SEAT HEIGHT – HOW HARD CAN IT BE?

by on February 3, 2011
Last updated: September 19, 2013

We source fit clients from all over. In January we had clients arrive from the U.K., U.S.A and various parts of Australia. Within that months total of fits, there was an issue common to five clients. All five had been “professionally fitted” (their words) and the major cause; or at least a large part of the cause for the issues that brought them here was too high a seat height. And I don’t mean a couple of mm; I mean between 12mm and 25mm too high.

Getting a rider’s seat height correct is simple stuff. If a rider sets his or her own seat height too high there is no blame attached; but if someone has paid money for a “professional” fit, there is no excuse for fitters on three continents getting it wrong, except in the rarest of circumstances. So how to reliably set seat height?

Firstly, a word about how the fitters of the five people in question had arrived at the (in)’correct’ seat height. Two had used fitters who used a motion capture system. One had used a fitter who used a video capture system. Two had used fitters who used equations (like leg x whatever number is chosen = seat height) or goniometers. To critique these methods – goniometers are joint angle measuring devices. The aim is to measure the included knee angle (angle of upper leg to lower leg behind the knee) at the bottom of the pedal stroke.

The problem is many users of goniometers blindly follow recommendations based on ‘averages’ rather than developing good observation skills. A simple version is “Correct seat height equals an included knee angle of between X and Y degrees at the bottom of the stroke.” A more sophisticated version is “Correct seat height equals an included knee angle of between A and B degrees at the bottom of the stroke if you are flexible; between C and D degrees if you are moderately tight and between E and F degrees if you are very tight.” Motion capture and video capture system recommendations are based on similar thinking with the difference being that a motion capture system measures the included angle via 3D cameras and a video capture system allows the fitter to measure the included knee angle on screen.

All have the same failing: They are based on averages. Who is to say whether you, the client, are average… Whatever average means. They are just plain lazy and inaccurate ways to determine seat height; unless you get lucky and are ‘average.’

Rules of thumbs and equations have even less merit because, you the client are aside from the process, not part of it. If you want an equation to set your seat height; stay home and do it yourself rather than pay a fee for someone to ignore how you function and use a number.

All the methods above have the same fundamental failing. The seat height recommendations flowing from them are not the result of direct observation but are ‘averages’ without any regard to the idiosyncratic way that YOU relate to your bike.

How to set seat height accurately if you are a bike fitter:
Focus on the velocity of extension of the rear of the knee under significant load. That velocity should be a constant. If you see even the tiniest flicker of acceleration at the rear of the knee before the bottom of the pedal stroke, then the rider is losing control of the motion and is too high; at least on that side. If in doubt, increase the load a touch. Always check the other side under similar load and if there is a difference in fluency between sides, have a look at the pelvis from the rear for your clues as to why. What is significant load?

Significant load is enough resistance to have the rider forcing the gear a bit at 80 – 85 rpm but not so much as to sacrifice technique. This kind of load is similar to riding a hill hard while seated, in one gear harder than is comfortable. Under this load, better than 99 percent of riders will drop their heels more, and extend their legs more than they will under less load or in flat riding where momentum plays more of a part. It is this kind of load that determines seat height.

How to set your own seat height:
Find a hill that takes at least three minutes to ride up. Warm up thoroughly and then ride up that hill under significant load (see above for definition of significant load). Do you feel like you are riding a step machine or do you feel fluent through the bottom of the stroke on both legs?

If you feel like you are on a step machine or feel a bit powerless, drop your seat 3mm and repeat the hill.

If you feel equally fluent through the bottom of the pedal stroke on each side, raise your seat 3mm and repeat.

For those who have to drop their seat, repeat the hill and drop the seat 3mm per time until you feel fluent through the stroke while forcing the gear.

For those who have to raise their seat, repeat the hill and raise the seat until you feel like you are a touch less fluent on one side than the other. This is an early warning sign that you have entered challenge territory. (For more info about challenges.)

Now drop your seat 6mm. Why not just drop the seat to the last 3mm increment? Because not every day is the best day of your life.

Okay, with a bit of commonsense, you should now be able to set your own or your clients seat heights efficiently. Best of luck with it.

Postscript: One last word for fitters. The velocity of extension of the rear of the knee is the prime visual cue in determining an individually suitable seat height. However, you need to use a trainer that has enough momentum to not cause a staccato pedal stroke at significant load simply because the trainer doesn’t have enough momentum to mimic on road feel. Wind trainers are basic, reaslistic in feel and ideal. There is the additional aural cue of the fan noise. Succinctly, whirr, whirr, whirr is bad while whhhiiiiiiirrrrr is good. The only magnetic trainers that are worthwhile either have large flywheels or plenty of computer power to smooth them out. Fluid trainers are okay but as a general rule need a flywheel mass of at least 3.5kg.  More is better.

I use a pair of Sidea SB4′s mag trainers with flywheel mass of, I would guess, 30 odd kg. And the Velotron is being commissioned soon when I have the time to modify it the way that I want to.

An addendum to this post is available here.

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96 Responses to SEAT HEIGHT – HOW HARD CAN IT BE?

  • Mircea Andrei Ghinea says:

    "These methods aren't accurate because they rely on 'averages' and who's to say that you are average."
    niiice! ;-)

  • G Guymon says:

    Great website. Have enjoyed the thoughtful analysis and explanation behind the philosophies. The link for info about challenges on this page is not active, just an fyi. Thanks

  • Steve Hogg says:

    G'day G Guymon,
    Thanks for that. I don't know what happened but I have restored the link now.

  • Ericj076 says:

    Do you think you could post a couple of videos showing what it looks/sounds like when the saddle is too high and then also set correctly?

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Eric,
      I’ll put it on the “To Do” list and will get to it in the near
      future. The one issue may be that the quality of resolution once uploaded
      may not show enough detail to highlight fine nuances. If not, I’ll post an
      obvious one.

  • Ted says:

    Steve,

    What do you think about the use of the Computrainer, more specifically the ‘spin scan’ feature, for evaluating the right and left side pedal stroke as a tool in aiding to evaluate the fluency of each leg through out the pedal stroke?

    Great blog by the way!

    Ted

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Ted,
      I think Computrainers are a good tool. I’ve got a Velotron (Computrainer’s ‘big brother’) which I’m in the process of having modified to suit what I want to do with it. The only trap with SpinScan is that if making serial changes to position, it is sometimes best to let a few weeks go by and check the SpinScan results again, before making further changes. Familiarity with a position can have an effect on SpinScan readings.

  • Anke 13 says:

    Hi Steve,

    Great read about seat height! I hope so called professional bike fitters take note.

    It went to see Steve at the beginning of April to adjust my bike, as I had been suffering from lower back pain for a few weeks.

    By way of background, I bought a new seat in January and the person used the goniometers method (joint angle measuring device) described in Steve’s blog to determine my seat height. In fact that’s the only method I’ve ever seen being used in bike shops.

    After a 170km ride I experienced severe lower back pain, which after a few weeks turned into severe pain in my right leg. Despite chiro treatment and physiotherapy, my condition deteriorated over about 8 weeks.

    When Steve saw me in April, he told me that my back problem most certainly had to do with my seat being too high and he lowered it by 12mm, which doesn’t seem a lot.

    2 weeks ago I had spinal surgery for 1 raptured disc and 1 bulged disc. Whilst I would have had a weakness in my back to start with, the consequence of being in the wrong riding position has been severe for me.

    The great news is that I’m healing extremely well and will be back on the bike in July, which of course has now been properly fitted by Steve.

    I don’t think I’ll ever have anyone else touch my bike.

    I want to point out that my situation is probably on the more extreme end of the scale, but it shows what can happen if someone doesn’t know what they’re doing.

    Thanks, Steve for your time, care and patience when fitting my bike.

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Anke,
      I didn’t expect to see you here. I know you were waiting on the outcome of scans when I saw you and Margaret told me what your needed surgery. Not good, though I’m glad to hear the rehab is going well. When you are ready to ride again, it would be a good idea if I had a look at your first. Functionally you will be different to when you were here. No charge, just curious to see the outcome of the surgery and how you have adapted.

      Hang in there and get well.

      • Anke 13 says:

        Hi Steve,
        I’m not allowed to ride until July, but will be leaving for Europe in 2 weeks and am taking my bike. I’ll give Margaret a call to discuss options.
        Thanks for the reply.
        Anke

      • Steve Hogg says:

        Anke,
        You’re welcome. We’ll organise a time. It would be nice if you can ride for some part of your European trip.

  • Darren says:

    Hi Steve & other readers of this great blog,

    I just wanted to let you know of my experience with seat height. I saw Steve for the second time in March last year where Steve modified my shoes so I could try the mid foot cleat position which I am very happy with.
    At the time Steve had to lower my saddle to compensate for this and I distinctly remember him saying too me “Don’t listen to anybody if they say your seat height is too low. It’s not”. Away I went and initially the change to mid foot cleat position felt good & I felt stronger on the bike. This was reflected in an increase in my power output at thresh hold hr esp while climbing. I did well in my local club racing and had a good season. Then in the off season after a few people kept saying to me your seat is way too low I thought I’d try and increase it a bit and see how I went.( I ended up with a 15mm incr). I think b/c we weren’t doing too much intense riding and not racing yet it was fine and I wasn’t getting any pain etc from the change so I stuck with it. However when racing started again this season I wasn’t going as well and although there could be other factors involved I started lowering my seat. After a couple of months of lowering it 3mm at a time I have ended up back to where Steve set me up and the feeling of being powerful throughout my pedal stroke has come back again confirmed by my power numbers. Also I have started to enjoy racing more as I am now up near the pointy end near the finish of most of them.

    The lesson for me is that Steve knows what he is talking about and regardless of what anyone says I won’t be tampering with my seat height again.

    • Steve Hogg says:

      Well, well, well Darren,
      You hadn’t told me the full story about that! I’m glad that it all worked out in the end. And while I think about it, congratulations to the Maroons. Their game 3 win was well deserved and on the back of pressure, pressure, pressure. Just too good and a pity about Thurston’s injury too. I hope the Cowboys can fill the gap.

  • Darren Spina says:

    Hi Steve,
    Re Origin it could’ve gone either way. Both teams had a lot to play for. I really think home ground advantage has a lot to do with who wins these games. If there are 2 games in NSW next year they will be hard to beat.
    Shame about Thurston but good to see the Cowboys beat the Knights away from home the other night. They play Tigers up here on Sat night so hopefully they can continue good form. Talk soon.

  • BikeJon says:

    I find that if the saddle height is too low (say if my saddle post has slipped down), I get aching in my knees. If it’s set too high then I get an ache in my lower back. So, I say my saddle height is just right when both my knees AND lower back are in pain, hehe.
    No seriously, I don’t get either pain when the saddle height is right. Also your hips shouldn’t rock.
    This method described in the article is based on feel – when you feel more fluent, which cannot be quantified either. But feel is the way to go, I think as formulas don’t account for differences in pedalling technique, cleat position, different leg lengths etc.

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Jonathan,
      I agree that the hips shouldn’t rock but plenty do, even at a good seat height. If the glute medii don’t fire, or if the sacro iliac joints are restricted, then the rider will rock no matter what their seat height. I also don’t agree that fluency can’t be quantified by the rider. It can be. More dysfunctional people just need more practice at feeling what is fluent and what isn’t than those who are more functional. More often than not, quality proprioceptive awareness is a product of functionality.

  • Bryan Smith says:

    Hi Steve, I have come to your site having watched you on the free DVD supplied with Cycling Active Magazine here in the UK. Following a 23 mile ride on my road bike (the first for a while) I’m left with some lower back pain (tight ache as opposed to sharp pain), not something I’ve had a problem with on my mountain bike over similar distances.

    Having previously been told by an osteopath that I suffer from a tight sacroilliac on one side which has caused knee problems whilst running I wondered if, when making adjustments to my riding position, I should take this tightness into consideration and what I might need to differently,

    Thanks for some great articles…very interesting reading,

    Bryan.

  • Bryan Smith says:

    Thanks Jason, I appreciate the pointers.

  • Pakossa says:

    I can easily see you’re no fan of “bike fitting systems.” That said, despite being a serious cyclist for over 20 years — about 6,000 miles a year — I still have a obsessive-compulsion thing about fooling with my fit, that seems to get worse every year. (Save the sermons . . . . I’m fully aware you’re not supposed to do that!) I changed my fit 68 times — NOT a typo . . . sixty-eight!!! — last year, and over 50 so far this year. There’s no way I can get to Australia for a fitting. So, do you feel any of the more widely available systems — Rutel, BG, FitKit, etc. — do a better job than the others? Perhaps if one tends to be off by a certain amount — say 1 cm too high — I can get one of them, then adjust it accordingly? I’m sure my body — and mind! — would be better off if I got this figured out once and for all!

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Pakossa,
      You are adjusting your position more than once a week. Does that mean that you are obsessive / compulsive generally, or only in relation to your bike?
      If the former, then this isn’t the place for the advice you need. If it is the latter, then choose your bike fitter, not the system they subscribe to.

      As I see it, there are 3 basic problems with the bike fitting training generally offered. Firstly, no one fails. A candidate pays their money and gets their certification whatever their aptitude or interest.

      The 2nd issue is that in an effort to increase market penetration, and speed up the process of turning out certified bike fitters, the training is system / formula based, often with a high tech gloss. What this means is that the system is dumbed down with a client outcome largely predetermined and with relatively little attention paid to the huge differences in function and technique that occur within the cycling population.

      The remaining issue is a product of the first two. Too many low knowledge, low calibre bike fitters achieve certification in some system and perform their job poorly, in part because they have no *realistic* objective measure of their competence. Which in turn means that 5 – 10 years after the advent of a “New Improved Brand X Bike Fitting” system onto the market, it has limited credibility and worth to fit clients and so a “New Even More Improved Brand Y” system is developed by someone else to fill the perceived gap in the market and the whole cycle starts again.

      Here is what I would do in your shoes.
      1. If a bike fitter’s website or advertising places greater emphasis on the name of their system or tooling than it does about their own experience of competence, you are better off looking elsewhere.

      2. Only choose bike fitters who offer an unqualified money back if not happy guarantee.

      3. Only choose bike fitters who don’t own goniometers or speak in terms of “the bend in your knee needs to be such and such degrees”. The “angle between your thigh and your torso needs to be such and such degrees”. They are not bike fitters and are not observing how you function in your own idiosyncratic way. They are process workers putting a predetermined outcome into place.

      Those 3 things will eliminate 95% of the potential pool. Choose your fitter from the remaining 5% (or whatever percentage it is)

      The last thing, is that once you have found someone and they have made changes to your position, leave your position alone for a month before you judge the fitter on their competence.

      If you get stuck, tell me where you are and I’ll try to point you towards someone competent.

  • Jim DePalma says:

    steve
    you are a godsend with all the information that you make available to everyday cyclists. I have followed your recommendations on cleat placement and have had excellent results. I have a lower back pain on the left side and it feels like my right foot is more forward than my left. I followed your post on seat height and lowered my seat by 3 mm. I did a 50 min ride with some high spins and some high gear/ low spin cadence. I felt more powerfull thru my left leg than I ever had and no back pain. My issue is that 2 days later I had servere pain /soreness on the inside on my left knee. My feet are level at the bottom of the pedal stroke. I am guessing that I just over did it instead of a least a week of easy riding.
    Thans for your response
    Jim DePalma
    USA

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Jim,
      Thanks for the positive thoughts. I’m glad that you’re getting somewhere. The recent experiences of feeling like the right foot is further forward, the left side low back pain and now the left side medial knee pain suggest that you are not sitting squarely on the seat and are dropping or rolling forward the right hip under load. It would be a good idea to read
      the Right Side Bias and film yourself similarly to see what his going on.

      Many people don’t sit squarely on the seat and almost always lack of flexibility plays a large part in this. I don’t know how flexible you are but you will know. If the answer is “not very flexible” then maybe now is as a good a time as any to start. Stretch sessions should be easy, and I mean EASY, not hard. Hold stretches for longish periods at LOW intensity.

      Another reason that plays a part in many people’s tendency to favour the right side is lack of foot correction. Read the Foot Corrections posts and work towards sorting that aspect out. Start with good arch support and then progress to wedging and if necessary, shimming.

  • Jace says:

    Steve,
    Excellent Blog. In your experiences and opinion, would you say that “equations” using inseam measurement (Lemond, Hamley/Thomas) generally put the saddle to high? My two fitting experiences (one with a reputable fitter using “Retul”) mirror those of your clients, where I believe my saddle is too high – both resulting in bouts of pain behind my knee(s). My inseam is 89 cm, and saddle height was set at 79.5 cm on the Retul fitting, even higher on the one prior to that. I’d appreciate your thoughts/findings on where your clients end up relative to Lemond, etc after you’ve fit them.

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Jace,
      I couldn’t tell you. It would be nearly 20 years since I bothered doing the calcs with any client to see what seat height I put them at vs what various formulae prescriptions for seat height suggest. I can say that something like 80% of first time clients leave with a lower seat height than they arrived with.

      What I will also say is that if a formula for seat height based on inseam measurement arrives at the correct seat height for a rider, consider it is a lucky accident. A quick critique follows:

      Seat height formulae based on inseam measurement don’t account for:

      1. Foot length or pedaling technique. A bigger foot pedaling with Joe / Josephine Average technique increases functional leg length compared to the same inseam length with a smaller foot. Various other permutations are not accounted for like exceptional heel dropping or toe dipping technique.

      2. Seat setback. The greater the seat setback for a given rider, the greater the hamstring enlistment which in turn means a lower seat height compared to the same rider with less seat setback.

      3. General functionality. If a rider is tight in the hips and low back they cannot reach as far with power, fluency and control as a rider of same dimensions but who is more functional.

      4. Crank length. The Lemond formula (which is really the Guimard formula) of 0.883 x inseam = seat height from bottom bracket centre to top of seat takes no account of crank length. Does that mean that if crank length is increased or decreased, seat height as measured from bottom bracket centre doesn’t change? Apparently so

      5. Equipment choices. Since 0.883 came into vogue 20 odd years ago, shoes soles have become thinner and cleat and pedal stack heights have become lower but people still keep quoting a formula like it was one of the Ten Commandments.

      So basically, I give the formulae no credence and don’t really think about them unless prompted by others.

      • Jace says:

        Hello Steve,

        I used your method and lowered my saddle about four weeks ago. It’s now 7mm lower than where set during my last “pro” fitting, and most of the pain behind my left knee has subsided. I don’t know if what remains is residual, or if I need to lower my saddle a tad bit more. However, I do feel “fluent” as you say under “significant load.” Out of curiosity, I did a very unscientific study, where I looked at the specs of about a dozen pro riders and their bikes on CyclingNews.com, listed under the “Pro Bike” tech articles. I compared the rider’s overall height with their saddle height and found that I am still riding a taller saddle than 90% of the pros I looked at (if the listed stats are accurate). Now I know that doesn’t take into account femur length, torso length, etc, etc, etc, but it still makes me wonder if I’m still just a touch too high. I also notice when I watch the pros on TV, they seem to have quite a bit of knee/leg flexion remaining at the bottom of the stroke – much more than what appears to be currently advocated by most fitters.

        One other thing, I’m also experiencing some occasional post-ride soreness in my right Vastus Medialis Oblique about where it attaches to the knee. It almost never bothers me when I ride, but it’s tender deep down in the tissue after long rides or exceptionally hard efforts. Is this a saddle height, cleat position/angle, knee tracking thing, or is it just an overuse/fatigue/stretching issue? Thanks again for your insight.

        Jace

      • Steve Hogg says:

        G’day Jace,
        the problem you highlight, that many fitters recommend a seat
        height that is too high, is a product of them applying a system rather than developing the observational and assessment skills to take each client on their merits. Also, I would be wary of drawing firm conclusions about pro seat heights based on overall rider height.

        Re your VMO discomfort. The VMO is the major muscular lateral stabiliser of the knee. So a sore VMO can be anything from the short term adaptation of a previously little used muscle working hard to a sign that the knee’s plane of movement is being constantly challenged. Generally, if it is a short term issue only, this is felt as a hard worked muscle but it stops hurting fairly quickly as the muscle adapts and strengthens.

        So if VMO soreness doesn’t reduce and disappear fairly quickly, I would be looking at either seat height or foot correction, or perhaps even both. With foot correction, start with arch support as described in the post on the subject and progress to wedging.

      • Jace says:

        In the closing of your “how to set your own saddle height” section, you say to lower the saddle by an additional 6mm. Is that just for those who’ve had to raise their saddle, or also for those who’ve started on the high side and lowered it? That aside, once we believe we’re in the ballpark, in terms of comfort & performance how wide would you say the the sweet spot is? Is it just a mm or two, 5mm’s, or? And beyond that, what is the range of seatpost movement (up or down) before one enters “challenge territory”?

      • Steve Hogg says:

        G’day Jace,
        that is for those who have raised their seat. I thought that
        was clear from the context. If you re read you will see that the 6mm is after the rider realises that their last 3mm increase in seat height was 3mm too much. So, effectively I’m saying drop the seat 3mm below the last height that felt spot on. The reason for this is that not every day is the same for a rider. Some days they are tighter and more tired than on other days. So best to have a seat height that is slightly conservative on the good days and still fine on the not so good days.

        How wide is the window?
        3mm.

        How much too high does it take to enter challenge territory?
        3mm. Whether the rider is immediately aware of that is another story. Some people are more sensitive to the effects of a challenge than others.

        I was riding with a gent a few weeks back on a hilly route. He normally climbs well. He was climbing okay but complaining about
        his hamstrings hurting whenever we hit a longish rise. He then told me he had his only pair of Assos knicks on and that they had chamois much thicker than his normal Pearl Izumi knicks. I convinced him to stop and drop his seat approximately 3mm. That stopped the hamstrings hurting and his complaints stopped as well.

  • Eric says:

    Hi Steve,

    Just a thought. With people who has degenerative hip issues on the one side where the leg literally has to circumduct to get through upstroke as they just don’t have the range and ability to purely hip flex (ie. has to hip flex/abd/ext rot) and dropping the opposite pelvis really badly in the process. How would you balance the need for seat height to allow less hip flexion for the degenerative but yet not dropping the opposite pelvis badly? Would you look at the end velocity extension of the knee on the dropping side and try to normalise that first?

    Eric

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Eric,
      Good question. I’ve only come across this probably a dozen times I suppose. Each time the problem was either Perthes Disease or someone marking time before a hip replacement op.

      If it is bilateral as is common with Perthes Disease, the only real solution is to move the feet further apart as necessary. Pedal spacers, longer than standard axles, switching to mountain bikes (with typical foot separation distance of 25 – 35mm wider than a road bike) may all help.

      If it is unilateral, the only band aid measure is to point the seat substantially off centre towards the side of the problematic hip. Sometimes too, this needs to be accompanied by pedal spacer, longer axle or similar. I stress this is a band aid, because while effective, it tends to torque the spine and isn’t a 100% solution. However, it has worked well for long enough to allow people to ride until their hip replacement op was scheduled.

  • Boomking says:

    Great blog!
    Just got fit and he used everything you just warned against! He barely changed my saddle height (1mm)
    One. My hamstrings are crazy tight ( I have great flexibility- knuckles to floor) is it seat height, seat set back( I am plumbed knee straight over spindles), or peddling tech? Or all three plus something else? Long hard efforts will induce heavy muscle cramps /lock ups.
    Two. I race mtb (90%training on road) never have read about mountain bike seat height. I have been told it should be the same (minus cleat, shoe, pedal differences) as my road bike?
    Would love to come see you someday….
    Thoughts?

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Boomking,
      Tight hamstrings can be caused by too high a seat
      height or too much seat set back or both. Work your way through the posts on position. Of the two, too high a seat height is the more common mistake.
      Re mtb seat height. Get the road bike right first, as that is what you spend most time one. Read the other posts that relate to position and put them into practice as well. Once you’re satisfied, make sure the mtb feels the same when pedalling but don’t rely on a measurement based approach between the two bikes. Generally doing so is inaccurate.

  • Marc says:

    Steve,

    Could hip flexor pain after a ride be indication of a seat that is too high/low?

    • Steve Hogg says:

      On one or both sides Marc?
      Which side?

      And where?
      Front of the hip or in line down the centre of the upper leg?

      • Marc says:

        Both sides…front of the hip.

        Marc

      • Steve Hogg says:

        There are only a limited number of possibilities Marc.

        1. Seat is too low
        2. Seat is too far back OR too far forward
        3. Bars are too low.
        4. That you have super tight hip flexors to start with.

        By the number of questions you ask, it sounds to me like you should see a decent bike fitter if you have one available to you. Where do you live?

      • Marc says:

        I ask a lot of questions, not necessarily for myself, I am just really intrigued with bike fitting and like learning how different aspects lead to certain positive/negative effects. I live in Florida and currently fit by a chiropractor/bike fitter. Thank you though for all the advice and time you spend answering mine and others questions.

        Marc

  • James says:

    Steve,

    Would you mind pointing me in the right direction for a bit in the Denver, CO front range area? thanks.

    James

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day James,
      There’s a physio named Mike Kohm in Denver who does some
      bike fitting. We’ve never met but exchanged emails on and off for some years. He seems like a smart guy with an approach not blinkered by a system mentality. Give him a try and let me know how you get on. His details are:
      Mike Kohm
      Denver Whole Yoga
      1735 E 17th Ave
      Denver, CO 80218
      720-352-0678

      • James says:

        Thanks alot Steve. Apologize for the typo, but its looks like you were able to determine what I was saying. I appreciate the info and trust your endorsement. I’ll let you know how it goes. Had a retul fit done last year and wasnt too impressed as I addressed my concerns with having too much weight bearing on my arms and still left feeling that way. This was after my “position” had been corrected using the computer. I feel like bike fitting, over here at least is starting become this out of can system and finding bike fitter like yourself that understands it is an art as much as a science is becoming a lost art.

      • Steve Hogg says:

        G’day James,
        The problem isn’t the Retul. The problem is the mentality of
        the fitter. What tends to happen too often is that someone will buy a Retul and feel they are an instant bike fitter. With no underlying philosophy or depth of experience to fall back on, all they do with their Retul is what they would do with a measuring tape, a plumb line and a book of tables. Which is apply a formula or system to the rider with an outcome predetermined and with little regard to the individual aspects of that rider and their issues. Sadly, with fitters like that, the Retul becomes part of the hype.

        Too often the fitter limits their informational assessment to the Retul data when what they should be doing is looking at how the rider functions on and off the bike. If the fitter learns how to use their eyes, everything they need to know is in front of them.

        When looking for a fitter, ignore the ones that that place more emphasis on their tooling or system certification than they place on their competence. I’ve got a post coming about the way bike fitting is heading and with contributions from 3 gents I have faith in.

  • Aron says:

    Hi Steve

    - After a heavy 2 weeks of cycling, I went out on my TT bike. I raised the saddle before the ride, and then I had Achilles pain. I had been riding fine on my road bike during the 2 weeks prior to this (and all others prior to that), so I am certain it was the high saddle on the TT bike that caused it. (I remember when i got to the hills I was sitting back in the saddle, dropping my heel and mashing)

    - Have rested for about 3 weeks, and can now jog/run pain free

    - When I am on my road bike now, I feel the Achilles aching after about 15 miles.

    - My cleats are positioned so the ball of my foot is about 13mm in-front of the pedal spindal.

    - I have custom footbeds in both shoes.

    Little bemused as to why I can jog pain free, yet cycling on my existing set-up is causing some mild discomfort.

    Hope you can help!

    Thanks

    Aron

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Aron,
      Running and cycling are different activities with different loads. What your experience indicates is this; ligaments and tendons are fibrous tissue and hard to injure, but once injured, take some time to recover from because of limited blood flow. The best thing you can do to hasten recovery is to ride but at an intensity that causes you no pain. That will flush as much blood and lymph through the area as is possible and hasten recovery.

      Dunno why you raised your seat but lesson learned.

  • Dan says:

    Hello i have been wondering if quad cramps are related to saddle height?
    I suffer realy severe cramps in the quads i am thinking my saddle may be to high i will be ok for a hour ish but then they hit me usually when i get out of the saddle and the quads just lock up.

    I raced a 24 hour team event and i was getting cramps after 1.5hours so in the night break i had a massage he said there was a lot of muscle tension he lossened them up and then i raced realy strong for the entire next day with no cramps.

    Would be gratful for any ideas again

    Dan

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Danny,
      there are multiple potential reasons for your problem. The
      key to understanding why is where do you cramp?
      Is it the entire quads?
      Is it in the area immediately above the knee?
      Is it in a line down the centre of the quads?
      Is it more to the inside or outside of the leg?

      • Dan says:

        Hi thanks for your reply the cramp is above the knee up the centre of the quad and the whole length the quad locks up at bottom of the pedal strock.

        Thanks Dan

      • Steve Hogg says:

        G’day Danny,
        If the main focus of the cramping is down the centreline of the quads and above the knee it is reasonably certain that you are sitting too far forward and too high. Cramping in the centre of the quads is usually the rectus femoris which is the only quad the crosses the hip joint making it a hip flexor as well. The cramping above the knee usually indicates overextension which is common when people sit too far forward.

        What I suggest is that you work your way through the posts on position with particular attention to the posts on Seat Height, Seat Setback and Cleat Position. It is probably worth looking at and following the suggestions in How To Avoid Bike Fit Hell too.

  • Aron says:

    Hi Steve

    With regards to the Achilles issue I stated above, I have been paying close attention to it and working out what causes the pain.

    Like I say, running is fine, so its specifically the bike which cause it. I can cycle fine, even pushing hard up hills with no problem, however, when I am in the drops or cycling down hill (worse if in the drops going downhill pushing hard) I notice pain in my Achilles.

    I do tend to move forward in the saddle when in the drops (and am guessing when going downhill), so I am wondering why would being in the drops or going downhill cause pain in the Achilles.

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Aron,
      Despite it being common, moving forward on the seat when in the drops is not ‘normal’. It indicates a poor position or structural dysfunction or both. If it is position that is the problem, then seat height, seat setback, bar position, cleat position or any combination of those things are the problem and you are moving forward to regain stability that you can’t maintain in a drop bar position with bum firmly on seat.
      Given that you don’t have a problem with your Achilles tendons when running, I would be prepared to bet that there is a problem with your position. I would start right from the start with this. Read the post “How to Avoid Bike Fit Hell” and take it to heart and act on it.
      Then work through the following posts in the order suggested.
      “Seat Height: How Hard Can It BE”.
      “Seat Setback”
      Power To The Pedal: Cleat Position”
      “Behind Bars”

      Once you have worked through those and if you put them to use with any method, by the time you’ve finished, you shouldn’t have an Achilles tendon problem. Once the process is complete, it would be a good idea to further work your way through the Foot Correction series. Best of luck and let me know how you go.

  • Aron says:

    Forgot to add,

    Thanks!

    Aron

  • richard says:

    I used your hill climbing seat height method. It feels great, except when i’m on the flats in the drops, then an an imbalance occurs: I feel I have to shift my bottom to the left to relieve left hip discomfort. What’s going on?

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Richard,You’ve got some kind of pelvic asymmetry that is shifting you to the right. The increased forward lean of the torso to reach the drops is enough to exaggerate the problem more than when more upright and that is why you are feeling it.Solutions?Firstly, find out if the issue is a functional one. Is there a leg length difference?Are there any significant differences in range of motion on left and right side in the gluteals, lower back, hamstrings or hip flexors?If the answer to those questions is no (and don’t assume this, find it out), then the problem is one of position and some challenge to your position is causing you to compensate asymmetrically when placing hands in the drops. If this is the case, the likely culprits are too low a bar height or too long a stem or perhaps both.

  • Jim Pall says:

    Hello Steve,

    Great site, and wished I’d met you years ago. Long story short, been road riding & racing (solely, no mtn biking) for nearly 20 yrs now (am 49 yrs old), and the past 3-4 years have dealt with increasing SI joint pain right side, manifested into right hip crotch pain that also travels down the top of right thigh, finally feeling the right achilles tendon develop pain. This all got to where it affected me in every aspect of my life (sleep too, which became scary). Finally got fed up this summer, followed your complete advice, went first to an ortho doc who used standing x-ray, found my left femur is actually 9mm shorter than my right. Functionally, the PT in the ortho’s office also then found another 5 mm on top of that (me twisting to my right, bringing my left side forward, in everything I do, from standing, walking, especially cycling). the PT then sent me to a cycle fitter who believes in everything you do, who proceeded to stand above & behind me, put me through your climbing test while watching and video taping me, and he confirmed everything the ortho doc & PT found. He sort of shook his head that I lasted this long this way, and wanted to know who the two professional fitters were 15+ yrs ago that let me out the door this way. Immediately, this new bike fitter said that my seat was at 15mm to 20mm too high (we found 17mm lower was best, stopped all hip rocking and left hip dropping). He said the too high seat allowed me all these years to hide/ ameliorate the above problems, even while racing at a high level. Next, this new bike fitter shimmed my left leg 7mm (out of the total 9mm “actual” + 5mm “functional” LLD the ortho/PT found). Also, I should mention the PT has me on pilates and yoga daily now, working on balancing my hips, releasing the bound up left and strengthening the right. Needless to say, all of this is working, right side SI joint pain, right side interior hip/groin pain, and right side referred knee & achilles tendon pain has lessened dramatically. For the first time in my daily life and in my cycling life, I feel both of my hamstrings fully firing through walking, standing, etc and especially through a fluid pedal stroke. It is eye opening & fantastic. But I have a question that the concerns something the ortho doc, physical therapist, and bike fitter (and myself) are unsure of: All of this change (after 20+ yrs of me getting myself to this screwed up point), from the new dropped seat high of 17mm plus the 6mm shimmed left cleat), I am developing right front knee pain, and I’ve never had knee pain before to this extent. The pain feels like tendionitis/patella pain, and nothing I do makes it lessen. If I keep going, I am afraid that this will actually put me off the bike, which would be ironic. I am wondering, would you recommend that I reference back to my old positions above (everything of the old position was fully documented by the bike fitter and myself), then start lowering the seat in stages over months (say 5mm, ride 6 months, then lower another 5mm, ride again for another 6 months, etc, etc) to reach this new 17mm lower seat position? Same thing on the left shims, should I start at 2mm shim, ride four months, the go to 4mm, ride another 6 months, then up to the full 6mm shim? In no way do I want to go back to the old problems I mentioned above, but I do not know what a good schedule is for beginning all these corrections. I don’t see this issue discussed anywhere on any site. Is there any general rule of thumb ( I understand all people respond differently, in different stages), but is there a general, not fixed, but just “general” rule of thumb when cyclists embark on sitting/positional changes after so many years of doing things wrong and acclimating their body to this way of doing things wrong? Mainly so that they do not create new problems that will actually put them off the bike?? Thank you.

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Jim,
      Yours is an interesting history and a lesson to others. Re your question; with clients, I don’t believe in gradual changes. Many of them travel some distance to come here and it isn’t realistic to expect them return many times for incremental adjustments to a final position. I change what I have to change, often significantly, and then counsel them to ride at a HR of no more than 70% of max for 3 weeks on flat to undulating terrain. No PB’s in terms of intensity, and no PB’s in terms of cadence or distance. Just smell the roses type cruising.

      Riding like this allows the client to adapt with relative ease. There are often one off niggles or aches as the body adjusts, but anything that gets worse ride on ride or that doesn’t disappear after a ride or two is a warning sign and I believe that your right knee pain is a warning sign.
      There are a number of possibilities.
      1. That you have ridden too hard too soon. If you read the above, you will be in a position to judge whether this is what has happened or not.
      2. That there still remains an issue that needs
      addressing. Possibilities include arch support, wedging and seat setback. 3. That your seat height was dropped too far. Even if it felt good initially, sometimes large changes in position trigger and process of adaptation that leaves the rider needing further changes to their position because the ‘cycling body language’ that they displayed on the bike during
      their fitting may not be what they display at a later date of weeks or
      months.

      You have not only had large positional changes but also are in a state of
      flux functionally in the sense that you are working hard to change and
      improve how you function off the bike with the Pilates and so on. I’d
      suggest getting the fitter to have a second look at you as soon as possible.

  • SAPAL says:

    Hi Steve,

    What would be the best method for some one setting their seat height in an area that does not have the terrain to complete 3 minutes of hill climbing? (South Florida is as flat as a pancake. The only thing classified as a hill are the causeways!!!) Is there another way to complete the “hill climbing” test? Maybe on a trainer with a climbing block? Please let me know. Thanks

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Sapal,
      Using an indoor trainer with the front wheel elevated to
      simulate a hill would work. The reason for the hill is that our muscle enlistment patterns change as our relationship to gravity changes. When riding up a hill we effectively slacken the seat tube angle (lower number) and enlist the hamstrings more. Riding a trainer should work okay.