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How to Determine the Correct Saddle Height

The correct saddle height and saddle position are essential for enjoyable and injury free rides on your road bike. But how do you know what seat height is right for you? And how do you determine the correct setback?

There are various methods which you can use to get to the correct saddle height and setback for your road bike. We’ve listed the three most popular methods to determine the correct seat height below. And we also show you how to determine the correct setback of your saddle.

The saddle height is always measured with the crank arm pointed down and in line with the seat tube. The distance from the centre of the pedal axle to the top of your saddle is your saddle height.
The saddle height is always measured with the crank arm pointed down and in line with the seat tube. The distance from the center of the pedal axle to the top of your saddle is your seat height.

Before changing the height of your saddle, you should measure your current saddle height. If you change the setup, it’s always a good idea to know how high or low your saddle was set before the changes.

When measuring the seat height, you have to make sure that the crank arm is pointed down and in line with the seat tube. Then you measure from the centre of the pedal axle to the top of your saddle. Always note down your saddle height.

With the correct saddle height, you can ride further and longer. And who wouldn’t want that?
With the correct saddle height, you can ride further and longer. And who wouldn’t want that?

If your saddle is set too low or too high, it can cause all kinds of problems, from painful knees to neck and back problems. Do the problems worsen after a change, or do you get new problems? If you know your previous seat height, you can at least reset your saddle to the correct saddle height.

Three methods to determine the seat height

Heel method

The heel method is being used by many road cyclists to determine the saddle height. This is a quick and easy way to check whether your seat height is correct. But it also is the least precise method.

Step 1

To start with, raise your saddle roughly to your hip.
To start with, raise your saddle roughly to your hip.

Stand next to your bike and raise the saddle to your hip.

Step 2

Sit down on the saddle and touch the pedal with your heel. Make sure the crank arm which is currently supporting your foot is pointed down and in line with the seat tube.

Put the center of your heel onto the center of your pedal.
Put the center of your heel onto the center of your pedal.

Step 3

Make sure the crank arm is in line with the seat tube, and extend your leg. If you can extend it easily and without discomfort, you saddle height is correct.
Make sure the crank arm is in line with the seat tube, and extend your leg. If you can extend it easily and without discomfort, your saddle height is correct.

You’re at the correct saddle height if your leg is now fully extended. That means your leg is straight, but without overextending your knee.

The 109% method

With the 109% method, you get a very precise result. Officially, you therefore get a better result than with the heel method only.

Step 1

Stand against a wall with a fairly thick book clamped between your legs. Firmly pull the book upwards, it’s supposed to feel slightly uncomfortable.

Don’t be too careful. Better pull it up firmly than too little!
Don’t be too careful. Better pull it up firmly than too little!

Step 2

Mark the top of the book on the wall. This mark indicates your inseam.

You should use a sturdy book because it can be pressed against the wall firmly.
You should use a sturdy book because it can be pressed against the wall firmly.

Step 3

Always measure the distance twice just to be sure you didn’t make a mistake.
Always measure the distance twice just to be sure you didn’t make a mistake.

Now measure the distance from the mark to the ground in millimetres. This is your inseam.

Step 4

Calculating your ideal saddle height based on your inseam is easy. On average, the seat height should be 109% of your inseam. You can thus use your calculator to multiply your inseam in millimetres by 1,09.

Multiply by 1,09 and you know your correct saddle height.
Multiply by 1,09 and you know your correct saddle height.

The result is your seat height in millimetres.

The Holmes method

The last method to determine your seat height is the Holmes method. It’s a bit more precise because the way you put your feet on the pedals is taken into account. The first two methods don’t take it into account.

According to the Holmes method, the ideal knee angle is between 25 and 35 degrees. This angle is the difference between your upper and lower leg when your pedal is in its lowest position. Do you suffer from knee problems? Then the value should be somewhat closer to 25 degrees.

You can determine this by yourself. But you do need a turbo trainer or a roller and a helpful friend to film you.

Stap 1

This angle is the difference between your upper and lower leg when your pedal is in its lowest position.
Ride slowly. After all, you have to be able to stop the film in the right moment.

Mount your bike on the turbo trainer and start riding.

Step 2

Get someone to film you from the side while riding on the turbo trainer. Record for a minute or slightly longer, so that you can measure several times.

Almost all smartphones are suitable for recording a short film.
Almost all smartphones are suitable for recording a short film.

Step 3

Look at the recording and pause it the moment your pedal is in the lowest position. Use a set square to measure the angle.

Watch the film together, grab a set square and start measuring!
Watch the film together, grab a set square and start measuring!

Is the angle larger than 35 degrees? Then you have to raise your saddle. Is the angle smaller than 25 degrees? Then your saddle has to be lowered a bit.

Your saddle’s setback – the horizontal position

Now that you’ve determined the correct height of your saddle, it’s important to also check whether your saddle is not too far forward or back. This horizontal position of your saddle is called the setback.

Most saddles can be brought forward or back, or even tilted, with one or two screws on the bottom.
Most saddles can be brought forward or back, or even tilted, with one or two screws on the bottom.

You can determine the correct setback of the saddle by using a plumb line (piece of string with a weight at the end).

Step 1

Sit on your bike and bring the pedals in a horizontal position.

It’s important to keep the pedals in a horizontal position when determining the setback.
It’s important to keep the pedals in a horizontal position when determining the setback.

Step 2

Drop the plumb line over the front over the knee of the leg in front.

Hold the plump line steadily just above your knee.
Hold the plump line steadily just above your knee.

Step 3

The plump line should fall right “through” the axle of your pedal.
The plump line should fall right “through” the axle of your pedal.

The plump line should fall right “through” the axle of your pedal. If it’s too far forward, then move the saddle back. Move the saddle forward if the line is too far back.

Can you set your saddle in a slanted position?

Generally, your saddle should be set horizontally. You should only change this if if you suffer from specific problems and you know for sure that your saddle height and the setback are correct. Do you suffer from back pain? In that case, your saddle’s nose might be too far forward.

Do you suffer from problems with your hands when cycling? A wrong saddle position, positioning you too far forward, might be the cause.
Do you suffer from problems with your hands when cycling? A wrong saddle position, positioning you too far forward, might be the cause.

Do you suffer from problems with your hands, wrists and shoulders? Then you might have to tilt the saddle nose slightly upward.

Which saddle adaptations for which problem?

When you don’t have any problems when cycling, it’s likely that everything is set up correctly. Do you have a specific problem and want to experiment with the seat height and saddle position? Below you find a few tips for adjusting the saddle position yourself.

Tips for adjusting your seat height and position

  • Your saddle is too high if your hips move from side to side while you’re riding. This becomes abundantly clear when you’re riding behind someone.
  • When you raise your saddle, do so with small increments and not with centimetres at a time. Start off by going up 2 or 3 millimetres and go for a ride. When you feel comfortable, try adding another millimetre or 2.
  • Remember that your body will eventually adapt to almost any position. Something which feels a little awkward at first can feel completely natural after a while. Don’t hesitate to experiment, but avoid any extremes!

Do you worry about your bike saddle or any serious problems?

Do you suffer from serious problems, or don’t you achieve the desired results after some experimenting? Then you should ask a professional. A bike fitting at a sports centre might do the trick.

When doing a bike fitting, you body position is analysed in detail and your bike is set up accordingly.

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Olle Vastbinder

Olle Vastbinder

You can find me on a bicycle almost every day. I commute each day from my house to work and back. Often on my road bike, and during the winter on an old crosser. And if that isn't enough, you can find me on my bike during most weekends too. On my trusty road bike or my mountainbike. And if you can't find me outdoors riding my bike, odds are I might be riding on Zwift

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28 thoughts on “How to Determine the Correct Saddle Height”

  1. Interesting methods offered. My bike is a Specialized Cross Elite adapted for touring. I followed both Heel and 109% method and was intrigued by the difference it showed. My saddle had been set for some while at what I considered optimum efficiency height and my physiotherapist treating me for hip, lower back pain suggested my saddle might be too high and I should check the settings. However I did nothing immediately. I went out for a ride a few days ago and the following day had severe pains in left hip and lower back; a sciatic nerve attack I assumed and am wondering if they are related. however, turning to your methods i found the Heel method corresponded to the set height whereas the 109% method suggested the saddle was too high by over 3.5cm; a considerable difference in real terms. I’d be grateful for any feedback.

    1. Absolutely Hugh. 109% is massively too high. Effectively you are making your saddle to pedal height 10% longer than your leg. Nonsense. Was done by 70s students at Loughborough Poly anyway! I find that a good height on a Monday (after riding all weekend) is 5mm gap between heel and pedal, whereas on a Friday after a week at work it’s no higher than heels on pedals pedalling backwards with no hip rocking!

    2. Hi Hugh, there is no perfect fit for everyone, unfortunately. The human body is complex, (ik weet echt niet wat je hier wilt zeggen). Nowadays dedicated cyclists go to special bike fitting counsellors to optimize their position on the bicycle or to find the right fit for more watt efficiency. I advise you to find a professional bike fitting counsellor in your area. They can measure the perfect bike fit for you and listen to your problems. It is a small investment but it could entail a big profit for your cycling pleasure. Regards, Antoine

      1. I have always found bike fits (have had about 6 of them) put me about 1cm too high. I can never quite get used to it unless it’s a hot sunny day and Im really flexible! I think they are ALL using 0.883 of inseam. Would like to try Retul tho, who seem to place the rider a bit lower. Of course you have all the knock on effects of setback, bar height, stem…

  2. You are so interesting! I do not think I have read through something like that before.
    So good to find someone with a few unique thoughts on this topic.
    Seriously.. thanks for starting this up. This web
    site is something that’s needed on the internet, someone with some originality!

  3. At the end of the 109% method, you say: “The result is your saddle height in millimetres.”

    Is this from the bottom bracket?

    1. saddle height is normally measured from the pedal platform to the top of the saddle all in line. So crank arm in line with seat tube.

      1. If it’s 0.883 it is centre of bottom bracket to top of saddle.. 109 is to top of pedal… why can’t we all go with just “heel on pedal” or Lance’s “5mm gap between heel and pedal” so much easier to measure.

    2. The author did not say where to measure when using the 1,09% method, but I believe this is from the top of the pedal to the top of the seat along the seat-tube. Hope Olle will confirm

      1. A year later but for anyone reading this later… I believe the 109% method is the height vertically from the ground. IE, you should be able to sit on the bike seat and touch the ground with your toes, but not flat feet. It is similar to the starting point at the beginning of the article where he says to start with the seat at about your hip level — which would be around the 109% level (ish). (If the 109% was from the pedals to the seat you wouldn’t be able to reach the pedals when you were done!)

        1. That’s why it is way too high Tom. They do mean saddle to top of pedal but that leaves most people about 2cm too high!

        2. This is incorrect. The caption on one of the photos states “The saddle height is always measured with the crank arm pointed down and in line with the seat tube. The distance from the center of the pedal axle to the top of your saddle is your saddle height”

  4. i too am having trouble with seat height. the heel method is 30mm lower than the 109 %. which should i use?
    also the set back according to the plumb line leaves my knee 40 mm in front of the pedal. with the seat at maximum rear setting.
    any idea what i am doing wrong.
    i am 5′ 7″ tall with a 29″ inside leg

  5. Hi Olle,

    Thanks for your illuminating article. I have a question on foot size and crank length. How does size of one’s foot and crank length effect saddle position.
    I am 169 cms in height and have a 54 cms (frame size) road bike. I have tried a professional bike fit as well but still road bike ride is not comfortable.

    Thanks & regards,

    Piyush

    1. I would like to ask, why don’t you go back to your bike fitter and tell him/ her that your bike fit isn’t comfortable?
      It’s sad if you need to alter the fit yourself, because this would mean your bike fit was a waste of money.

  6. It’s really interesting reading of all methods. I’ve been doing that for 10 years +.
    But it never mention if these are supposedly measured (re-measured if / when changing shoes or pedals) with cycling shoes and taking into account different cleat+pedal combinations stack height. Even the 25-35 knee angle method gives quite a huge difference in saddle height.
    Are you a heel dropper or heel up?
    Where are your cleats positioned and how long are your feets?

    But i guess the last method, when you actually film your pedal technique with actual shoes and pedal/cleat ough to be the best option ?

    1. I would recommend following one of the methods in the blog and trying that out.
      Otherwise try to get a professional bike fitter to help you!

  7. If the 109% distance is supposed to be measured between the pedal and the seat then the method is obviously wrong as it basically means that distance should be 9% longer than your inseam. No wonder so many people here are finding it too high.
    Perhaps the 109% distance is meant to be measured from the ground?

    1. With that you still have to deduct the length of the crank arm from the value you get from the 109%. Mine is (81.7*1.09)-17cm for my crank arm, which leaves me around 71.5cm.

  8. Interesting and very worthwhile advice. Way back in the early 1970’s I bought a book on bikes. I was a time of bike revival. The saddle height method in this book was inside leg measurement times 1.08, measuring the distance of the middle of the pedal axle to top of the saddle. Using 1.09 instead of 1.08 is neither here nor there, especially if you take the sort of shoes you wear into consideration. On my urban tourer I wear Shimano MTB shoes which have a thicker sole. I use old-fashioned toe clips with fairly loose straps to keep my feet straight and positioned correctly on the pedaIs. I’m in my late ’70’s now and my knees are in good shape and I don’t get back aches. I think the advice of moving the saddle height up or down incrementally is very sound. It’s worthwhile being fussy about this, as it can only lead to long term enjoyment of this great activity.

  9. Absolutely Hugh. 109% is massively too high. Effectively you are making your saddle to pedal height 10% longer than your leg. Nonsense. Was done by 70s students at Loughborough Poly anyway! I find that a good height on a Monday (after riding all weekend) is 5mm gap between heel and pedal, whereas on a Friday after a week at work it’s no higher than heels on pedals pedalling backwards with no hip rocking!

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