One of the most daunting things about riding a bike often isn’t the actual riding of the bike, but figuring out how to get your bike to fit properly. Specifically, one of the first things you will want to do is get your bicycle saddle height adjusted to the correct height
It is so important to have the proper fit when you are cycling in order to prevent injury and pain and get the most power out of each stroke. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you are pedaling and pedaling and getting nowhere!
Sometimes we think that the hardest part is actually getting the right size of bike, and we don’t realize at first that there is so much more to figure out in terms of saddle height, saddle positioning, etc.
There are so many Youtube videos, articles, and, shall we say, opinions out there about how to determine the right height for your saddle.. It is incredibly easy to get overwhelmed quickly and just throw your hands up and simply want to forget all about it!
It really doesn’t need to be that technical, or that hard.
In this article I will provide some simple tips and tricks to help you adjust your saddle. Though there likely will be some trial and error involved, at the end of the day you will have your saddle at the position that is just right for you!
Please note: If you go through the steps and realize that your seat height is either WAY too high or WAY too low, I suggest making small, incremental changes over time.
Bring it up/lower it gradually over a week or two, especially if you are already riding regularly. This will help avoid pain or injury while your body adjusts to the “right” position.
How To Adjust The Seatpost
You need to know 1) what the specific mechanism is that adjusts your saddle height and 2) what kind of tool (if any) that you will need to adjust your saddle.
The first step in adjusting your saddle height is to take a look at your saddle and figure out exactly how your particular saddle can be adjusted. There are generally two types of ways to loosen your seatpost so that you can adjust the height of your saddle: via a quick release seatpost collar (which is tool free) or with a hex wrench (also known as an allen wrench).
The bike on the left has a quick-release seatpost collar. The bike on the right does not. It will require an allen wrench to adjust.
Take a look at your bike, and see what your adjustment mechanism is. If you have a quick release seatpost collar, pull open the lever to release the seatpost.
Quick release seatpost collar in the open position.
If there isn’t a quick release on your seatpost, you will need a simple allen key set* or multi purpose bike tool that has an allen wrench, though the exact size of key/tool will vary from bike to bike/seat to seat. (Just try a few sizes until you find the one that fits).
Once you have selected the proper size wrench, turn the bolt counter clockwise to loosen it. Remember: righty-tighty, lefty-loosy. Untighten it until the seatpost moves freely up and down.
If you have a carbon seatpost or frame you may want to be extra careful with the type of wrench you are using. In this case, we recommend using a torque wrench* instead of a hex wrench. Carbon bikes are extra delicate, and you don’t want to do anything that could potentially damage your bike in any way.
Front left to right: multi-purpose tool with hex wrenches, loose allen key, and a torque wrench. All can be used for adjusting the height of a bike saddle.
Setting The Bike Saddle Height
This is where pretty much every bike rider, professional, mechanic, etc. is going to have an OPINION. At the end of the day you want what is most comfortable for you, what gets you the most bang for your buck out of each pedal stroke, and what suits your riding style. Saddle height is HIGHLY personal.
While researching this article I spoke with Tyler Samson, the service manager at Competitive Edge Ski and Bike in East Longmeadow, MA. Tyler is a seasoned rider and bike mechanic with over a decade of experience who does the majority of bike fits and adjustments for the shop.
Tyler is a wealth of information, and gave me a number of tips regarding the positioning of saddle height. He said that ultimately, though, you can’t get too hung up on the measurements and the numbers.
According to Tyler, “A body works a certain way based on how it’s built.” He mentioned that runners, for example, often have a tighter calf and that can make the ideal seat height a little different than a non-runner because the angle of their ankle on the pedal may be slightly different.
So, given all of this, what’s the easiest way to adjust your saddle height? To get a baseline that you can start to work off of and make tweaks/adjustments to?
I am going to go through the simplest options that don’t involve a lot of math. The first is called the “hip” method and the second is called the “heel” or “heel to pedal” method.
This is the quick and dirty way of setting your seatpost height. It’s a good way to set saddle height when trying a new bike or renting a bike, for example. If you have more time, use the heel method below.
For the hip method, you want to stand next to your bicycle. Place the saddle next to your hip.
The saddle should hit your hip somewhere between the middle and top of your hip bone. If not, adjust it to that point.
Try pedaling. If your knee has a slight bend at the bottom of your pedal stroke, and you feel comfortable, leave it where you are. If not, make a small adjustment up or down.
A more accurate way of setting your seatpost height is the heel method.
Step 1: Determine if your saddle is too high or too low
For this step you are going to want to either put your bike up on a bike trainer, or lean up against a wall. A trainer in my opinion is easier, but if you don’t have one you can certainly make do with a wall.
Once on the bike, extend one leg fully to the 6:00 position (you are essentially extending your leg as far as it will go).
If you are leaning against a wall be sure you are as upright as possible and engage the brake so the bike doesn’t move about.
The general rule of thumb is that you will have a slight 30-40 degree angle of knee bend with your leg fully extended at the bottom of the stroke, so don’t feel like your knee has to be COMPLETELY locked out at the bottom.
If you cannot extend your leg fully, and your knee is still very bent at the 6:00 position (bottom of your stroke), your seat is too low.
If, at the bottom of your stroke (the 6:00 position), you are straining or stretching unnecessarily to meet the pedal, or lose contact with the pedal altogether, then your seat is too high.
Step 2: Gradually adjust the saddle
As I mentioned in my disclaimer earlier, you will likely want to make your seat adjustments gradually if you have already been riding regularly. If it’s your first time on the bike, by all means put it right where you have determined it should be.
However, if you have already been riding quite a bit, major shifts in your bike position could cause pain, soreness, or injury, and no one wants that! Make small, incremental changes to the seat height over time so that you give your body a chance to adjust to the new levels.
I have now positioned my saddle height! What’s next?
Ride, ride, and ride again! Now that you have the confidence of knowing the mechanics of moving your saddle up and down as well as the different methods to try in terms of finding the right height for you, you really need to try it out and see how it feels.
Is it causing you pain anywhere (knees, soft tissue, etc)? Do you feel that your leg is pretty much fully extended at the bottom of your stroke? Do you feel like you are getting the most power out of each stroke? Did you double check and make sure your saddle is level after adjusting the height?
Also, as I mentioned, it is wise not to make any huge adjustments in your saddle height all at once. Gradually move it up or down to what you have determined is the proper positioning for you. If you try to make too drastic of a change too soon you may experience some pain just because it’s so different, even if ultimately it is the “right” height for you.
Additionally, many experts recommend trying a variety of methods to determine your proper seat height, including methods known as the “Lamond” or “inside leg” method where you essentially measure your inseam and use that metric to help properly adjust your seat. The thought behind trying a few different methods is that you will see some of the metrics of the various methods starting to line up.
Finally, it’s important to remember that saddle height is just one component of a proper bike fit. If you have tried adjusting your saddle yourself and are still feeling uncomfortable, feeling like you aren’t getting the most power for each stroke, or are experiencing pain, you may want to consider visiting your local bike shop and getting a proper bike fit.
Other Saddle Adjustments
Saddle height isn’t the only saddle adjustment you can make. You can adjust the tilt of your saddle as well as the fore-aft position.
Loosen the rails on our bike to adjust the tilt of your seat. Most commonly your seat really should be level, though again, people have opinions on this too!). You can also slide your seat forward or backward on the rails to get the proper positioning of your seat over your pedals.
Ultimately, with a little bit of tweaking and trial and error, you should be able to adjust your saddle to a height that works well for you!
More Stuff To Help You Get Comfortable On The Bike
- Women’s Bike Sizes: 3 Steps To The Right Fit (& Size Chart)
- 9 Best Women’s Bike Saddles & How To Choose!
- How to Heal (and Prevent) Saddle Sores
About The Author
Stacy Ann Smith is a New England-based cyclist who strives to stay upright on her bike. She is the founder of Sascy Cycling, and her mission is to encourage women to love their body and focus on what it can do, not what it looks like. When Stacy’s not cycling she is teaching high school history and eating pizza with her husband and son. For awesome women’s cycling tips and to learn more about Stacy, visit Sascy Cycling at www.sascy.com.