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Five easy steps to adjust your saddle height and position

Alia Parker's picture
A Brooks leather saddle, womens B17. Cycle Traveller

A proper saddle adjustment can solve so many of the comfort issues cyclists suffer as the position not only affects your butt, but your knees, feet, neck and shoulders as well.

Assuming you're riding a bike with the right size frame for your body, here are five tips to correctly adjust your saddle, with additional insight from US-based leather saddle maker Selle Anatomica.

Step 1: Get the height right

One of the biggest mistakes cyclists make is to ride with their saddle too low. This not only places strain on your knees, but by sitting low you lose pedalling efficiency as you're not maximising the use of your legs on each stroke. This is quite a common mistake for newbies who like to be able to touch the ground with the entire sole of their foot. The truth is, it will be easier to ride and control the bike with the saddle higher. However, too high is also bad – it can damage the tendons in the knee and cause the hips to swing.

How to set the correct bicycle saddle height. Cycle Traveller

So how do you know what height is right for you? Selle Anatomica has a handy do-it-yourself tip that can be done at home with a book, a tape measure, a friend and the Allen key for your bike frame's seat tube (usually a size five).

  1. Take your shoes off and stand with your back against a wall.
  2. Place the spine of the book between your legs right up near your groin just as if it were a saddle.
  3. Get someone to measure the distance from the spine of the book to the floor (do this a few times and take an average of the measurements to make sure you get it right).
  4. Multiply the number by 0.883 to work out your saddle height.
  5. Now to your bike ... your saddle height is the distance from the centre of the bottom bracket (that is, the part of the frame that holds the crank), up the seat tube to the top of the saddle. Adjust this length to your new measurement.

“Go on a short ride with a friend following along behind you,” says Selle Anatomica. “If your hips rock up and down as you pedal, your saddle is too high. Incrementally adjust the saddle down until the rocking goes away. Don’t go too low or you will lose efficiency and strain your knees.”

Our tips: If you have very tight hamstrings, you may need to move the saddle height down a few millimetres to make it more comfortable.

If you're out touring and don't have a tape measure, you can use a piece of string or a tent cord to measure the distance by marking the string then running the string from the bottom bracket to the top of the saddle to set the height.

Step 2: Adjust the setback of the saddle on the rails

How to set bicycle saddle setback. Cycle Traveller

This adjustment makes sure your knees are positioned properly over the pedals by moving the saddle rails back or forward in the bracket. Again, get a friend to help you with this one. Note: if you don't use cleats, make sure to have the balls of your feet positioned correctly on the pedal before taking your measurements.

“With your feet clipped to your pedals at three and nine o’clock, you should be able to measure a vertical line from the bottom edge of your forward kneecap to the front pedal axle. Move your saddle forward or back in order to achieve this vertical line,” says Selle Anatomica.

Our tip: Tie a small heavy object to a piece of string. Hold the string to the bottom part of your kneecap. The weight of the object will pull the string straight down and allow you to better compare where your knee is relative to the pedal axle (that is, where the pedal screws into the crank arms).

Step 3: Get the tilt right

How to adjust your bicycle saddle tilt. Cycle TravellerThe right tilt varies from cyclist to cyclist and can greatly affect comfort, but in general, if the front of the saddle is tilted too low, you will slide forward; too far back and you could experience severe pain in your soft tissue areas. To find the correct tilt for you:

1. Start with your saddle level. (Selle Anatomica says if you are using one of their saddles to start with the nose tilted up slightly, but no more than a quarter of an inch.
2. Ride your bike sitting upright, hands at your sides. If you feel yourself slipping forward, adjust the nose up a little higher. You can adjust the tilt of the saddle by loosening the appropriate bolt on the seat post bracket.

“The goal is to balance your weight over your sit bones, relieving pressure on your soft tissue,” says Selle Anatomica.

Our tip: If you can't ride with your hands by your side, get a friend to stand in front of you holding the handlebars of your bike with the front wheel held between their knees. Then sit up, let go and pedal backwards (not forwards – we assume you don't want to hurt your friend!)

Step 4: Adjust the saddle rotation

How to set bicycle saddle rotation. Cycle TravellerNot all legs are created equal, quite literally. If one of your legs is slightly longer than the other, it will affect where your sit bones align in your saddle. To test if this issue affects you, take your bike for a ride with your saddle pointing straight ahead and pay close attention to the following:

“If you feel a pressure point on one side at the back of the saddle or under one sit bone, one of your legs might be longer than the other,” says Selle Anatomica.

“Also, pressure in your groin or inner thigh region on one side may indicate a short leg.”

1. If one of your legs is longer than the other, rotate the nose slightly toward your longer leg. Make small adjustments – one degree at a time – until the pain is gone.

Step 5: Adjust the tension (leather saddles only)

Leather saddles are great for shaping to an individual's anatomy, but they do sag over time. Generally, a new leather saddle will have the correct tension, but once you've done a few hundred kilometres, you may need to tighten the tension to return the saddle to its original shape.

How to adjust your bicycle saddle tension. Cycle TravellerTo do this, turn the saddle tension nut (located under the nose of most saddles) clockwise when viewed from the front. Make small adjustments until you have reduced the sag.

“In general, the leather will stretch like a new pair of shoes and then stop,” says Selle Anatomica. “Be careful not to over-tension the leather. Experienced riders often try to reproduce the stiffer feeling of other leather saddles by over-tensioning, which prematurely stretches the leather and puts pressure on your sit bones.” 

Selle Anatomica says to never tension a leather saddle after a ride as the leather is warm and often damp from sweat. The leather will tighten as it dries, meaning that if tensioned in such a state, it will result in the tension being too tight.

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