for someone with particularly long femur bones.
- The Holmes method
This was originally developed to reduce over-use injuries in cycling and takes a different approach entirely from the other three.
It uses a device called a goniometer for measuring the angle of the knee joint at the bottom of the pedal stroke. Holmes recommends an angle of between 25 and 35 degrees and closer to 25 for those with a history of patella tendonitis.
Research has shown that setting your seat height based on a knee angle of 25 degrees outperforms all other methods (including an angle of 35 degrees).
Don’t rely on simply feeling comfortable either. If you’ve been pedalling at a much lower saddle height than is optimal, it may feel awkward in the beginning.However, as your body adapts (usually in two to three weeks) the new position will not only feel comfortable, but will improve performance in the long run
Of course, if you still feel uncomfortable after a few weeks then you will need to make changes. We recommend a professional bike fit and if you have access to physio who also does bike fits this would be the best.