How Do You Optimise Your Saddle Position?
Saddle position is the foundation of a good bike fit. Finding an appropriate handlebar height and reach cannot be done well if a proper saddle position is not established first.
There are 3 aspects of saddle position – height, fore/aft (or setback), and tilt. They are all inter-related, and often adjusting one aspect will require reviewing another.
The other consideration is the actual saddle itself. The saddle’s characteristics such as width, shape, firmness, and cut out will influence whether you are comfortable and efficient when pedalling.
There are a number of basic methods and calculations that can be used as a starting point to set saddle height, most based on a relationship between saddle height and lower limb length (inseam), or a reference range for knee joint flexion. Of these methods, it is preferable to use one that sets saddle height according to knee angle rather than a formula, although there is no absolute consensus on what this angle should be. Research suggests that a dynamic angle of around 30-40deg is optimal, although individual characteristics such as flexibility and pedalling style need to be taken into account.
Common issues resulting from an inappropriate saddle height include knee pain, saddle discomfort (pressure, numbness, sores), hip pain/impingement, hamstrings tendinopathy, achilles issues, back pain, neck pain, and hand and wrist pain/numbness. However, you don’t necessarily need to have pain or injury for then saddle height not to be optimal! An inappropriate saddle height can also result in a reduced power and efficiency.
Saddle fore/aft (or set back), is the horizontal distance between the centre of the bottom bracket and the front of the saddle, and is the main adjustment affecting weight distribution on the bike and how much upper body work is needed to stabilise the body under load.
Saddle fore/aft has an influence on muscle recruitment – how far forward or back the saddle is placed will change the relative contribution of the quads, hamstrings and gluts. It also influences hip angle – a forward position will open the hip angle (less hip flexion) and further back will result in a more closed the hip angle.
KOPS, or Knee Over Pedal Spindle, is a traditional way that some bike fitters have used to set saddle setback. According to KOPS, a vertical line from the tibial tubecle should intersect the centre of the pedal spindle when the crank arm is at 90deg on the downstroke. It can be used as a guideline, although some argue that the rider’s centre of gravity is amore important factor in setting saddle setback.
Individual characteristics need to be considered when determining an ideal saddle setback, including range of motion (especially the hip), anatomical variations (eg. long femurs and large upper body mass will require more set back) and core or functional stability.
If the saddle tilt is incorrect then it will either be uncomfortable or, in the case of not offering proper support, will adversely distribute the rider’s weight and effect stability, which can lead to too much weight on the hands or even the feet.
There are very few occasions where a saddle should be tilted nose up. How much a saddle should be tilted down depends on the characteristics of the individual rider (eg. type of riding, flexibility, core strength, personal preference etc) as well as the type of saddle they have, with a wave-shaped saddle (with a kick up at the back) being able to be tilted down far more than a completely flat saddle.
The aim is to find the comfortable sweet spot, where the pelvis is stable and supported, you have sufficient pelvic rotation forward, perineum pressure is minimised, and the hands are not overloaded
How do I know that my saddle is in an optimal position?
- A stable pelvis with sit bones supported, without excessive tilting of the pelvis from side to side
- A stable foot – there should not be excessive toe down or heel down.
- Not continually moving on saddle – we often move forward or back on the saddle to find ideal knee extension.
- A smooth pedal stroke – a “dead spot” or a feeling of losing contact at the bottom of the pedal stroke may mean the saddle is too high or too far back.
- Balanced recruitment of muscles with an even load and tension through the major muscle groups
- Minimal discomfort, especially the knees, hands, lower back, neck, or at the saddle itself.
- Good weight distribution between the 3 contact points (feet, hands, saddle) as well as the front and back wheels (stable handling)
During a bike fit at The Body Mechanic, the Physio will use their observation skills to look at joint angles, pedalling style, smoothness, stability and compensatory strategies, as well as ask for feedback from you to set your saddle position. They will also use information from your interview and physical screening to determine the optimal saddle position for you.