The position of your seat is probably the most critical aspect of fitting your bike to your body and to your riding style. Choosing the right height, angle, and front/back position impacts more than just comfort. The wrong seat-height setting can steal power from your legs and make it very hard to take on even the slightest hill.
How to spot a newbie
It’s fairly easy to tell when a rider is new to cycling. They’ve set their seat to make it easy to put their feet on the ground when they stop. When they pedal, their thighs rise to horizontal and you see them either struggling to get power into their down-stroke or standing on their pedals to survive the slightest uphill.
It’s very easy to feel like this is the right seat position. With the seat below the handle-bar level the rider is sitting more upright. It certainly feels more stable when you can quickly drop your feet to the ground when you stop. This all makes sense if you’re riding a comfort cruiser on the boardwalk. But if your ride is anything more challenging than that, you’ll need to adjust your seat.
Set your seat height for pedal power, not for standing still
Ok… here’s the first rule. You should have to dismount when you stop. That’s because your seat height should be set for riding, not for standing still. So here are some measurements to help you set your height to get the most power out of your pedalling.
Start by getting on your bike while it’s on a trainer or near a curb. Now check the following positions, relative to your body:
Just Short of Full Leg Extension at the Bottom of your Pedalling Stroke
At the bottom of your stroke, you leg should be just LESS than fully extended. That will ensure you still have power in your stroke, even at the point of greatest leg extension. When your seat is too low, your leg will be bent more than 30 degrees. When it’s too high, you’ll be stretching to reach the pedal. You want your knee bent, like the illustration on the right, not the one on the left.
FYI… a too-high seat height will make your ride very uncomfortable in the butt. All that reaching leads to too much hip wiggle on your seat.
For this seat adjustment, loosen the seat post and raise or lower the seat.
Knee Position Exactly Over Pedal at Full Forward Stroke
Power on the downstroke requires your knee to be directly above your forward pedal as it pushes downward. When your seat is too far away from the handlebars, you’ll be pushing forward as you pedal downward. If it’s too close to the handlebars, you’ll be pulling pedal toward your body… and your butt toward the handlebars.
To fit your seat’s fore/back position perfectly. get yourself a plumb line. In your forward-most pedal position (3-o’clock) your knee cap should be directly above the front of the pedal… just like in the illustration at right.
For this seat adjustment, look under your seat. Most seats allow you to loosen an allen screw and slide your seat forward or back.
Seat Angle is a Very Personal Preference
Most experts will tell you to start with a level seat… not tilted forward… not tilted back. THEN do some riding. The angle of your seat will impact not only whether your butt moves forward or back during your ride, it will seriously impact your seat’s pressure on your pelvic bone and your private parts. As a result, seat angle is a setting that only you can optimize.
As you test ride your bike, consider whether you feel like your falling forward off your seat (seat angled too far forward) or being pushed backward (seat angled too far backward). Most telling will be the pressure on your body. Too much private-part discomfort means your angle is too far backward. Too much pelvic bone sensitivity means you’re tilted too far forward.
One important note… No bike seat will be perfectly comfortable until you’ve ridden on it for some hours. There will always be some initial discomfort on your pelvic bone that won’t go away until you get used to the seat. If you have a new seat, think more about the feeling of being pushed forward or back as you pedal. After you’ve been on your seat for several long rides you’ll be able to adjust the seat to optimize hour personal comfort.
Once your bicycle seat is adjusted properly. you’ll find your riding focus will be on your surroundings, rather than on the discomfort you feel while you ride. If you’ve been riding on a poorly adjusted seat, you’ll also discover a new level of power that you’ll put into your pedalling. That will help you enjoy group rides without working hard to keep up, especially on hilly terrain.
If you have ideas or observations on seat adjustments, please add comments below.
And please, share this post with people or groups where you think it can help some of our newer riding friends.