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How to determine how far back a rider should have their seat on a road bike?

If you have a look at a lot of cycling related literature, time and again the answer given is what our American friends call KOPS, which is an abbrevation for Knee Over Pedal Spindle (I prefer axle to spindle, but never mind).  However, what is meant by this is not what KOPS says.  What is meant is Tibial Tuberosity Over Pedal Axle.  The tibial tuberosity is the bony bump below the patella (knee cap) to which the patella tendon attaches.  So instead of KOPS, Tibial Tuberosity Over Pedal Spindle (TTOPS) or TTOPA would be a more accurate acronym, though it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

The idea is to have you set your seat at the distance behind the bottom bracket that will allow you to achieve KOPS / TTOPS or whatever you want to call it with foot level and crank horizontal and forward. Simple isn’t it?

Simple doesn’t matter as I would tell you that  KOPS / TTOPS has no foundation anyway. Like a lot of cycling lore, KOPS / TTOPS has achieved validity by repetition. It is the linguistic equivalent of Newton’s First Law – An object’s speed and motion will stay the same unless acted upon by an outside force. In this case KOPS is considered valid only in the absence of a contending force (point of view). So here’s a contending point of view.

First a question. If anyone reading is a firm believer in KOPS /TTOPS, can you explain to me why achieving a particular and specific relationship of one body part to the bike is so all important that it outweighs the relationship of the whole of body to the bike?

I’ve never heard a convincing explanation, so if you have one, feel free to contribute.

Here’s my take for what it is worth.

Every action on a bike starts with a signal from the CNS (brain and / or spine) that is in major part detemined by a constant flow of proprioceptive feedback from the peripheral nervous system. This process is fundamental. Nothing precedes it in importance. No muscle can fire accurately, precisely and in the right sequence (of a motor pattern) without this process. If the signals don’t reach the muscles, the muscles don’t work. To me that means that to perform optimally on a bike we need to keep this in mind and try to optimise our neural function within whatever constraints are imposed upon us by our genetic heritage, developmental idiosyncracies and current structural condition. So how to do that?

Firstly, some background. Influential Czech sports physician Vladimir Janda (click on the link for the best overview I’ve read of Janda’s life) grouped external muscles into two categories, Postural Muscles and Phasic Muscles. There is still some controversy about the classification but more about detail than the big picture. As a generalisation, the postural / phasic split is a good one. Muscles that act posturally  are muscles whose primary purpose is to resist gravity and allow us to maintain a position (posture) in space. For example, on a bike. Whereas muscles that act phasically have the primary purpose of generating power for movement. It is important to note that some postural muscles, like the hamstrings and calves act phasically on a bike because they are relieved of the need to help maintain a standing posture such as when walking.

So what has this got to do with seat set back?

Everything.

Postural muscles are given higher priority by the Central Nervous System (CNS) than Phasic muscles for  good evolutionary reasons.  A human body needs to be able to maintain a posture before it can move effectively. For instance, walking would not be possible if we could not maintain an upright position. If performance is the goal when cycling, we need to find a way to maximise the enlistment of the lower priority, power producing muscles that act phasically. The only way to do this is to minimise the need to engage the higher priority postural muscles that allow us to hold a position on a bike. How to do that?

The only way possible on a UCI legal bike is to have our seat setback the minimum distance behind the bottom bracket that allows the rider  to cantilever their torso out from their pelvis without excessive enlistment of upper body muscles, arms and shoulders to support the weight of the torso. The position should be largely self supporting. That way the rider can devote as much effort as possible to propelling the bike and minimal effort to maintaining a position on  the bike.

Unweighting of the upper body is desirable for another reason . The 3 limiting inputs to the body  for sustained performance on a bike  are Food, Water and Air. Of the 3, a restriction of the ability to breathe will make it’s presence felt earlier than the other two at high intensity. There are something like 20 muscles of the torso that we use to breathe with. Of those 20, 18 have postural implications. By that I mean that those 18 can be used to breathe, but to do so fully and deeply,  they need to be able to relax. This isn’t possible if they  are being used to bear weight, resist pedaling forces or to maintain stability, which in turn means that breathing effficiency is compromised and either power output drops, or the duration that the rider can sustain a given output drops.

Just how far the seat will need to be set back to achieve to largely unweight the torso will vary from person to person. It will depend on the following factors:

1. Effective torso length

2. Pedalling technique

3. Functionality

To explain these briefly one at a time.

With the caveat of “all other things being equal” (which they never are but it serves well for the purpose of explanation)

Effective torso length

The longer the torso, the more weight the rider is projecting forward from the seat, which means that the further back the rider needs the seat set back to counterbalance and support the weight of the torso without requiring sigificant effort of the arms, shoulders and upper back to do so. A measurably long torso doesn’t necessarily mean a long ‘effective’ torso. What will determine ‘effective’ torso length is the ability of the rider to extend their spine and rotate their pelvis forward on the seat. For example a rider with measurably short torso may have good ability to extend (lengthen) their spine and flatten their lower back with pelvic rotation, meaning they are lengthening their ‘effective’ torso length. Conversely, a rider with short legs and long torso may be tight in the hips and lower back and have a pronounced arch in their spine while riding as viewed from the side. This will shorten their ‘effective’ torso length. There are a million permutations and every case is individual.

Several examples are below. Each of these riders have the same measurable torso length, but because of differing  degrees of flexibility in hips, lower and upper back, each has differing ‘effective’ torso lengths.

Short ‘effective’ torso length below

Normal ‘effective’ torso length below

Long ‘effective’ torso below

Pedalling technique

All forces work in 2 directions; action and reaction. Newton showed (and I’ll paraphrase) that for every action there will be an opposite and equal reaction. Applying this to cycling means that if your natural pedalling technique is that of a heel dropper, you are pushing yourself back in the seat with every pedal stroke. The more force you apply to the pedals, the more you will push yourself back against the seat and the more you will tend to unweight the upper body. Translation:  Heel Droppers don’t need to have their seats set back as far as their hypothetical, identical Toe Dipper  twin (all other things being equal) At the other extreme of pedalling technique, Toe Dippers are tending to tip their weight  forward with every pedal stroke and the more force applied to the pedals, the greater this tendency. Translation = the Toe Dipper will need to have their seat  further back than their hypothetical Heel Dropping twin to unweight the upper body (all other things being equal)

Functionality

This is a biggie. If you’ve read this far I hope you can see the potential for your performance in having a largely unweighted upper body. One limiting factor that only you can do something about is your functionality. You can have the the best bike position possible, but if you are inflexible and dysfunctional beyond a certain point, you will not be able to relax your upper back, shoulders and arms because you are inherently unstable. Too many cyclists have hips, lower back and pelvis that work as a unit rather than (more or less) independently. That means that moving the legs during a pedaling motion causes excessive movement in the pelvis and lower back. On a bike, the rider will autonomically (below conscious thought) do whatever it takes to attempt to stabilise their pelvis. Even with a good position, in the absence of reasonable functionality, the rider will use the only other mechanism open to them  to attempt to achieve on seat stability;  excessive enlistment of the arms, shoulders and upper back. This can only come at the cost of breathing efficiency and performance. Any unnecessary tension in the upper body is robbing blood flow, heart beats and oxygen from the legs that propel the bike. So for all you riders who shy away from stretching and know you are as stiff as a board, there is a performance benefit in being reasonably flexible and reasonably functional.

Point of balance

It is time to cut to the chase. Rather than be concerned with determining how you pedal, or what your ‘effective’ torso length is or how functional you are; here’s the simple method. You are a given, at least in the short term, so you have to work with what you are capable of at the moment.. Mount your bike on an indoor trainer, warm up thoroughly and when ready for it, start a sustained effort at just below TT pace, say 85% of max heart rate at 95 – 105 rpm. You need to be working hard but not dying in the process. Once in the swing of things, place your hands in the drops and then, when ready, swing your arms back by your hips.  Ideally you should be able to teeter on the point of balancewithout arching your back, raising your torso or toppling forward without control.

This is an imperfect explanation because much of this will depend on how functional you are. Self knowledge is a wonderful thing and most riders don’t realise just how dysfunctional they are. For those who are tight and riddled with reciprocal inhibitions (most) you are looking to achieve the best compromise possible. You may not be able to hold the ‘arms back’ position for any length of time but you should feel like there is little pressure on your hands when you are riding hard in the drops. Cleat position and bar height and reach also play a  part in what you will be able to achieve. Even the truly functional should only be able to hold the balance point with (minor) effort. My feeling is that the rider should be sitting a fraction forward of their centre of gravity. If they are far enough back to be rock solid on the seat with arms swung back, then they are either a high function freak (they exist) or have too much seat setback which will mean that the transition to an off the seat position (like sprinting or climbing) involves a ponderous shift of body weight. Additionally, too far back gives enormous leverage on the flat or on slight gradients but limits the riders abilities to pedal at high cadence. On moderately steep hills (gradients effectively increase seat setback) the rider who is too far back will not have enough weight over the pedals and will have to climb off the seat simply because they cannot reach down to the bottom of the pedal stroke with power and control. Ideally the rider should be stable and need their arms, but only just need their arms. They should be poised for a near instantaneous transition from on seat to off seat for a sprint effort or off seat climbing effort as necessary.

The other benefit of the balance point approach is that it simplifies how to set your self up with regard to your  functionality. If you have a tight back and cannot  extend well, your effective torso length is shortened, you don’t project as much weight forward as you would do with better flexibility, in turn meaning that your centre of gravity (COG) is further rearward and you need less seat set back to maintain the balance point. This minimises lumbar flexion and reduces the potential for back pain. If you are flexible and can extend your torso well, then the extra weight you project forward means your COG will be projected further forward and so more seat set back is required to maintain the balance point, This reduces pressure on hands, arms and shoulders, allows fuller breathing and if done correctly, still doesn’t load the low back because your higher degree of function means that you can bend well without excessive lumbar flexion.

Think of your arms as relaxed props with the emphasis on relaxed. They are necessary, but the harder you ride on the flat, the less load they should be supporting. The job of the upper body and arms is NOT to try and help you drag your bike down the road………..though there are plenty of attempts out there in bicycleland to do so. During a hard effort, if you are reasonably functional, then in simple terms, from the hips down is used for power production, the torso is used for breathing and there should only be as much tension in the arms as is necessary to steer and control the bike. Which shouldn’t be much. That description slightly oversimplifies the matter but I hope it makes sense to you. It makes far more sense to me than KOPS / TTOPS because it helps optimise the relationship of the entire body to the bike, not just one limb segment.

What do YOU think?

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This Post Has 205 Comments

    1. G’day Duane,
      Good question. Seat level should be determined by what is comfortable for that person on that seat. Many common road seats don’t feel ‘level’ until the nose is up anywhere from 0.5 to 2.0 degrees though there is variation out side of that. Most of the performance oriented SMP’s don’t feel right unless they are down at the nose 2 – 5 degrees.

      Outside of SMP’s and Concor Lites (which also kick up at the back in a similar way to SMP) I’m not a fan of having the nose of a seat down more than about a degree in an effort to relieve perineal pressure because doing so increases the tendency of the rider to slide forward OR have to use more upper body effort than is ideal to prevent themselves sliding forward.

      If perineal pressure is the problem, the solution either involves a change of seat or a change in one or more parameters of position.

      There’s plenty more but it is the subject of a future post.

  1. absolute agreement.

    eagerly anticipating the follow up post on the differences between the way you determine setback for road vs. time trial positioning and your recommendations on bicycle seat tube angles for TT’s.

    as i understand it, you like a very slack angle for TT’s, as opposed to the forward angle promoted by most bike fitters in the US.

    1. G’day Eric,
      Glad that we think alike. There’s a TT / Tri post coming soon.
      No, I don’t push slack STA’s for TT’s; just try to do what is appropriate for the individual which can vary significantly because people vary. What I am against though, is the blind adherence to radical forward position because of the number of casualties, particularly amongst triathletes. I think in part this is because too many are swayed by marketing hype that implies that “aerodynamics is everything” whereas it is part of the performance picture, not its entirety.

  2. G’day Steve:
    Flipping the handlebar stem to the positive rise position might reduce saddle to bar drop by 20mm as well as shorten the reach. Assuming a rider is well balanced on the bike to begin with, what affect on saddle setback might a change in handlebar height have?

    1. G’day Rob,
      I’m not sure that I understand the question. Every adjustment to any parameter position has the potential to affect any other parameter of position. This makes bike fitting, at least as I practice it, an exhaustive process of change something; check the result; recheck any other previous change likely to be affected by the recent change; and so on repeatedly.
      There is a hierarchy of priorities and seat position and foot position on pedal determine power production in the main, whereas bar height is more concerned with steering the bike. What I am saying is that I may reassess seat setback if a rise in bar height is necessary. Given the case you mention where the rider is passively stable on the seat (i.e; arms functioning as *relaxed *props) I would only raise the bars as you mention if:
      a). Excessive extension of the neck is necessary to see forward comfortably when on riding with hands in drops
      b). The rider was planning to ride a much longer distance than they are normally accustomed to. Comfort on a bike also relates to the duration a position has to be maintained. If the extra long ride was a one off I would leave seat set back as already determined
      c) Some combination of pelvic shape and dynamics and seat choice make it impossible to achieve perineal comfort on the drops without a rise in bar height even though the rider has the ability in the neck and upper thoracics to cope easily with the lower bar height.

  3. great post Steve!
    re your previous reply re nose/up nose/down for SMP.
    I just installed new 2011 model SMP Dynamic and put it 1.5-2 degrees nose down as per my 3yo SMP Stratos which you configured in 2008. Strange thing – with SMP Dynamic nose down 1.5-2 degrees it felt like I was sliding forward into the dip so I just made it completely level now, but not ridden it yet in this position. Or perhaps I did not get the SMP Stratos to SMP Dynamic setback transfer correct, as Dynamic is 8mm longer than Stratos but I could not figure out where…. puzzling.

    1. G’day Yuri,
      Though they’re both SMP’s, the Stratos and Dynamic are quite different seats. They differ in width, but chiefly in the amount of padding.
      The lesser padding of the Dynamic means that the curve along the long axis of the seat that the ischiopubic ramus sits in is deeper and longer. This probably explains why you feel the difference in stability (as well as the possibility that you are not sitting in the same position relative to bottom bracket)

      Reassess from scratch. You aren’t the most flexible gent out there so you may need to have a Dynamic level of only ever so slightly nose down.

      1. thanks Steve. Will do. What about seat height transfer between Stratos and Dynamic SMP? Do I need to reassess it or can I safely keep same seat height for both seats? I use your method for measuring seat height using ruler and going from BB cente via centre of the rails to ruler level, etc.

  4. Also related to TT, since the goal is even power distribution and sprinting is rarely necessary, what would be wrong with sitting further back than you recommend above? Would that skew the relative ratio of work between the quads and hamstrings too much in favor of the hams?

    Does the arch cleat position modify setback in any unusual way in your experience? I would expect setback would be a few cms forward with arch eats but wondering if reducing contributions from calves has a negative impact upon balance point.

    1. G’day Eric,
      The post wasn’t about TT’s and I’ll get to that subject in the near future. I don’t want to pre empt it too much.

      Re midfoot cleat position; again, work out what the rider needs re balance point. There is no hard or fast rule. Don’t think that because the foot have moved further forward over the pedal that the seat necessarily needs to come forward. Sometimes yes, sometimes no, so best to reassess from scratch.

  5. …just a THANK YOU for your sharing with us some of your thoughts! i’ll be back soon with some too. 😉

  6. if we place tha saddle set back as you suggest, we will feel more pressure on the hands at low speed (low power on the pedals), but this pressure will slowly fade away as the speed (power on the pedals) increase. is this right? or…

    1. G’day Mircea,
      You are correct. At low speeds and intensities there will be weight on the hands but it should never be excessive. 5mm more seat set back or 5mm less seat set back can make a noticeable difference. If the rider is a recreational rider who is not interested in riding hard, then raising the bars will shift weight rear wards and relieve pressure on the hands at low speeds.

  7. G’night (here in Romania) Steve 🙂 ,
    …and, on the same subject, the pressure fade away from the hands as we increase the power on the pedals, but it will be transfered slowly to the lower back. right? because now the lower back muscles will support the body weight, right? this is how i see it…

    1. G’day Mircea,
      No, the lower back shouldn’t be working hard to support weight. Stand with your heels against a wall and bend forward at the hips while extending your torso and allowing your knees to bend. You will fall forward because your pelvis cannot move back far enough behind your feet to counterbalance the forward extension of the torso. Now step a metre out from the wall and repeat the process. Your pelvis will move behind the feet allowing you to counterbalance the weight of the torso and you will maintain that position with little effort.

      This is what it should feel like on a bike or very close to it. The complicating factor is that each leg is pushing alternately on the pedals.

      Most riders have a ‘window of 10mm of seat set back either side of this point. 10mm further forward will load up their arms a little too much. 10mm further back will begin to load the back too much because of excessive lumbar flexion (unless the bars are raised accordingly). Somewhere in the middle is ideal.

  8. Good article Steve. Just noticed the transition from the old to new blob/website. It looks good. Not often Bunnies & Cowgirls win on same weekend. Two different games but good results. Have a good week.

    1. G’day Darren,
      If either the Rabbitohs or the Cowboys make the semi finals, that will have to be the subject of a post. Even if it will only mean anything to 2 long suffering footy fans; you and me!

  9. i agree with your example (bending forward against/without a wall), and that the lower back shouldn’t be working hard during cycling.

    all i am saying is that, as the power on the pedal increase, the pressure on the hands will slowly fade away, and that ‘pressure’ will go somewhere else, right? where? i think that pressure (not a great one) will slowly go to the back muscles. if not to the back muscles, where will that ‘pressure’ go?…

    1. G’day Mircea,
      Sorry, now I understand your question. My belief is that the feet wear the extra load. With an ideal position there will be some weight on the hands during low intensity riding but as intensity increases, the extra force being exerted on the pedal via the feet relieves that pressure without undue loading of the back.

      As an example, crouch down with knees bent and feet flat on the floor and hands flat on the floor. Ensure that most of your weight is on your feet but there is some weight on your hands. Now push down with your feet. If your weight is distributed as I feel it should be on a bike, then the pressure on your hands will lessen. If your weight is distributed too far forward the weight on your hands will increase. Either way I would not expect a significant increase in tension in the low back.

      The next post will be the answer to the long question about pelvic shapes and how people sit on a bike. I think answering that in detail will help answer your concerns about the matter we’re discussing. Let me know when you see the post.

  10. Hi Steve.

    Very interesting article. The heel on my left leg drops on every stroke and this has caused a stretch to the achilles and chronic tendonosis. The right foot/leg is fine. After trying everything I could (cleats back, wedges for overpronation etc) I tried moving the saddle forward by a huge 4-5 cms moving my knees further over the pedals and this seems to cure the “flick” in the ankle/foot.

    However, this position is now pretty extreme and I wondered whether you had any ideas on how I can get my knees further over the pedals without such a radical movement of the saddle (bearing in mind that the cleats are back to protect the achilles, the seat post is inline and I’m already using a stem of 120mm). I also love my saddle and wouldn’t want to change (Selle Italia SLR Carbonio).

    Apparently I favour the right side which is where my leg is 5mm shorter. However, the femur on the right side is actually longer so I wonder if that means the knee/quads are more involved on the right and the calf/achilles on the left.

    I’d come and see you if I didn’t live in England so any help would be much appreciated. I’m managing 9 multi-stage charity cycle events this year so need to make sure I sort this problem asap.

    Best wishes.
    Richard

    1. G’day Richard,
      Assuming that the leg length was accurately measured, then a right leg that is 5mm shorter overall but that has a longer femur is likely to be functionally even shorter again on a bike. Why?

      If the femur of the shorter leg is longer, that means that the lower limb is shorter again than the longer leg. Unless riding off the seat, the femur is never vertical whereas the lower limb varies from vertical far less than the upper limb. So your leg length difference is compounded.

      Are you using a shim under your right shoe?

      If not, you should be and the lack probably plays a part in your problem. I say this because almost always, a rider will tip their pelvis towards the shorter legged side. That makes the other leg extend more; and often too much and challenges the plane of the hip on that side. One of the compensations that some people autonomically evolve to work around this in the absence of a shim is to drop the heel forcefully at the top of the stroke and ‘coast’ through the bottom. Another is to have the seat height set for the short leg but to underextend the longer leg and again, drop the heel more, in this case in an effort to gain extension.

      In your shoes I would be experimenting with shim stacks of between 5 and 10mm in height. If you have a significant difference in foot sizes or proportions, this can influence things too. If this all sounds too complicated, contact Scherrit Knoesen here: http://www.thebikewhisperer.co.uk

      1. Thanks Steve.

        I’ll experiment with the shims. Is there also anything I can do with regard to cleat position or should I leave them both back to reduce stretch on achilles?

        And am I to understand that the shimming will either reduce or eliminate need to push saddle forward?

        Understand that it’s difficult to judge without seeing me but some general guidelines would be useful. And when I have more time a trip to see Scherrit sounds sensible.

        Thanks again.
        Richard

      2. G’day Richard,
        I don’t know where you are sitting now so it is hard to advise. You imply that moving the seat forward solved the asymmetry of technique problem but isn’t ideal, though you don’t say that explicitly.
        Proceeding on the assumption that is correct, when you moved the seat forward 40 – 50mm, with most seats (and this is dependent on the seat rail angle versus the seat upper) you will also have reduced seat height by 13-17mm. Did you raise the seat post out of the frame when you moved the seat forward?

        If not, the effectively lower seat height may be what reduced the problem. So if you are convinced that the seat is now too far forward, why not move it back where it was and drop the seat that same amount?

        That may be enough to get you out of jail in the short term. My lengthy experience is that most riders set their seat
        height to high and this link explains it http://www.stevehoggbikefitting.com/blog/2011/02/seat-height-how-hard-can-it-be

        Re cleat position; again, I don’t know what position you have your cleats in now. What I will say is that too far back is a lesser evil than too far forward in most circumstances.

  11. G’day Steve,

    I can’t wait for “pelvic shapes” post 🙂

    …Let’s say i have everything set properly for my road bike; with this bike i do regulary 100km in a fast way. Now, with the same bike i want to go 200km in a more relaxed way. Everywhere i read they say first you should have less handlebar drop, this giving you a raised body position, a relaxed one. So, on the same bike i will rise the handlebar lets say 2cm. Question:
    -should i move the saddle a bit forward, for keeping more or less the same balance (weight distribution) on the bike?
    -should i leave it there, no change? i suppose my hands will have less pressure throughout the ride.
    -should i move it a bit back for keeping the same angle between the body and legs?
    -or, no matter how long i want to ride 200km, 300km, i should not change anything (nor the handlebar, nor the saddle)?

    1. G’day Mircea,
      My crystal ball doesn’t work very well. I don’t know how you sit on a bike. What I would suggest is to go and ride 200kms and see if you experience any discomfort. If you do, that will give you clues as to what you need to do. A personal example. My position has been largely unchanged for some time. A few years back I was training for a fast Alpine ride of 200kms with 3 x 30km climbs, a 10km and a 7km climb. This is not the sort of riding that I do regularly. What I found was that I had no issues at all in training on rides that were 6 hours or less. However, I did develop some minor issues in 8 and 9 hour rides. I altered my position to sort that out and to my surprise, felt an improvement even in shorter rides. I rarely ride beyond 5 hours and was not aware of any issues; i.e, felt good, no niggles etc. But riding really long rides helped me improve my position on shorter rides. It is likely you will experience the same thing.

      1. G’day Steve,
        sorry, sorry for my english! i am not that good/tough rider. i was speaking just like an example, like an assumption.

        yes, this also happend to me, on a long ride you realize better what you need.

        -so, for a bike which we ride hard with, what should we change if we want to ride it in a more relaxed way?
        everybody say less handlebar drop; ok, so lets say we move up the handlebar 2cm. now what about the saddle? should we leave it there, move it a little front or back?

        thanks!
        Mircea

      2. G’day Mircea,
        If you can pass the balance test in the original handlebar position, then leave the seat where it is. You have spent time learning a motor pattern based on that seat and cleat position so it makes no sense to change; at least in the short term. Raise your bars to whatever level you need to. Maybe 10mm, maybe 20mm; experiment and find out what works best for you. As you raise the bars, you are shortening your reach to the bars for 1mm for every 3mm increase in bar height. So if you raise the bars 20mm, they are 7mm closer to you. With some people who need a certain degree of torso extension, the extra bar height can cause problems because of forced increased lumbar or thoracic flexion higher bars *can* cause(not will cause; depends on how the individual adjusts to higher bar height). In most cases I think it is wise to extend the reach to the bars if there is a *substantial* increase in bar height.

  12. Hi Steve.

    The left knee feels like it comes in and accelerates on the downstroke with the heel going down at the bottom, and a feeling that the leg has slightly overextended. The toe then comes up on the upstroke and the process begins again.

    This seems to tally with your theory of the seat being set for the shorter leg, so perhaps after shimming I need to try increasing the saddle height so the longer leg isn’t under-extending.

    My question about the cleats was whether I should move forward or back to counteract the leg/femur length issue, or whether I should just stick to shimming the short side?

    Lots of variables to try! Thanks again.

    Richard

    1. G’day Richard,
      Set your cleats as per this post:
      http://www.stevehoggbikefitting.com/blog/2011/04/power-to-the-pedal-cleat-position.

      If you are racing road or crits, use Method 1. If you are a ‘serious social’ rider or TT specialist, use Method 2. We’ll leave midfoot for another day once you are on top of the current problem. When you shim the foot of the shorter legged side, move the cleat 1mm further back for every 5mm or part of 5mm that you have to shim the cleat. A shim moves the foot further from the pedal axle so a given degree of heel drop rotates the foot further behind the pedal axle. You want the same cleat position relative to foot in shoe *under load* on each foot (assuming that your feet are similar) hence the need to move the shimmed cleat back slightly more. If you get stuck, book in with Scherrit.

  13. Hi Steve,

    I came to your article as I rode for two hours on Friday and with no previous injury or damage during the ride it is now the fourth day I have a swollen and slightly stiff left knee. The swelling is localised to the front left of the knee as I look down at at. I’m not asking your medical opinion of course but I am convinced it is a fit issue that has rose to the surface due to overtraining.
    I am asking where should I start to look as I am panicking I have a summer of injury ahead of me if I carry on regardless.
    Could a saddle too far back cause this sort of overuse injury? If my saddle was too low would you not expect pain in both knees?

    Will

    1. G’day Will,
      Again, my crystal ball doesn’t work very well and I don’t know your circumstances or how you sit on a bike. What I can say is that the majority of left knee problems problems on a bike arise because of a right side hip drop or forward rotation or both under load. Read the posts on seat height and cleat position. Seat height is an often overlooked cause or trigger for many issues and if one or both cleats are at an angle that doesn’t allow your foot or feet to sit where they want to, that can also be an issue. Unfortunately, so can many other things. If your summer is coming up, you’re in the northern hemisphere. Where are you? I’ll try to point you in the right direction.

  14. G’day Steve,

    I must admit I do not realy understand your last example you gave me (the “crouch down” one). But no problem for me 🙂 I’ll move, read forward! 🙂
    How I visualize it is, if I push down with my feets my knees will start to straighten and:
    1) either my body goes up, more or less keeping the same body tiltness, and my hands will no longer touch the floor, and that little pressure that before was on the hands now will be on my back muscles, and ofcourse more pressure to the feets too.
    2) either my hands will stay on the floor, but my body will tilt more towards the front, so more weight on the hands.
    3) either my hands will stay on the floor, but my body will go towards the back, so more or less the same weight on the feets and hands.

    Thanks,
    Mircea
    😉

    1. G’day Mircea,
      I think something is being lost in the translation between us. I’ll have the long promised answer to your long letter done this weekend.

    2. Hi Steve,

      Another discussion of little practical consequence here, but if you have the time and inclination I was wondering if we could revisit Mircea’s question.

      In seated cycling, the weight of the upper body (from the pelvis up) is supported by the the bars at the front, and the seat and hip joints at the back. If we make the assumption that these support points are at the extreme front and back of the upper body, then the whole weight of the upper body is between these points. Now, pushing down harder on the pedals can only unweight the seat – it will have no effect on the bars.

      However, as we push, various muscles will pull on the pelvis. In particular, the glutes and hamstrings will tend to roll the pelvis backwards. If we are to maintain the same pelvic orientation, we need to counteract these forces.

      My idea is that as we pedal harder, (and/or use our glutes and hams more) we will increase the the tone of our back extensor muscles and other abdominal muscles to stabilise the pelvis. The extensor forces and intra-abdominal pressure tend to raise the upper body, decreasing the weight on the bars.

      We may also actually role the pelvis back a little and arch the back more which would have 2 effects: moving the upper body’s centre of gravity back a little relative to the support points, and increasing the passive stretch and pressure on various structures in the spine. Both of these effects would tend to resist flexion of the spine and unweight the bars.

      In other words, more or less as Mircea says – the pressure on the hands will move to the back. I’ve thought this for many years and was surprised when you said it’s incorrect for the most part, Steve, so I’m wondering where you think I’m on the wrong track.

      By the way, I love the “balance test”, but as a consequence of my way of thinking, I have to take it to mean “balancing setback with the ability to hold up one’s upper body” rather than any usual notion of teetering on a pivot. The centre of gravity of the rider will always be in front of the seat. On this point at least, I’m not willing to budge!

      Steve, I don’t disagree with your methods at all and have used them to improve my own position (seat setback in particular!) so thank you!

      Cheers
      Cam

      1. G’day Cam,
        you are into detail to the degree that you are the kind of
        person I should be teaching this stuff too. Re your comments and why I disagreed with Mircea about an increase in pressure on the pedals increasing the activity needed in the lower back to support weight.

        What you describe is very common; that is the rearward rotation of the pelvis under load and consequent arching of the back. And what you say about that increasing load on the low back and the stretching of the muscles of the torso is also common. To my mind though, that doesn’t make it ‘right’. If we are talking the acme of position with a reasonably functional rider, that shouldn’t happen. With rider going hard with hands placed in the drops the lumbar spine should stay in extension and there should be no tendency to roll the pelvis back. The balance test as I describe it means that the riders centre of gravity is slightly forward of where they most load the seat. They should need their arms to maintain position under reasonable load, but not a lot, and by swinging their arms back by their hips, they are moving their COG slightly further back and should be able to teeter with some measure of control, if reasonably functional or be rock solid if highly functional. As load increases beyond ‘reasonable’ then the upper body becomes almost totally unweighted. The best example I’ve seen of this is an American positioning theorist named Ron Haney. Ron has some really intelligent and arresting ideas about balance on a bike. One thing I have seen him do in the flesh that is relevant here is to remove his hands from
        the bars and then lift his backside a couple of centimetres off the seat and
        continue to pedal under hard load without his position in space changing at
        all. Not shortening up, no overbalancing.

        Bear in mind though, ‘reasonably functional’ and ‘highly functional’ are
        descriptions that are not accurate for the majority of riders that I see.
        The balance test is an attempt on my part to give people something simple to
        apply for some level of benefit. The methods I use to fit someone in person
        are much more detailed.

        So what I’m saying is that a rider with good functionality and an excellent
        position should not increase load on the lower back to any significant
        degree as pressure on the pedals rises. The position should be more or less
        in equilibrium in the sense that the pressure on the pedals is allowing the
        rider to feel that their upper body is unweighted with out an increase in
        load on low back or any attempt to increase flexion in the spine or
        necessity to roll the pelvis rearwards. Plenty do what you describe, but in
        my view there is a shortcoming with their position, their function, or both.

      2. Steve, I totally agree that rolling the pelvis back is not good. Unfortunately you focussed on the paragraph I wrote about that. I guess I was a bit unclear – in my mind that was just something in addition to the crux of my point; another possible source of forces which hold up the upper body.

        The story about Ron is interesting but I don’t find it amazing – I can easily believe you! Basically his position when he lifts his backside approximates that of a speed skater or downhill skier, right? However, it does clearly illustrate something that (and correct me if I’m wrong) neither of us have said yet. That is that the balance test is about balancing our weight over the PEDALS while pedaling hard (ie, over the downstroke pedal) – not over the seat. Now this makes perfect sense… Looking at the 3 pictures at the top of this page, I would estimate that the rider’s COG is somewhere between the bottom bracket and the pedal at the 3 o’clock position – clearly in front of the sit bones and hip joints. Support most of the body weight on the front foot and let the other pedal support the weight of the other leg – perfect – balancing on the pedals!

        Why did Ron’s upper body not fall downwards? Because there was tension/pressure (back extensors, intra-abdominal pressure, etc) in his upper body that supported it.

        In the normal cycling position (and in Ron’s illustration) there can only be 2 things that stop the upper from falling – forces which anchor the upper body’s position in relation to its support points at the pelvis, and the bars. Oh, maybe one more – the headwind we experience as we ride. (In fact, the lack of headwind is why I like to position my bike on the trainer very slightly ‘uphill’ – it takes some weight off the hands.)

        For me personally, I can hold the balance position for a short time without pedaling, but it’s extremely hard. It takes a heap of effort from the core muscles and also the leg muscles as they push/pull in weird directions on the pedals trying to stop the pelvis from moving. (And there’s a big increase in pressure on the seat in the process.) On the other hand, it feels much easier when I pedal reasonably hard. Does that mean pushing down with the legs unweights the upper body? No – if I understand correctly that would defy some basic laws of physics. Sure, it unweights the seat but that’s got nothing to do with force on the bars. Pushing down on the pedals applies forces to the pelvis that require stabilising. These stabilising forces pull/push the upper body upwards, leaving less force on the bars.

        So why does the balance test feel so much easier when we pedal hard? Put simply I’d say that this situation is much more natural for us humans – we use our musculature in a “normal” way. We’re using our big leg muscles, and our core muscles that we would use when lifting something heavy, for example. It tends to take the support point of the seat out of the equation, and in Ron’s case, totally out of the equation.

        Try this little test. Do a squat but keep the upper body dead vertical – don’t lean forward. Stand on your toes so that you can squat lower than the soleus muscles would otherwise allow. (Warning: this is officially dangerous squat technique!) Feel your bum muscles with your hands as you are squatting. You will notice no gluteal recruitment even though the glutes would seem to be useful in this movement. You can recruit them consciously, but you’ll get a counteractive recruitment from the various hip flexors, as if you’re doing a weird bodybuilding pose. Why no glutes? They would rotate the pelvis back and you would fall over. If we want to use the glutes we need to lean forward to give our torso musculature something to work against as it stabilises the pelvis. In addition / alternatively we could do a lunge – the forces at the pelvis from the back leg’s hip flexors will help counteract the hip extensors of the front leg.

        I think leaning forward can help us produce power on the bike. A very similar test as above can be done on the bike. Try sitting bolt upright vs leaning on the bars and feel your glutes with one hand while you pedal. I said above that we need to stabilise the forces on the pelvis produced by the legs… maybe we could even look at it the other way and say that the forces on the pelvis produced by holding up our upper body allow us to use our glutes and hamstrings more when that power output is called for.

        It’s said that we use our glutes and hamstrings more with a more rearward seat position. I think one (big) reason for this is probably the fact that with a more forward position, the glutes and hamstrings will tend to push us forward on the saddle – particularly around the 4 to 6 o’clock area of the pedal stroke – resulting in the need to either push back on the bars, or tilt up the saddle. Uncomfortable either way.

        I may have strayed a bit… Main point: For a given position on the bike any decrease in downward force on the bars absolutely must be caused by an increase in tension from some source in the torso. There’s no way around that. (Unless there is magic air holding up the upper body, or alternatively, a less magic headwind.)

        Main point #2: All of this means that I totally agree that the balance(on the pedals!) test is a great way to find a good amount a seat setback. …as I said, totally impractical discussion!

        Cheers,
        Cam

        ps, I tried Ron’s trick. I kind of managed it but it wasn’t pretty.

      3. G’day Cam,
        Basically I agree with what you say and have experimented in
        the past in the ways that you mention. One of my favourite exercises is a single legged, heel in contact with floor, deep squat, though these days I only do it to show off occasionally. And yes, a forward rotated pelvis is a key factor in ideal muscle enlistment when pedaling. Having re read Mircea’s comment and my reply that got your interest, I know what happened.

        When Mircea said words to the effect ‘that would load the lower back’ and I said ‘no it shouldn’t’ the inference that I took from ‘load the lower back’ was excessive loading. I didn’t mean to imply zero loading. And no, it is not an impractical discussion.

        Re why I came up with the balance test. It seems to me that optimising neural function within whatever constraints the rider exhibits is fundamental to cycling performance and that bike position plays a part in this. Passing the balance test shows that the rider has a desirable minimum level of functionality and is enlisting the minimum amount of high priority (as far as the CNS is concerned) postural musculature allowing fuller use, neurologically and physiologically of the lower priority phasic musculature. This can only benefit performance. It was that realisation in ’96 that set me off down this path.

  15. Hi Steve

    Just finally, the one temporary fix that’s worked is to tape the left ankle as in Andy Pruitt’s book with toe down 30 degrees.

    Of course this isn’t the answer but I wondered if it provides any further clues, as everything else I’ve tried hasn’t worked.

    Thanks again for your help.

    Best wishes.
    Richard

    1. G’day Richard,
      Self help is good but is a tough road. Forced pointing of
      the foot through ankle taping effectively lengthens your leg. Shimming will
      do the same thing but promote better function because your ankle isn’t fixed
      by the tape. The tough part is to achieve the best compromise between
      4things.

      1. Seat height should be such that your pelvis is as stable as it is going
      to be and has each leg reaching through the bottom of the stroke fluently.
      2. Seat set back should be as per the post on seat set back, that is based
      around balance. This will leave you sitting slightly too far forward on the
      long femur side and slightly too far back on the short femur side. No other
      compromise is possible.
      3. Cleat position and shim stack height on the functionally shorter leg
      needs to be the best compromise between pedalling fluency and solidity of
      feel of foot on pedal. This will take a lot of trial and error on your part.

      4. Off the bike. We all spend far more time off the bike than on the bike.
      How we function off the bike sets the scene for what happens on the bike. To
      that end, I would be compensating for the LLD off the bike with a heel lift
      or similar and I would make sure that stretching and functional stability
      training is part of your weekly life.

      If all else fails or if you become frustrated, see Scherrit Knoesen.

      1. Hi Steve

        I was taping the longer leg and not the one that you suggested shimming. I went for a 25 mile ride and although yes it did keep the heel from dropping and the achilles from being stretched, it didn’t feel comfortable and there was a little pain from behind the knee (suggesting overextension?).

        After 15 miles I took the tape off and concentrated on my pedal stroke – pushing down with the front of the foot and not letting the heel drop. This worked but only if I concentrated on it 100% and as the ride went on it was harder to maintain.

        All cases are obviously unique and I’m convinced that my pelvis, hips etc have been doing all kinds of odd odd things, perhaps to compensate for years of inequality on and off the bike.

        However, I still think the key problem is a shorter femur on the left side not being able to push straight down enough and instead pushing down and forwards a little meaning the heel drops at extension.

        As advised I’ve contacted Scherrit and will let you know how I get on.

        Best wishes.
        Richard

      2. G’day Richard,
        I’ll be interested in what Scherrit has to say once he’s seen you. I’ve seen a number of riders with a known shorter femur on one side, including one who had a successful pro career, so it is not the impediment you might think. What tends to be the problem is the asymmetric patterns of compensation that are developed over a life time of functioning with a difference in femur length.

        Additionally, I don’t know whether you stretch but if you don’t, start. Stretch long NOT hard. Probably the best book of its’ kind I’ve seen is Flexibility for Cyclists by Fred and Kele McDaniel. It is small, simple, good photos and succinct text, and it is available in the store.

      3. Hi Steve

        Well, I’m booked in to see Scheritt on June 22. However I’m leading a 200 mile, 3-day ride this weekend and am still looking for fixes (however short term).

        When I first emailed you I said that moving myself right forward on the saddle so I’m pushing down rather than forward and down helped. I adjusted one of my bikes by using an inline post, longer stem and pushing the seat forward and this helped (a little). As a control experiment, last week I rode another bike without this set-forward position and the reaction from my achilles was noticeable more pronounced.

        However, even on the bike that I’ve adjusted, I still can’t get the saddle far enough forward and I wondered what you thought about me using a TT-specific post to achieve this – in particular the Profile Fast Forward Seatpost? (I’ve ordered one in anticipation but can return if need be).

        The other (very short term) option I have is to tape the ankle so the heel won’t drop. Not ideal as I’ll be hobbling around while walking (which might not inspire confidence in my team!) but it does help, at least until the tape gets pulled out of position late in a ride.

        (FYI I experimented at length with shimming, wedges etc and my cleats are right back. Wedges under the heel and cleat of the over-pronating left foot had some impact but nothing substantial.)

        I hope to start from scratch with Scheritt but for the benefit of this weekend’s ride would be interested in your thoughts.

        Best wishes.
        Richard

      4. G’day Richard,
        So empirically, and for the moment at least, a more forward position relieves pressure on the troublesome Achilles tendon. If you need to move further forward, the easiest way to do it is to use a Thomson set back seat post (the one that looks like a broken swan’s neck) but reversed.

        This will work well *providing that you also reverse the seat rail clamp*. If you look at the seat rail clamp of a Thomson set back seat post, you will notice that the front of the upper half of the assembly has writing on it. That writing also needs to be facing forward after you reverse the post, meaning that you will have to remove the clamp and rotate it 180 degrees.

        I hope this helps and would also be interested to hear the outcome of your visit to Scherrit.

      5. Thanks Steve, I looked at the Thomson but was a little put off by the aesthetics! Have you any experience of the Profile fast Forward?

        Someone also mentioned that the Cervelo S1 seatpost can be flipped to adjust the steepness of the seat tube. Might be a better long term bet if Scheritt thinks I need a forward position.

        Best wishes.
        Richard

      6. G’day Richard,
        Re the Profile, not really. I think I have only seen one in the flesh. Re the Cervelo post; the one you’re talking about will only fit Cervelo S series frames so I hope you own a Cervelo!

      7. Hi Steve.

        I saw Scheritt yesterday for an interesting session and said I’d report back to you.

        With regard to the specific issue I wrote to you about (Achilles Tendon problems) he identified that I was dropping the hip and heel quite aggressively on the left side (remember that my podiatrist/chiropractor have found the RIGHT leg to be shorter).

        He didn’t know why this was happening but a history of knee, groin and hip operations on that side might hold some clues.

        He put a 3.7mm shim under the left cleat and this made a definite improvement (although I still had to concentrate on my pedal stroke to totally eliminate the hip/heel dropping). Instructions are to ride like this for a while, while continuing strengthening and flexibility on left side. Stack adjustments may be required later.

        Interestingly, Scheritt also moved my cleats further forward, where I’d had them right back to help the achilles. He also moved my seat further back from the extreme forward position I’d used on my recent challenge (which I got though with limited aggravation to the achilles using the methods we discussed, so thanks for your help there).

        I will try to ride a bit in the next couple of weeks and see how I get on.

        Best wishes.
        Richard

      8. G’day Richard,
        Thanks for getting back to me about that. With a chronic injury like yours, almost always there is a spectrum of compensatory adaptations. The best thing you can do is to ride at low intensity for a few weeks and then slowly ramp up the intensity level. It is probably worth visiting Scherrit again after 6 weeks, particularly if you think your off the bike efforts are helping. As you change, sometimes your position on the bike needs to change. Best of luck with this.

  16. Steve,
    Great post. I have a couple of questions

    Do you find that if a rider is able to move forward 5 to 10 mm based on balance testing that his measurement of seat height, middle of crank to top of mid saddle, can increase slightly?

    Have you seen riders have more anterior knee pain with the saddle further forward assuming they corrected for ht change?

    I was able to pass the balance test a good 15 mm from my original position. Even after increasing the saddle height to account for the effect of moving the saddle forward I was able to go up an additional 4 mm and still have fluency under stress. However I have developed some ant knee aching?

    In testing for balance is there some muscular contraction of the torso or is the goal to feel balanced with hands removed and no enlistment of additional muscles while going at 85% cad 95.

    Thanks

    Bill

    1. G’day Bill,
      Good questions.
      Q1. Do you find that if a rider is able to move forward 5 to 10mm based on balance testing that his measurement of seat height, middle of crank to top of mid saddle, can increase slightly?

      A. That depends on how appropriate your seat height was in your original position. What I will say is the moving the seat forward usually reduces lumbar flexion and to some degree, hamstring enlistment. This means that in many cases (not all) seat height can creep up.

      Q2. Have you seen riders have more anterior knee pain with the saddle further forward assuming they corrected for height change?

      A. Occasionally, but usually easily resolved. With any major positional change there is a habituation period, typically 2 – 3 weeks. It isn’t wise to ride hard during this time. Secondly, seat setback is one parameter of position only. There are many other factors that can lead to anterior knee pain including too high a seat seat height, too low a seat height, less than ideal foot correction and so on.

      Q3. I was able to pass the balance test a good 15 mm from my original position. Even after increasing the saddle height to account for the effect of moving the saddle forward I was able to go up an additional 4mm and still have fluency under stress. However I have developed some anterior knee aching?

      A. How long since you made the changes? Did you take it easy for several weeks in terms of intensity? If the pain is just above the knee where the quadriceps narrow down to the quadriceps tendon? If yes, then ride your normal kms for several weeks at low to moderate intensity only to accustom your self to using your body differently. If the pain in in or at the edge of the patella, then it is likely that your cleat position fore and aft, cleat angle or foot correction or any combination of those things isn’t ideal. A quality position is about achieving the best set of compromises between often contending parameters, all of which have an effect on the others. Have a look at this post and this post.

      Q4. In testing for balance is there some muscular contraction of the torso or is the goal to feel balanced with hands removed and no enlistment of additional muscles while going at 85% cad 95?

      A. This depends on how functional you are. For most people there should be an effort required to stop from toppling forward and they should feel the tendency to topple or move forward but be able to resist it with some control without arching there back or raising there torso. Doing either of these things shortens effective torso length which means that the rider is either sitting too far forward or is quite dysfunctional. If the former, moving the seat back as little as 5mm can make a noticeable difference.

  17. Amazing posts Steve. I am sure I am preempting a future entry but how does crank length play in to this and how should one determine their optimal?

    1. G’day Michelle,
      I’ve got a lot going on at the moment, but yes, there will be a crank length post coming. Within a couple of weeks there will be a lot of articles I’ve written for BA magazine loaded onto the site. One of those is a lengthy article on crank length.

      To answer your immediate question; assuming a sensible crank length for an individual, the balance test works independently of that. If you change crank length, retest for the balance point. Typically a crank length change of 2.5mm needs little or no change, though there are exceptions. Larger changes than that, where appropriate, can require a change in seat setback.

  18. Hi Steve, thanks for a great blog. As a massage therapist it’s fantastic to find somebody who understands how the body works and can explain technical bike fitting with a biomechanical/musculoskeletal interpretation – and quotes Vladimir Janda!

    I’ve just had a bike fit done by a fitter who used the good old tibial tuberosity over pedal axle assessment. My seat got moved back to its limit and I’m currently on the hunt for a post with more layback – I have a small bike with steep seat tube of 75 degrees! Once I get my hands on a trainer, I’ll have to try out the balance test to see if a new seatpost is actually required before I order one, although I expect with my steep seat angle it wouldn’t go astray. I already have 20mm of setback but this apparently isn’t enough.
    Thanks,
    Megan

    1. G’day Megan,
      Your positive thoughts are welcome but don’t give me more
      credit than I deserve. This is common sense stuff that I’ve been interested
      enough to flesh out the mechanics of, that’s all.

      The description of your bike fitter’s methods worries me a touch. You won’t
      know how accurate your seat seat back is until you try the balance test.
      Cleat position plays a part too. If your KOPS indoctrinated gent also
      believes in BOFOPA (ball of the foot over pedal axle) you will find that by
      moving your cleats further back on the shoe sole, that will aid you in the
      balance test. If you cleats need to go back more than a couple of mm, seat
      height will need to be reassessed under load. There are posts about Seat
      Height and Cleat Position. Just use the search function at the top right of
      the page.

      Are the All Blacks looking good for the World Cup?

      I think this is the year that En Zed really needs them to win.

  19. Hi Steve,

    I have been reading your blog and have a question for you. Do you know of anyone that has taken a spinning bike seat and welded it to a seatpost ? I need a lot of setback after having a lateral release surgery on my left knee (my knee tends to knock a ton if I’m not set back far enough). I need like 3 inches of set back and the most I can find is about 1.5 inches. I haven’t been on my road bike outside for over two years and although spinning is great, sure would be nice to get outside !
    Thanks,
    Dave

    1. G’day Dave,
      No I don’t. By lateral release, do you mean that you had ITB problems? If so, and if it was caused by cycling, that usually means that you are dropping the opposite hip. then the challenge is in finding out why.

      If you must have that amount of setback, your 1.5″ plus an SMP Composit or SMP Dynamic seat would go close to giving the same ‘effective’ set back. Their shape positions the rider a long way back relative to the length of the upper plus they have extra long rails allowing far more than standard seat adjustment.

      1. Thanks a lot Steve – I checked out the bike seats you suggested. I also found a few others I wanted to run past you – seats from Fisik – and some others from ISM Adamo Century that have long rails that looks like I could use them. Do you know about these seats ?

      2. The ISM Century has a long rail but the placement of the upper means that in terms of achieving a rearward butt position they don’t come close to the 2 SMP models I mentioned. Bear in mind that the rider can’t sit on the rear 1/3 of the Century. I assume that rear 1/3 is only there to allow the seat to meet the UCI minimum length requirement stipulation. If the Fizik you are talking about is the Arione, it is a similar story in that the upper placement relative to seat rails doesn’t really allow the rider to get their back side that far back. The SMP Dynamic, Lite 209, Forma and Composit have seat shoulders (the shoulders are the widest part of the seat) that are way back which means that the shape forces the rider to sit a long way back relative to seat upper length. In addition, the seat rails travel a long further forward towards the seat nose than is common. A consequence of this is that the seat itself can be set back farther than most others. The combination of rearward seat shoulders and long rail length and the placement of the rails relative to the upper mean that if you need substantially more seat set back, those 4 SMPs are the best choice.

      3. awesome, thanks so much you’ve really helped me out – combining a different seat with switching from my P2SL and into a lower seat tube angled road bike – I should be right where I want to be.

  20. Hi Steve,

    I just had a thought. Obviously we wouldn’t move the seat further forward than the TTOPS as that would increase the load on the anterior knee during extension. With the move into more posterior seat setback, wouldn’t that start to load the posterior structures of the knee more? if so would you look to drop the seat height a bit to compensate for that change? Also the proportion of femur and tibia length would affect that position wouldn’t it? i.e. longer femur vs shorter tibia and vice versa.

    Great blog btw!!! loved the read and mind boggling when you think about all the different combination that is possible.

    Cheers

    Eric

    1. G’day Eric,
      I don’t agree. Firstly, I’ve got to say that I don’t own a plumb line or any other means of measuring KOPS / TTOPS. To do so would indicate that I give it some credence, which I don’t. It is irrelevant. Set cleat position as per the Power To The Pedal post; set seat height as per Seat Height – How Hard Can It Be post and then set seat setback as per the balance test in the post Seat Setback and your clients will be fine if you do the job well.

      And yes, if you move a seat back, usually the seat will need to be dropped, but not always. Don’t automatically drop a seat just because you have moved it back. Move it back and then check seat height separately under load using the visual cue mentioned in Seat Height. If you have to drop it, then recheck the balance test.

      As you will find, there are some people who are so inflexible that adjusting their position as per suggested will have them in front of KOPS, but without problems. Don’t forget, pelvic angle plays a large part in muscle enlistment patterns. If an inflexible rider with an upright pelvic position on seat is pushed too far back, posterior pressure on the SIJ’s or excessive lumbar flexion is the result. Without bothering to measure the KOPS / TTOPS relationship, I’m sure some of these people are further forward that that, quite happily.

      No, ratio of femur to lower limb has nothing to do with seat setback. Don’t let yourself be conditioned to believing that these things are defining factors in a good position. They are irrelevant and have achieved currency because of constant repetition. They are a reductionist approach to positioning riders when a global approach gets the best results. Optimising neural function is FUNDAMENTAL which is the basic message of the Seat Setback post. All other considerations are secondary.

      1. Hi Steve,

        Thanks for the reply.

        The reason for me making the comment re: TTOPS being too forward leading to increase stress in anterior knee structure stemmed from a course i did on the weekend that taught the TTOPS method and used a research by Brian Mclean regarding “seat height effecting knee joint extension torque” saying that at pre-top pedal stroke thats when extension torque begins and peaks at 70 degrees. So by increasing your seat height you effectively reduces the extension torque on the knee as the shape of femoral condyle is not spherical and so the axis of rotation changes with knee flex/extension. The seat fore/aft would also contribute towards minimizing the peak extensor loads. Having not read the actual research, i made the comment based on what I was taught on the course. I wasn’t sure whether the whole research and measurements was based on TTOPS being the baseline position for the foot and the cleat fore/aft position would obviously affect it too. I just thought it would be interesting to see you opinion regarding it.

        As a physio, I love the fact that you mentioned about getting a person on the bike as posturally neutral as we can whilst assuming the best position the individual can to produce maximum power and comfort. Like you said, the less taxing it is for our body to maintain good position on the bike, the more you can spend on producing power. Also this will help minimize the development of poor motor patterns and hence overactivity in our global muscles which overpowers the postural stabilizers as cycling is after all a repetitive task. Its amazing how much plasticity our CNS have to adapt to even dysfunctional motor pattern and that makes their positioning so important. I was just wondering though, where would start a client’s initial fore and aft position of the saddle if its the brand new bike for the fit client? I guess i can understand for bikefitters to use the TTOPS method to position the person initially (not specific but easy reference point for them to place them initially) I definitely agree with your method where you have to place them at the balance point to get the minimized need to spend more energy on stabilizing the trunk via the arms.

        Cheers

        Eric

      2. G’day Eric,
        I can’t comment on the research that underlies what you were taught either, as I’m not familiar with it. What I will say is that given the background of the teacher, and if as I assume, the study was conducted on elite cyclists, then the results may well differ from something similar conducted on a larger non elite cycling population.

        To shoot one hole in what you were taught; if it is valid empirically, then there are thousands of triathletes out there sitting a lot further forward than KOPS who should be developing knee problems and who aren’t. Why? Because seat setback is only one part of the performance equation. For a study, it is hard if not impossible to isolate that one part, while eliminating all variables elsewhere that may increase or decrease the propensity of an individual to injury. And that is the key; there is always the individual factor. What some can do with ease will injure others.

        The ‘art’ of bikefitting, and I hate the term but don’t know what other to use, is to achieve a viable solution for the individual no matter what received wisdom the solution agrees with or contradicts.

        Where do I start on the bike with a client?

        An off the bike assessment here usually takes as long or longer than any adjustments on the bike. By the time the subject gets on the bike I can with some degree of certainty predict how they will function on the bike. I don’t start with the balance test. Usually that is at the end as a confirmation or otherwise of the appropriateness of the seat setback at that point. I start with what appears to be the worst factor. If seat height is obviously too high or to low, I’d start with that. If seat setback is obviously too great or too little I’d start with that. If cleat position is not what is appropriate but everything else looks more or less okay, I’d start with that etc. After each change I refine previous changes as necessary until I feel we are close to finished. Then the balance test confirms that or not. Once happy, the ‘test’ comes where the rider is hammered (with regard to their fitness levels) to see what happens when fatigued at intensity. That may prompt further refinements and so on.

        If there’s a mantra it is “Change, check, recheck under load. Further changes, check, recheck under load……………”

        Eric, I applaud your interest in the subject. The more people who take up bike fitting who have a good grounding in functional anatomy as you do, the better for the cycling population.

  21. Hi again,

    Sorry I meant the start position for the balance test. do you just place them in a rough position that looked great and start the test and then refine it as you go?

    Eric

  22. hi steve
    do you have a method-other than observational
    perhaps involving measurement ,of transferring setback of saddle between brands + models
    eg assuming optimal setback position of saddle x to saddle y on same bike ,with no other factor changed?
    many thanks
    m

    1. G’day Martine,
      Yes I do. It is not accurate to the mm but will get the rider very close and the rest is done by feel (if it is the rider transferring the position) or observation if it is me doing it for someone.

      It is the subject of an upcoming post, so stay tuned.

  23. Hi Steve,

    Love your balance approach and I will give it a go this weekend. I definitely need to sit further back. My question is, do you also believe in the 40% (front), 60% (rear) weight distribution theory?

    Let’s say I do the balance test and afterward, I measure my weight distribution on the bike. If it falls outside of the 60/40, is that ok?

    Thanks,

    Darrell

    1. G’day Darrell,
      Re the 60 / 40 idea. I think as an ideal it or something like 55 / 45 is in the vicinity but I would never use it to determine the outcome of a fit. The people who push this idea all overlook a fundamental point. That is the frame you have, is the frame you have. As an example, a rider may need their seat moved some distance forward or back to be in an individually ideal position. Moving the seat affects the weight distribution of the rider over the wheels but the bike frame is unchanged and may lead to a weight distribution outside the 60 /40 ideal.

      That doesn’t mean that the position is wrong. It means that the frame wasn’t designed for the position in space that the rider occupies. If improving a position causes a bike to steer and corner less well (and this can happen) I suggest to the rider that they need to differentiate between the position and the handling characteristics. If they are happy with the position but not happy with the bike at speed, then a more appropriate frame is needed to maintain that position and improve steering and cornering.

      Sometimes this may be another brand or model of production frame. Sometimes it may need to be a custom frame designed around that position.

      So I’m saying that once you have a position you are happy with, make a separate judgement about whether you are happy with the way the bike handles. If you’re not happy with that, then let me know and I’ll advise on how to sort out what you do need.

      1. Great, Thank You!! If you weren’t in Australia, I would have been fitted by you ages ago!

        Do you know of any fitter in the States (Illinois), that has the same methodology as you?

      2. G’day Darrell,
        No I don’t because I have only ever sat in on a session with one other fitter and that was more than 15 years ago. So I don’t really know what methodology other fitters use. I do know that most subscribe to a proprietary system which is never going to work beyond a certain point for the large sweep of humanity. There are fitters who have broken away from that (I think negative) mindset. Of the ones that I have spoken to that I strongly suspect the would do a really good job. None of them are close to you. The ones I know and who ‘talk the talk’ are Austin, Texas – Jerry Gerlich; Lancaster, Pennsylvania – Tim Gresh; Boulder,
        Colorado – Mike Kohm. There are others but they are all further again from you.

        Let me know if you find anyone really good.

      3. OMG!! Steve I want to thank you. I did the balance test over the weekend, which put me back about 1 more cm than I was originally.

        What a difference. Went for a 50 mile ride, with very little weight on my hands, and more power. Usually, the problem starts in my hands (lots of pressure), works its way up to the triceps (more pressure). Then the neck and finally, the lower back. Sitting further back has really solved this.

        I even rode with no gloves because I didn’t need them! I didn’t need the padding they offer to “take pressure off”. After 50+ miles, no back, hand, tricep, pain. My arms felt like props to just hold me up, not like I had just been in a wrestling match with my bike.

        Thank You!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      4. G’day Darrell,
        Good for you. As the post says, the major determinant for ideal set back is neurological; not KOPS or limb length proportions or any other cycling ‘lore’. The balance test, properly applied short cuts to a good result. Very glad that the solution to your problems was so simple.
        Spend a few rides fine tuning your reach to the bars and the height of your bars and you will be fine.

      5. Thanks Steve. One more question. you mentioned on your reply, about dialing in reach. Now that the unwanted weight is off my hands by sitting back further, if I wanted to reduce my reach by putting on a shorter stem, would that just add the weight back to my hands?

        Or, are these two things (reach and setback), independent? I ask because now that I’m sitting back, my hands naturally want to fall a little behind the tips of the brake hoods.

        Thanks

      6. G’day Darrell,
        Shortening your stem by 10mm shouldn’t load your hands up if your seat and cleat position are at or near where they should be. By moving your seat back 10mm, you have moved your centre of gravity 10mm rearwards also. Now you have to determine the reach to the bars. You may or may not need to shorten your stem 10mm.

        Can you reach the drops comfortably?

        If not, do you feel like you are reaching out too far or down too far or both?

        Can you reach the brake hoods without thrusting your shoulders forward?

        I would ride for a week or so as you are including at least one long ride. Note down your feelings every ride. How comfortable you felt, any minor niggles you felt and so on.

        After a week, shorten the stem by 10mm and spend a week riding with that length and noting your subjective feelings of each ride experience down.

        At the end of that process, read you diary. It will tell you which stem length you should choose.

      7. Thanks Steve. Well, I had another ride and it was the total opposite of the epic ride I had, when I first moved the seat back. My triceps were burning, hand was pressurized, neck, the whole thing.

        The funny thing is, I didn’t change anything! The ONLY difference was, it was extremely windy and I was facing a headwind in both directions. could this play a part in the way your body responds? Could the high wind resistance possibly cause my body to “revert” back to its old habits?

        Thanks.

        PS: I know I need to get used to the new position and get more miles with it, but it was just strange that I have a great 3 hour comfortable ride with the setback. Then a day later, it was very bad. Hmmmm….

      8. G’day Darrell,
        Your experience is far from unknown. With a bit of educated guesswork, I expect the windy ride was harder. That is you putting more effort more often to keep up whatever pace you were riding at. Under load we sit on a bike subtly (and sometimes grossly) differently to how we sit on a bike under light load. Your description of where you hurt pretty much confirms that the reach to the bars is too great so shorten your stem by 10mm and reassess. Given the change in seat setback and now stem length, I’d advise 2 – 3 weeks or smelling the roses a bit. Ride at 75% of max HR or below to develop a new motor pattern appropriate to the changed position. At the end of that time, have a ride of similar intensity to the one that just caused you problems. Depending on what you say after that, I’ll advise further.

  24. hi steve
    does this mean that for the same rider,that optimum setback is partly determined by the expected average or maximum effort eg ?greater setback for tourist ,not riding @ full gas ,in comparison to a racer ,who will generate greater force to balance opposing forces ,when riding ‘a bloc’ ?
    cheers
    d

    1. G’day Doug,
      Yes it does, though in practise seat setback between the ‘touring twin’ and the ‘racing twin’ will not vary hugely. What will change the weight distribution of the two and allow each to ride their differing intensities comfortably is also down to differences in handle bar height. A post on bar and brake lever position is coming soon.

  25. I arrived at a similar position on the importance of balance from a different starting point. The forward-leaning torso is the power position used in other land-based sports–skiing, skating, volleyball, football, tennis, etc. To avoid falling forward, weight must be centered over the feet. To keep the center of gravity over the feet, the hips need to be shifted rearward as the torso becomes more horizontal.

    Cycling seems to be the only sport that has grown to require plumb bobs and protractors to arrive at a balanced posture.

    1. G’day Eric,
      There is more than one way to skin the bike fitting cat. I more or less agree with you, though cycling does differ from the other examples you mention in that there is an apparatus to help support the body when cycling. In the other examples the body has to support itself. I think the difference lies there. It would become obvious quickly in your examples if balance was badly compromised. Whereas in cycling there are so many shades of grey when it comes to balance. A rider who is too far forward but only rides 50kms a week may not be aware of the extra burden borne by the upper body because the short duration of effort and inherent upper body strength allow them to cope with weight on the bars. That doesn’t mean that it is optimal, just that most people don’t consider they have a problem until they feel pain or constant discomfort. A footballer who carried his weight too far forward would overbalance because there is no apparatus to hold him up and is likely to realise there is a problem earlier.

      I also think that ideas achieve an inertia by repetition. There are so many areas of human endeavour where at some stage in the past someone made an assumption that seemed reasonable at the time and others ran with that and based their thinking on that foundation assumption. Often, when we return to first principles we find that the inherent ‘truth’ of many past assumptions is shaky; sometimes worse than shaky. This is my view about the ‘lore’ of cycling. There are so many ‘rules of thumb’ that I’ve heard over the years that have no credence at all when applied to large numbers of people.

      Lastly, I don’t think plumb lines and protractors are necessary for a bike fitter. Personally, I think they are a hindrance.

      1. Certainly, the differences between cycling and these other sports are significant. My main point is just that the importance of balance over the body’s supporting structures is fundamental.

        Cyclists’ equipment does allow them to compensate for the lack of balance. To me that’s been the problem, fitting the bike to compensate for rather than solve the problem of balance. Downhill skiers have similar problems adapting their various physiques to stiff high-performance boots, and that’s where coaches and boot-fitters step in.

        And I believe I’ve been reading you accurately enough to know you’re not using plumb bobs and protractor. When the Fit Kit was conceived around 35 years ago, very few bike dealers knew how a good fit was supposed to look and feel to a customer, and plumb bobs and protractors gave them a point of reference. We’re so much past that now.

      2. Reminds me of learning to swim as an adult (in the last few years). All of the traditional information required you to be able to generate velocity to achieve the position. Once the concept of balance in the water was introduced to me, swimming became easy (not fast, that I am still working on but easy). Me thinks that all human endeavour requiring physical movement gets “easy” if we are in balance …

        I suspect the same thing is at work here …

    1. G’day Duane,
      All cases are different. And yes, an overweight person will need to sit differently on a bike to the same person 40lbs lighter. The key thing with the balance test is not to apply in blindly. If you have a client who is tight and dysfunctional, you will find that each hip, lower back and pelvis on each side work more or less as a unit instead of more or less independently. That means there will be pelvic movement in the direction of each pedal stroke or biased towards one side that will lessen on seat stability. These are the people who use upper body effort in an effort to regain some semblance of functional stability on the seat. They will never be solid on the seat under balance test unless they substantially improve their flexibility and functional stability. Just go for the best compromise you can achieve with each case.

  26. Thanks for your great articles Steve. I’m the lad who emailed you last week with the “well proportioned” glutes asking whether KOPS was valid as all bike fitters I’ve used have taken the KOPS method to determine saddle fore/aft. KOPs sets me 5cm behind the BB and feeling like I lack power for seated climbing whilst turning my quads to junk.

    On the weekend I gave your balance test a thorough go at this setting and then back in 5mm increments until I was 6.5cm behind the BB. I found my sweet spot where I just can hold my balance with some effort about 10mm back from where KOPS puts me.

    Combined with a re-jigged seat height to match, I look forward to trying my new position on our usual hilly group ride on Wednesday.

    1. G’day Anthony,
      Thanks for the update. I’ll be interested to hear how
      you get on over time. Don’t forget that any change sets off a chain reaction of adaptations. Muscle enlistment patterns will change, stem length may need to change and so on and so on. Any benefits may not necessarily be obvious for a period of days to several weeks, depending on how quickly you adapt to the change.

  27. Steve,
    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and experiences dealing with mobility and bike fit.
    In your experiences, when a rider inches up on the nose (on the rivet) under extream load or effort, is this indicative of a saddle too high and or positioned too far to the rear? I notice when riders do this, both pro and recreational, they will slide to the nose and will have a hunched back posture. I assume the rider is trying to gain stability or reduce their seat height (by scooting forward) and thus gaining stability. Your thoughts.
    Thanks again for your time,
    James B

    1. G’day James,
      Moving forward under load can be caused by any number of
      factors or combinations of factors. Any factor that contributes to
      instability on the bike will be compensated for automatically. The rider
      doesn’t think about it in the sense of higher order thinking. So for
      instance, if

      – the seat is too high – sliding forward reduces reach to pedals.
      – the seat is too far back – sliding forward allows rider to apply force
      for more degrees of crank arc
      – the seat is too far forward (I know this sounds paradoxical, but in
      terms of needing to slide forward on the seat as a compensatory attempt to
      regain stability caused by less than ideal seat set back, a seat too far
      forward is much more common than a seat too far back. Have a look at many
      Triathletes and TT riders as examples.
      – bars are too low – the rider moves forward to be able to reach them
      – stem length is too long – rider moves forward to reach the bars
      – cleat positions is poor – if not enough foot over the pedal, the rider
      either moves back on the seat and drops the heels excessively OR more
      commonly, moves forward and points the toes unnecessarily
      – the rider is severely dysfunctional – global instability will cause the
      rider to whatever it takes in an attempt to achieve stability. (See next
      paragraph)

      OR any combination of those reasons will cause the rider to do,
      autonomically (without conscious thought), whatever is necessary to attempt
      to stabilise themselves on the seat. If the rider isn’t stable passively,
      that is by bearing their weight largely under their pelvis, the only
      mechanism left to them is upper body tension. This will involve arching the
      spine at some level. As soon as that happens, the rider must move forward OR
      thrust their shoulders forward because they are shortening up their reach.
      It is more common to move forward on the seat than it is to thrust the
      shoulders forward. Neither is ideal.

  28. How does stem length effect the balance point when doing an initial fitting? If a person has a longer than normal stem, would they not be sitting forward to have the same feeling on the bars, light touch in the drops? How do you determine the stem length once you have established the balance point?

    HUMP

    1. G’day Bruce,
      I’m planning a detailed post on bar position now and don’t
      want to pre empt to much of it today, but here’s what I will say in answer
      to your queries.

      *Q. How does stem length effect the balance point when doing an initial
      fitting?*
      A. My usual practice is to sort out bar placement last. Stem length is a
      function of where I want to place the bars once I’ve determined seat height
      and set back (tentatively) and cleat placement and foot correction
      (definitively).

      *Q. If a person has a longer than normal stem, would they not be sitting
      forward to have the same feeling on the bars, light touch in the drops?*
      A. Only if their seat position is okay. If the seat is too far forward, body
      weight is transferred forward with it, and beyond a certain point [with huge
      individual variance] it will not be possible to have a “light touch on the
      drops”. Determine seat position, cleat position and foot correction first
      (in any order that you choose and seems appropriate), then bar position
      last.

      *Q. How do you determine the stem length once you have established the
      balance point? *
      A. Your queries can be read to imply that you are a bike fitter. If so, you
      can’t know that you have found the clients balance point until you are sure
      that bar position is correct. There is often trial and error adjustments of
      both seat and bar position needed to get the entire position right. It is
      only after this process is completed that you will know the stem length.
      Keep an eye out for the bar position post as there will be much more detail.

      1. No not a fitter, but a follower of all things position. This was more for myself. I feel that I have come to a saddle position that allows me to have full power with balance as you have stated in previous post. I usually equate my questions with this. I feel like I have the motor in the right place, but the cockpit could use some work.

        HUMP

      2. G’day Bruce,
        No problem either way. I’m working on the bar position post
        but am on a course this weekend. It will be finished some time next week.
        Hope it helps.

      3. One thing I do not think I have seen discussed is how to determine which frame size to start with in the first place, finding saddle height and handlebar location, starts from having the right sized frame in the first place, right?

        HUMP

      4. G’day Bruce,
        Not quite right. A good position is independent from frame size in the sense that a good position is a position in space of the riders body. Which in turn is determined by the relative positions in space of the contact points; seat, bars, pedals. As an example, the same position can be duplicated on different size frames by using more or less seat post
        exposure, longer or shorter stems and more or less head set spacers.

        The question then is, which one of the frame sizes is best for that position?

        To my mind, that comes down to interpretation. I’ve been thinking about a detailed post about just this subject but it is a bit of a minefield and will take a bit of work. When I work out a frame size, I fit the client, measure the position in space of the rider and then use CAD software to design a hypothetically ideal frame under that position.

        If the rider is looking for a custom frame, then the CAD drawing has all the detail a frame builder would need.

        If the rider is looking for a production frame, then we compare the ‘ideal’ frame geometry to the what is available and choose the production frame with the least compromise in terms of fit. There is no quick and easy method that I am prepared to use.

        The problem with the post on this subject that I’ve been thinking of is it would involve a ‘War and Peace’ sized explanation and tutorial of how to use a commonly available CAD software and a similar length explanation of frame designing principles. I’m not sure that anyone is that interested and if they are, I’m looking at thousands and thousands of words.

        If anyone reading this is interested; let me know and I might do it in episodes.

  29. Dear Steve,
    I had a thought that I’ve haven’t seen addressed in any discussions of fore-aft saddle position. So for the second time, I turn to you for your expertise and was hoping you might be able to share your thoughts on the matter. So my question is this: In trying to find the fore-aft position that would make the most power, why aren’t bike position theorists concerned with leg mass? It would seem that having more of one’s leg mass over the pedal axle during the downstroke would enable more power to be applied since the force generated would include both the weight of the leg as well as the force that it’s muscles could generate. It would seem like this extra force produced by the leg’s weight could be harnessed easily, if the opposite leg were actively pulled upward to make it’s weight minimally detrimental.
    Anyway, thanks for this great post. It has helped me to fix bugs in my setup that were causing me wrist pain and numbness. I enjoy learning from you through this blog. Thank you.
    Andrew

    1. G’day Choay,
      My view of how to determine seat set back isn’t concerned
      with developing maximum power but rather getting the basic neurology right.
      That is reducing the need for enlistment of high priority (as far as the CNS
      is concerned) muscles that posturally that allow the rider to hold a
      position on a bike which in turn allows more effort to be directed to the
      lower priority but power producing muscles that act phasically to propel the
      bike. That was the whole point of the post.

      The other thing is be wary of trying to come up with a position that is
      focused purely on ability to achieve maximum power. It is very hard to talk
      about power output without bringing the duration that the power needs to be
      produced into the conversation. High power output also brings with it a
      higher potential for injury. So I think it best to focus on arriving at a
      position that allows the rider to sustain high effort at lowest potential
      for injury. An effective position on a bike is about achieving a balance
      from often contending compromises. Too often, if the rider or fitter focuses
      too much on one parameter of position, they lose more in other areas than
      they gain in the area that is being focused on.

      The practical problem that I see in the point you make is that as the leg
      cyclically extends and flexes the centre of mass of the leg is also moving
      fore and aft. At the same time effective lever length and pedal axle
      placement are changing constantly because the crank is rotating. So
      determining how to apply what you are talking about would be difficult. My
      counterargument is that you are theorising about a way to ensure maximum
      power by focusing on one parameter of position. The human body is incredibly
      adaptable, so my view is to set the big picture that allows the body to go
      about the business of producing power efficiently from a neurological point
      of view and then let it autonomically get on with the job of working out the
      muscle firing sequence that will be required to do the job for that
      individual. Your point is similar to the view of those who are convinced
      that a plumb line dropped from the tibial tubercle below the knee when the
      crank is forward and horizontal should bisect the pedal axle and that doing
      so will best determine seat setback. The question I have asked of those
      people for years, that no one has been able to answer is, “Why is this
      specific relationship of one body part to the bike so important that it
      outweighs the relationship of the whole of body to the bike”. I’ve never
      heard a convincing answer…………….because there isn’t one.

      Lastly, glad that you got a result from applying the info in the post. The
      whole point of the blog is to get info that works out there.

      1. Dear Steve
        Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. This helps a lot–yeah it’s easy to fixate on one aspect as a beginner to this game! I appreciate the direction. It’s neat that you should mention KOPS, because it was your thoughts on moving the cleats rearward that guided me to your blog originally! I do appreciate that your guidance always steers towards the best long term outcome and general mental and physical well being.
        So should you ever have a chance or run out of topics on your list, I was wondering if you might be able to share your thoughts on powercranks? Would training with such a product be beneficial?
        Again, I appreciate your help so much. If I kept grinding away for the next 20 years incorrectly, I can only imagine the detrimental consequences to my body.
        Sincerely,
        Andrew

      2. G’day Andrew,
        I’m not crazy about PowerCranks. From time to time I see people using PowerCranks who I can trace the issues they have to the usage of PC’s. Often these people weren’t functionally wonderful to start with and bought PC’s as a ‘silver bullet’ solution to long term problems. To be fair
        to PC’s, I don’t see their successess; only their failures and I’ve seen too many. The successes aren’t looking for help, only those with problems. My advice to people considering their use as a solution to long term problems is to get their function sorted out. Start stretching, starting practising core and functional exercises and with time and well directed effort, the rest tends to fall into place.

      3. Hi Steve,
        Sorry, but I forget where I read this… somewhere when talking about problems related to the hip flexors, you said something like you generally recommend against trying to develop a powerful upstroke.

        I was wondering if you could expand on this a little. I guess this depends on the individual rider’s functionality and the desired power output, but if possible, could you explain what you mean by ‘powerful’? That is, how powerful is ‘powerful’? Also, on a scale of not thinking about pedal stroke at all, to doing specific drills or resistance exercises to develop the hip flexors, where does ‘don’t try to develop’ sit?

        Thanks in advance for you time and thoughts, Steve.
        Cam

      4. G’day Cam,
        I would define “powerful” in this context as using marked conscious effort to pull up.

        Re your second question *”Also, on a scale of not thinking about pedal stroke at all, to doing specific drills or resistance exercises to develop the hip flexors, where does ‘don’t try to develop’ sit?”*

        Can you be more explicit please?

        Where does “don’t try to develop” come from and in what context?

      5. Thanks a lot for the reply, Steve.
        Sorry, I meant it as in ‘don’t try to develop a powerful upstroke’. But I think you might have answered that already with the first question. Regarding heal down / toe down pedalling technique, you’ve said there’s not much point in trying to change whatever comes naturally. Do you have the same philosophy here? Get bike the set up right, and then don’t worry about actually trying to ‘pedal in circles’?
        Cam

      6. G’day Cam,
        Yes, your description is fine. I won’t say that pedalling technique can’t be changed. It can be but having real time torque curve feedback is necessary if unintended consequences are to be avoided. Not many people have access to real time feedback so my feeling is to set the big picture mechanically and neurologically, and once those parameters are set, let the CNS get on with doing what it does best; coordinating movement.

        The other thing is that everything I have read or found out myself suggests that really strong riders don’t pedal in circles when the pressure is on. It is all about down stroke.

  30. Dear Steve,
    Tnx for sharing your knowledge, it helped me a lot!
    One question regarding seat fore/aft, can the same balance point be used on MTB bikes also ?
    Best regards,
    Marko

    1. G’day Marko,
      Yes it can. The only difference is that on an MTB, the rider should be rock solid on the seat, not teetering as per a road bike.. The reason for the difference is the more upright torso position moves body weight rearwards. To be explicit, the seat should be the minimum distance behind the bottom bracket that allows the rider to pass the balance test with ease. That is of course, if the rider is reasonably functional.

  31. Hi Steve and greetings from California,
    I’ve really enjoyed reading this post regarding the KOPS idea versus overall body positioning. I have to agree with you in that it makes no sense to adjust every detail of a rider’s position so that it accomodates the position of the tibial tuberosity over the pedal’s axle. Quite simply, your explanations and ideas make common sense, the KOPS theory does not.

    The photo illustrations are great and go a long to help your detailed explanations. Personally, I fall into the “normal” category and the illustrations go a long way to show that. That’s valuable information.

    But what I liked most about your post was the last paragraph where you break down the roles of the three body segments (arms, torso, and below the hips). Of course it’s a bit of a simplification, but it really does help a person understand what is required of the body during hard efforts and it all makes good common sense; which sometimes is lacking in the bike fitting world.

    Thanks for all the good info. Keep posting and I’ll keep reading.

    1. G’day Brimanns,
      Thank you for the positive thoughts and I’m happy that they make sense to you. You’re right about common sense being uncommon in bike fitting. Too many formulae or systems being blindly applied!

  32. Dear mr hogg.
    Greetings from bonnie scotland.

    I was diagnosed with mutiple sclerosis back in 2009 which has left me with serious nuerological issues down my right side.
    I have recently tried to get back to my beloved road bike albeit on the indoor trainer but im having terrible problems with saddle sores and a sore right knee
    If i follow your fab advice and drop saddle untill my right hip does not drop my knee starts to get very painfull but i cant raise saddle back up as if i do my knee pain is less but the hip drop returns as saddle is to high

    i hope you can give me a starting point to work on mr hogg as im teying my best to live life to the full whilst living with my illness

    regards

    john

    1. G’day John,
      This is a tough one. When you drop the seat to the height where the right hip doesn’t drop, does the left knee give you any grief? Or only the right knee?

  33. Hi Steve

    is the seat is too far back and as you said there is too much lumbar flexing happening then what kind of pain/discomfort/injury is more likely to be felt – lower back pain or middle-upper back pain or elsewhere?

    thanks

    1. G’day Yuri,
      Use the balance test. You don’t need to sit any further back than that. When a positional challenge arises, the location of the aches and pains that result can vary between individuals. I know you use an SMP, so one trap to check is whether the seat setback is as you originally set it. Because SMP’s have a rise towards the rear that functions as a kind of bum stop, constant pressure on it can move the seat back further unless the seat rail clamp is very tight. This happens so incrementally over several months that often the rider’s first awareness is of back pain and / or choppy pedaling.

  34. Hi again mr hogg
    when i drop seat to a height where i have no right hip drop the only issue i have is right knee pain all round the knee cap which is only resolved by raising the saddle to a height where knee feels better but hip begins to drop.
    I have spoken with my neuro physio regarding the issues but all she can say its bio mechanical as i struggle to walk properly because of the lesions on my brain stem so my body has learned to walk and function the best way it can but im clearly taking all those stabilty issues on to the bike!!

    1. Please, forget the Mr Hogg. Steve is fine. Okay, so stability is the problem because you probably can’t fire a lot of stabilising muscles well. Initially, I would start with arch support as outlined in the post on Arch Support. Get hold of some eSoles. Once you are convinced you have Level 2 arch support in place let me know what effect that has.

      If it has made a positive difference, we’ll talk more about wedging.

  35. Steve,

    Very interesting article. This is clearly a novel approach to seat setback. However, it appears that this fit paradigm is determined based upon comfort and breathing efficiency without any substantial emphasis on power output save for CNS implications. Perhaps it was implicit in your article that this was your goal. Nevertheless, as you state in the article “from the hips down is used for power production”. With this in mind, for a rider seeking the most powerful and efficient seat position, would it not be more advantageous to consider physics, leverage, bio-mechanics, kinesiology, or what have you, of the lower half of the body (hips, leg, feet position) in relation to the bottom bracket, crank arms, pedals, etc, and THEN address balance point and comfort of the upper body via adjustments to the bar height and stem length? I understand that none of these attributes are mutually exclusive and that there will be some comprise between them when achieving the best overall position but it seems counterproductive in terms of cycling performance to give the most emphasis on where the lower body position should be based primarily on how it effects upper body balance. Moreover, the balance test you recommend to determine seat setback is influenced by handlebar position at least as much as with seat position. For example, if a rider has a high stack height and short stem he/she will be able to balance with a seat that is set far behind the bottom bracket because forward angle of the upper body is effectively less. The opposite would be true of a low and long stem height all of which takes zero account for where the lower body is in relation to the the bottom bracket. Not to mention seat tilt and how it effects your balance method in determining seat setback.

    To be clear, I’m not a bike fitter and do not profess to be an expert in bike fitting, cycling performance, etc. My comments are merely my humble observations and I’m very interested to hear your thoughts.

    -Kevin

    1. G’day Kevin,
      I’m afraid that I don’t agree with you. I have had numerous customers come to me who owned power measurement systems who had defined their position by that one parameter; the position that produced the most power. They all sought my help because they were getting injured. One can’t talk about power without talking about duration of intended effort. There is no point having a position that produces the most power in a 1 hour weekend crit if 3 months of riding in that position produces chronic overuse injuries.

      So the key to a good position is to produce good power at low risk of injury. Is that the most powerful position the rider can achieve? No. But it is the most powerful position the rider can ride day after day, week after week with little or no problems.

      You mention my focus on breathing efficiency and comfort. You are partly right. My focus is broader than that. This link: http://www.stevehoggbikefitting.com/blog/2011/01/bike-fitting-philosophy-basic-premise and this link: http://www.stevehoggbikefitting.com/blog/2011/06/the-anatomy-of-position explain more. Inefficient breathing will have a negative effect on power production, and quite quickly too. Lack of comfort, I would define as using muscles for purposes they weren’t designed for or for periods that they can’t cope with. Lack of comfort causes pain. Subject a body to pain and it will always self protect. How?

      By a positional shift in space to reduce the load on the painful areas. This is effected by changing the relationship to gravity. Muscle enlistment patterns change as the relationship to gravity changes. The position in space (over the bike) can only be changed in response to pain by enlisting more postural muscles as they are the ones that allow us to hold a position and resist gravity. As muscles acting posturally are given priority by the CNS over the muscles acting phasically that actually produce the power, the shift in position can only be accomplished by a reduction in power.

      So what I’m saying is that my focus is on producing sustainable, injury free power. This cannot happen with a focus on biomechanics only. Optimal biomechanics is the product of optimal neural function. So my view is that optimising neural function within the constraints exhibited by the rider is fundamental, and the base on which everything else is built.

      Duration of intended effort is a big part of this. That is why a track sprinter sits differently on a bike than the same person riding a road race. Comfort is a relative term. What is comfortable for a track sprinter is not so comfortable after 150 kms.

      In short, you are saying that it might be better to focus “on the hips down” from a power production point of view whereas I maintain it is better to take a whole of body point of view.

      Re your comment about balance point changing with alterations in bar and stem position. That’s correct. I don’t have a set order of changes to clients position during a fit. I usually tackle the largest problem first and work on from there, constantly checking what implications any change I have made has had on other parameters of position at each step. However, the position of the bars is always last. I sort that out once I’ve determined the rest. Talking about balance point is a way to try and simplify and make accessible a whole lot of IP that I don’t want to detail in public for other reasons. What I’m saying, is that by the time I get to bar position the rest of the position is set and only bar height and stem length remain. Once that is done, I test the rider under heavy load (relative to their abilities) for a sustained period. That is the most important part of the fit because under high load and fatigue, my view is that the rider should be able to maintain their position with ease. If they can’t, there is more work to do.

  36. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for your great blog. I tried to determine my seat setback using your method. It sounds easy, but when I tried I found it quite difficult to find the balance point on my own. I think that when I let go of the bars I was tensing with my thighs, feet and legs to hold myself up (and to stop myself from falling forward on the saddle), creating the illusion that my seat had the correct setback. But even then I was moving forward on the saddle ever so slightly. In the end I moved my saddle back as far as it could go, and only then did I find that I could hold myself up with minimal tension in my legs/thighs and minimal forward movement on the saddle.

    I suspect that my saddle needs to go back a bit further still, to find the true balance point. But the seatpost clamp is past the “max” marker on the saddle rails as it is. I estimate I would need a seatpost with about 30mm setback to enable me to clamp the saddle rails approximately in the centre of their range whilst still giving me some fore/aft movement to play with. My current Specilized Pave seatpost has about 10mm setback. My Specialized dealer told me the new Pave post has a setback of 21mm (not quite enough), they also questioned why I needed a post with so much setback and suggested I get “properly” measured.

    Do you think 30mm sounds excessive? Could you suggest a quality seatpost with the appropriate amount of setback?

    By the way, I determined my saddle height using your method and think my saddle height is about right.

    Thanks, Paul

    1. G’day Paul,
      Seat setback is correct if once cleats are positioned and foot correction applied, the rider can ride at reasonable load (85% heart rate / 90 rpm) and remove their hands from the drops and swing them back towards their hips without falling forward or arching their back to prevent doing so. Unless the rider is of way above average function there should be a feeling of effort required not to slide forward on the seat and that the rider is teetering a little. Ideally the rider wants to be just forward of their centre of gravity a tiny bit.

      If the rider can’t pass the test, they either –
      1. Have seat too far forward.
      2. Seat too high
      3. Dysfunctional in hips and low back.

      There are other reasons too, but those 3 make up 90+% I would guess.

      I don’t know how functional you are, but if you need to go further back, I don’t find it necessarily surprising that you need a 30mm offset post. Some people do and some don’t. A lot of this comes down to seat choice as well. If you are struggling to get back far enough and assuming you are extremely large, look at the SMP Dynamic and Lite 209. They will allow you to sit back further, probably with adjustment to spare.

      1. Hi Steve,

        I don’t want to waste your time, but I feel like I don’t get it. I have just been on the trainer experimenting but feel like I can’t find a clear balance point.

        I think my shoes position and seat height are roughly ok. I am not large, 68 kg at 5 feet 10 inches and I have a new Kontact saddle that enables me to sit right back on the saddle. I’m not awfully flexible but not terrible either (or so I think!)

        I tried the saddle all the way forward and then all the way back (adjusting the height accordingly). I krept forward on the saddle in both cases, I just krept forward less and more slowly when the saddle was back. In the forward position my pedalling technique felt very toe down and I felt cramped up. I set the saddle in the mid position and that felt good but I couldn’t tell you why.

        Please feel free not to reply as I feel very concious of not paying anything for this. I just thought it would be more black and white.

        Thanks, Paul

      2. G’day Paul,
        Apart from position on the bike, the major influence in the balance test is how functional the rider is. Have a look at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8G6jkEf1uI , put yourself through the 5 tests and see whether you pass. I would think that passing all 5 is a minimum requirement for a functional cyclist.

        Dysfunction may be the problem.

        You also say that you “think that your shoes position and seat height are roughly okay”. Is this an assumption or have you tested that belief against the posts on the site that deal with cleat position and seat height?

      3. Thanks for the link Steve. I have had a quick look and will test when I get the chance, but I know about myself that I will fail at least some of the tests, making me officially ‘dysfunctional”.

        The shoe position I have measured using your “method 2” and they are about right according to that method. I also measured using method 3 which told me the cleats need to be back another 4mm for one foot and 6mm for the other. But I have left the cleats where they are for the present.

        The seat height I am less sure about and will check into further. Suspect it needs to be lowered.

        I think maybe multiple things are going on, and the best I can hope for at present is a compromise solution for my dysfunctional body, with a longer term aim of working on stretching and flexibility and altering the fit as functionality improves. I have been in touch with Kit Laughlin and think his program might help.

        Thanks again for your generosity and advice.

      4. Hi Steve,

        I had another home style fit session on the trainer last night and gathered a lot of information. I don’t want to overwhelm you with it all but felt some feedback was warranted given that you have been so helpful.

        I rechecked my cleat positions. This time more carefully. Using method 3, I found left cleat was 10mm too forward; right cleat was 4mm too forward. Perhaps not surprisingly my left foot has never felt quite right. Now both feet feel the same. Amazing. Pedaling is a bit toe down when I am taking it easy but as effort increases, both feet seem to flatten out.

        Thanks for being persistent about getting the cleats right.

        I also dropped the seat another 10mm. Of course this has altered the setback of the saddle, now when I do your test of riding with arms swung back to hips I tend to lift up off the saddle, rather then slide forward. I don’t know what this means, but at least now I have the sensation of being able to ride with weight remaining on sit bones and almost no perineum pressure, as saddle designer intended. So that’s a tick.

        I raised the bars to take some pressure off my upper neck and back according to your guidelines (My upper back would start to ache toward the end of a 4 hour ride). I also adjusted the hoods and bar angle so my wrists are now straight and more comfortable.

        I tried experimenting with extending my reach to the bars while keeping the bar height unchanged by putting on my old 110mm stem (I have been riding with a 70mm head stem). But this is where one of my dysfunctions comes into play. I am too tight in my upper arms, chest and shoulders and my arms don’t extend well. With the increased reach I tended to just pull forward off the saddle a bit. I might have to go back to the shorter stem until I can improve my flexibility.

        I’m sure it’s not perfect. My seat is now 30mm below original setting. There is a sense of knees bending more at top of stroke and not straightening out so much at bottom of stroke, which makes sense. But it feels like quads are putting more force through bent knees at top of stroke. It feels more powerful but not sure if this is good or not. A bit worried about developing knee pain with extra bending and force applied through bent knee. It feels a bit unusual. I guess I will just have to try it out and see. Everthing else seems to more or less work better than before. I feel like I am in the ballpark at least.

        Thanks again for the education! Have a good weekend.

      5. G’day Paul,
        the totality of what you are saying strongly suggests you are getting somewhere but that your seat needs to either move back further, or to come up a touch.

        Based on what has gone before, I assume it is too little seat setback that is the issue. If you can’t source a seat post with more rearward offset, the remaining easily available option is an SMP seat. They have extra long rails and an upper design on most models that allows the rider to sit further back relative to the length of the upper than on most of their competition. I don’t know how tall or heavy you are but the seats I would look at the SMP Dynamic or Lite 209 as they fit the widest range of bodies.

      6. Funny you should say that Steve, I had begun to wonder myself if the rails of the saddle I have are just too short and not giving me the adjustability that I need. Will look into the SMP.

      7. Hi Steve, we did it! Let me explain how.

        I borrowed an SMP Lite 209 from my lbs. Went home shoved it on my bike and proceeded to make adjustments. Went around in circles until I felt like I was starting to decend into what you describe as “bike fit Hell”.

        The next day, I took a different approach.

        I realised I didn’t know how to fit the curvy SMP seat, so found your online article on the subject. Also realised that some of the positional changes were quite subtle, so decided to proceed more cautiously.

        I restored my bike back to its original settings with original seat (Specialized Toupe).

        Then using your intructions I removed my old seat and installed the SMP making adjustments in seat height and setback so effectively I was seated in same place.

        In the process I made a discovery. As you suggested, I found the SMP rail was longer and extended 30mm further forward than the Toupe for the same effective seating position. However was astonished to find the forward most part of my new saddle’s rail finished 35mm further back than the Toupe. Thats a 65mm difference between the new saddle and the SMP.

        At this point I gave up on the new saddle. With the combination of the saddle’s top section design and the rails, even if I sourced a setback seatpost, I was never going to get it back far enough.

        Strangley enough, the SMP felt right as soon as I sat on it.

        Carefully and on the trainer I made incremental adjustments (just 3mm at a time) to seat height and setback until I got something I was happy with. Recording all the changes as I went.

        Following that, I made changes to bar height and reach as per your instructions.

        Next day (somewhat nervously) went for two hour ride.

        I have to tell you I still can’t quite believe how different it felt. It was as if I was riding a different bike. The sensation of stability through my pelvis and lower back was quite amazing. I have never felt anything like it. I would not have believed riding a bike could feel like that unless I had felt it myself. It was as if the whole system was working to keep me upright and level, without any perceived effort on my part. On the road the bike felt smooth, stable and straight.

        I made a couple more adjustments to seat angle and height on the road but nothing major.

        After the ride I felt a little tired in places I don’t normally feel it but I reckon the changes has given me a more stable base to develop into a stronger rider. I don’t own a fancy bike but I reckon if I went out and brought a fancy new carbon machine the impact would not be greater.

        In the end, the changes were; seat setback 20mm further forward, saddle height 20mm lower, left pedal cleat 10mm further back, right cleat 4mm further back, new saddle Selle SMP Lite 209 3 degrees nose down, bar approx 20mm further out and up, hoods moved higher on bars.Nothing major, but not easy to do either (well not for me anyway)!

        I’m sorry for the long post but I just had to tell you how it all went, and to say thanks and that I have learned a lot.

      8. G’day Paul,
        NOW you’re getting somewhere! Well done. Most SMP’s need to be further forward than many other seats to have the same butt position in space relative to the bike. And as you say, very long rails that allow extreme set back when necessary. They are fiddly to set up properly as you found, but with patience and method are my pick for the best brand of seat out there.
        I’m happy for you that you got the result you sought and you now probably understand better than most why I’m a fan of SMP’s. They solve a lot of fitting problems for my clients. I don’t say that they are ideal for everyone, but think that probably 95% would find them an advantage if they were well set up on the individually correct model of SMP. That goes for women too.

      9. Hi Steve,

        You mention “probably 95% would find them an advantage if they were well set up on the individually correct model of SMP”. Do you have any rules of thumb when it comes to recommending any of the SMP models?

      10. G’day Chris,
        I’d better elaborate on why they are an advantage first. And
        here I’m talking about the racing oriented SMP’s; Composit, Forma, Dynamic and Lite 209. Each of these has a large dip in profile as viewed from the side. Basically the curve more of less mimics the curve of the ischiopubic ramen (singular ramus) which is the bony base of the pelvis the runs between the sit bone and pubic bone on each side.

        The shape means that the seat can be set up nose down, but the hump towards the front prevents the rider from sliding forward as would happen on other seats positioned nose down to the same degree. This allows the rider to flatten the pelvis more which is good for efficient muscle enlistment, achieving a flatter, more extended torso (which in turn potentially enhances breathing efficiency) with the huge cutout allowing this to happen without squashing genitals or loading perineal nerves. The kicked up section at the rear provides a back rest of sorts to be pushed against when pedaling under heavy load. The curved profile provides the greatest contact between seat and base of pelvis. So, properly set up, I think they are in a class of their own as a seat.

        The question is how much nose down?

        The more functional the rider in hips and lower back, the greater the nose can be dropped, to a maximum of 5 degrees as measured from the high point at
        the rear to the high point (hump) just rearward of the seat nose). Any more
        than 5 degrees typically means that either the riders weight is thrown too
        far forward or that an unrealistic amount of seat setback is needed to
        offset the tendency to throw the weight forward. At the other end of the
        spectrum, those that are tight and inflexible in the hips and low back and
        who don’t bend well at the hip can usually only cope with an angle of
        anywhere from level to 1 or 2 degrees nose down.

        There is also the issue of seat shape. The SMP models that I’ve listed above
        have seat shoulders that are much further back relative to the length of the
        seat than most other seats. This means that the rider will sit further back
        relative to the length of the seat. This also means that to maintain the
        same body position in space as on another seat, often the SMP will need to
        positioned with 10 – 15mm LESS seat set back. Of course this depends on
        which seat the SMP is being compared to and can vary.

        Which SMP model?
        Rules of thumb are only that, not definitive recommendations. With that in
        mind –

        1. Small slightly built males or females with really skinny hips; and I
        stress, really skinny hips – Evolution or Stratos
        2. Average sized males (and hard core females) with relatively skinny hips
        who like a hard seat – Composit (unpadded). If you like the shape but can’t
        cop the hardness, go for the carbon railed version as it is *much *more
        comfortable over bumps.
        3. Average to moderately large males ( and hard core females )with average
        width hips and who like a really hard seat – Forma (unpadded) Same comments
        about carbon rails as the Composit.
        4. Average to moderately large males and females with average to moderately
        wide hips and who like a really firm seat – Dynamic
        5. Average to moderately large males and females with average to moderately
        wide hips and who like a well padded seat – Lite 209

        Really wide hipped people or those with way above average gluteal mass should
        be looking at the Avant. The Avant needs to be anywhere from level to a max of 3 degrees down at the nose depending on functionality. Largish people who aren’t carrying excess ballast and may not be particularly flexible are best suited to the Glider. Again, these are not designed to be as far down at the nose as the earlier list above.

        I’ve been planning a detailed post on SMP’s and will get around to it when I can.

      11. Great post on SMP’s Steve. I am really happy with my Dynamic & I think it’s about 4 degrees down. Can’t sleep cause the Cowboys lost!
        Not true. Haven’t seen the game yet will watch it today. Heard the score on the news and that the Bunnies won in extra time & scored 2 late tries. Good luck to them.

      12. G’day Darren,
        How the Bunnies won that one I will never know. Inglis and
        Merrit out, Sutton busted and they were dead and buried with 8 minutes to go. Fighting hard, but the Cowboys were 12 up and well on top across the park. Still can’t believe they won. I know they’re the comeback kings, but still in shock. No wonder Lang is retiring from coaching. They are heart attack material.

        Felt sorry for the Cowboys who were the better side for the most of the second half. They’re assured of a finals place, the Rabbits have two must win games to go.

      13. Steve

        I continue to learn and enjoy your blog. Have you looked at the Romin by specialized. If so do the similar things apply to it as the SMP saddles you have commented on.

        Bill

      14. G’day Bill,
        The Romin is a great seat and the pick of the Specialized seat
        range for many people in my view. Yes, similar comments as for SMP but because Romins have a less exaggerated profile as viewed from the side, they can’t be as nose down as the SMP Composit, Dynamic, Forma or Lite 209 without the rider tending to slide forward. Certainly worth a try if you can trial one before buying.

      15. G’day Paul,
        I’m happy for you and can understand your excitement. The
        message for anyone else reading this is that methodically playing with position, as you have done, rather than unrecorded, willy nilly changes, will almost always get a result. Now you realise too, why I am such an SMP fan. I won’t say they suit everyone because they don’t, but from a bike fitting point of view, they are the best brand of seat out there. Well done!

      16. Hi Steve,

        It is good to get your responses. I feel so encouraged and I need that right now.

        I hesitate to ask another question as you have already given plenty but here goes…

        I am ready to buy an SMP saddle and have tested the Dynamic and the Lite 209. I liked both saddles but for different reasons.

        However, since making changes to my riding position I have noticed feeling significantly more sit bone pressure on the right hand side compared to the left. I am also noticing more muscle tightness in right gluts compared to left after riding.

        The day after riding on the Dynamic I felt a bit bruised over right sit bone, but nothing too drastic. The Lite 209 felt ok the day after.

        I am wondering if this asymetric feeling will resolve itself with time as my body adjusts to new riding position, or if there is in fact something asymetrical about my body that needs to be taken into consideration. I am wondering if I should stick to the more padded Lite 209, as it seems to do a better job of soaking up the asymetry and distributes the pressure a bit more evenly.

        I would love to know what you think.

        Thanks, Paul

      17. G’day Paul,
        Both use the same shell with padding thickness being the only difference, though that does have an effect on shape. Given your history of loading one sit bone and what you’ve described after test riding both, I think it safe to say the Lite 209 is the choice.

      18. Hi Steve

        I agree that the lite 209 sounds like the better choice for me. On reflection I realised that I had left out some important information in stating my dilemma yesterday. Please permit me to elaborate….

        As previously reported, two weeks ago I adjusted riding position on trainer according to your guidelines and installed Lite 209 saddle borrowed from lbs. Went on a ride and discovered unbelievable and previously unexperienced feeling of pelvic stability. Climbing also felt good and legs(knee speed) felt smooth and controlled. Weight of pelvis felt evenly distributed on saddle.

        After and hour of riding I encountered a very steep climb that I sometimes ride but it is only short (100 to 200 meters). I would estimate this climb to be about 15%. It is not typical of climbs in my area, which are usually around the 5 to 8% mark and longer.

        This short climb really loads up my legs and I noticed upon going up that I was losing that sense of control through my knees. At the top of the climb I dropped the saddle height 3mm. This felt better, leg control improved but that’s also when I started to notice increased load on right sit bone.

        I also forgot to add, that on my last ride I dropped the saddle an additional 3mm. So I am now 6mm below first position.

        Now I feel a bit foolish and suspect I have dropped the saddle too low. Possibly increasing the amount of work my right side has to do to keep pelvis stable, even though I have no awareness of this while riding (except for increased right sit bone pressure and post ride soreness).

        I think I need to raise saddle back up to regain more balance in hips. This will mean sacrificing some leg control when really loaded, but I rarely ride this way anyhow so should be ok most of the time. It feels like a bit of a compromise but situation may improve as fitness and function improve, who knows.

        In terms of saddle – I think I just need to trust that gorgeous feeling of stablility I have been encountering. I think changing saddles at this stage is unlikely to result in any significant gain in this area. Even though I would like to be able to ride a “sportier” less padded model, I suspect the Lite 209 actually suits my style of riding. Besides, as you say, if I have a tendency to load up one side more than the other at times, the extra give in 209 makes it a safer choice. Besides, even if I did take the risk and purchased a Dynamic, I would want the model with carbon rails (as I love the vibration damping of the 209 and would not want to give that up), and that feels just too expensive.

        So happily and confidently off to buy SMP Lite 209…

        Regards, Paul

      19. G’day Paul,
        The only comment I’ve got is that once you’ve changed your position, and are attempting to refine it, riding a 15% grade is a shitty way to go about it. Under that load, any tendency to asymmetry you possess will reappear in spades. Self diagnosis needs reasonable loads (as well as work off the bike to resolve underlying issues). A 15% grade isn’t my idea of ‘reasonable load’.

      20. Hi Steve,

        I think I finally get it! Since I can’t find a balance point the reasons are either;

        1. Have seat too far forward.
        2. Seat too high
        3. Dysfunctional in hips and low back.

        Since can’t move seat back any further unless I buy a $200 seatpost with a larger setback, that rules out number 1 for now.

        Lets also assume that hips and lower back are reasonably functional, that leaves just number 2. Seat too High.

        I finally hear you. Will drop seat and re-test tomorrow. Wish me luck.

        Paul

  37. Steve,
    Great article. Finally solved my hand numbness issues. I read this awhile ago, but I wanted to wait until i had a break in racing for a bit to try a new position. I had to move my Romin saddle almost 20 mm from a KOPS position, but I found my balance point. It felt great on my first ride out with it, a 3.5 hr Zone 2-3 ride with a couple bigger climbs. I did adjust the saddle lower a couple times to try get a new height dialed (I did lower it on the trainer based on your seat height article, but maybe not enough). Once, because my hamstrings felt a little worked on one climb, and once, because my left foot started to cramp a bit at the 3 hr mark. Since my left hamstring is tighter than my right, I felt it might be just too high for that side. But it felt great on the flats and climbs, even with no need to scoot forward on the climbs. If it feels this good now, I can’t wait for my body to get adjusted to it. I’m already more comfortable and able to spend more time in the drops.

    From reading on your blog, I’m hoping this may help solve a cramping issue I’ve been having. I’ve all but eliminated any nutritional causes of the cramps, so I’ve been thinking it’s mostly fatigue related. I only really get them during mountain bike races at high intensities for long periods. My cramps tend to affect only my quads or hip flexors, so this saddle shift may save my quads a bit by engaging my glutes and hamstrings more. My legs did feel fresher and the end of 3.5 hrs today, so did my back and upper body. With regards to cramping, any thoughts?

    Also, how should I mimic this new position on my mountain and cross bikes? Should I repeat the balance test on those bikes, or just set the saddles the same relative position to the bottom bracket?

    1. G’day Brent,
      I’m glad that you got a result. Re other bikes; start from
      scratch. Different shoes and pedals, possible different seats, different bar positions and in the case of the mtb, the suspension effect mean that you can’t use the same measurable starting point. You want the pedaling action to feel the same which means for the reasons above, that it will likely be measurably different.

      1. Thanks, Steve. I ended up moving my mtb saddle about the same as my road on the balance test. My bigger issue now is trying to find the right new, lower saddle height. I think I fell into a too tall, toe-dipper position, that sort of worked with the saddle so far forward. Now, I keep lowering the saddle. I went out on a 5 hr road ride today with a bunch of climbing in the mountains outside of Denver today, and must have dropped it at about 4 times on the bike today, most of which after about 3 hrs into the ride. I mostly noticed the need to drop it more while in the drops on the flats and descents: is that normal?

        On the positive side, I finished the ride feeling strong enough to start a crit race despite the 99 degree F (37C) heat back in town. I’m really liking the new position, I just have to wrap my head around the idea of lowering my saddle so much. I think I need to download your eBooks to learn more.

      2. G’day Brett,
        If lowering your seat allowed you to ride more strongly and
        left you feeling fresher, relax. Seat height is only a number and contrary to what you will read elsewhere, has only a loose relationship to leg length.

        Re your comment about feeling the need to drop the seat more when in the drops and on the descents. That is the opposite of what is common and illustrates that reaching down into the drops places enough strain on your hamstrings, because of the increased forward lean of the torso, to make you feel as though your seat is too high. If your seat felt okay on the uphills but not on the downhills in the drops, it probably suggests that your bars are a bit low or a bit of a stretch to reach.

    1. G’day Yuri,
      That seat in that position on that post would yield an
      ‘effective’ seat tube angle of approximately 75.5 degrees. It happens and there are people out there who need that. Often they are proportionally odd and at the same time tight in the low back. I’ve never paid much attention to Danielson on a bike and so can’t really comment specifically about him.

  38. Hi Steve,

    I have a SMP Dynamic and find it more confortable with the nose down. When you say “Most of the performance oriented SMP’s don’t
    feel right unless they are down at the nose 2 – 5 degrees” – what does this equate to in mm difference between the highest point at the rear of the saddle and the highest point at the nose?

    1. G’day Matt,
      I don’t know. I use digital level that can be purchased at
      any large hardware store. For accuracy, you need to make sure that the bike is dead level between axle centres and mounted solidly in a trainer before measuring the nose down angle of the seat.

  39. Hi Steve,

    Still confused with the setback on my bike yet I went with a biomech fit from a forum as a ballpark and went with whichever felt right yet I’m still not convinced. Maybe it can be a stem length / cleat issue ?

    I’m riding with an AX Lightness Endurance saddle which feels great (no pain/discomfort) and have a setback of 8.1cm w/ a 75cm BB-Saddle measurement
    (leveled right at 10cm of saddle (width) minus 4cm foward from the middle as a reference point ending @ the middle of BB)

    So far, I feel that I have too much weight/strain in my shoulders-neck area and my right elbow tends to hurt at times..

    I will put up some pictures (sorry, no video) and any advice would help !

    Thanks & Cheers !
    (by the way, I’m using my left leg to lean against the wall to hold me up)

    http://flickr.com/gp/60273619@N06/D91M0Q/

    1. G’day Kevin,
      I am not prepared to even begin to diagnose anything on the basis of a still photo. Cycling is dynamic and a still pic is a fraction of a second glimpse, nothing more. All the answers to your queries are in the posts on this site that relate to position. You need to spend the time working through and applying them.

      From what you have said, you are not stable and your are likely twisting forward on the right side.

  40. Steve, excellent article…just got the ebooks and I am working through those.

    How would be best to do this test on a bike with flat handlebars? Also, I do not have a trainer anymore to use so what would be ideal conditions to do the test outside? And number three….bear with me: Do you have to swing the arms back next to the hips to do the balance test or just lifting them off the bars ok? Dont want to crash outside! Thanks a ton.

    1. G’day Jkarrasch,
      The balance test works fine for flat bar bikes. And
      yes, you need to swing the arms back near the hips. Outside is fine providing the road is flat and reasonably smooth. You need to be riding under reasonable load and everything else is as suggested in the post above, If you don’t want to risk crashing, I strongly suggest you buy or borrow an indoor trainer if possible.

  41. I have been an avid follower of your blog and recommended it to others with great success. I used your balance/seat setback test and it ended up moving my saddle quite rearward and also noticed that the ‘toes down’ style seemed to be my preferred method of pedaling so it made sense. I rode this saddle position for a while on easy base mile type rides and everything felt great, however, this all change when I started doing a lot of climbing. I started to feel that I couldn’t push the normal gear that I’m usually able to and my average power was much lower. In addition I was getting quite a bit of lower back discomfort and it felt like my lower back was having significant anterior flexion (pelvis ‘spilling’ forward) to obtain the balance you recommended. It handled well on descents and there wasn’t much hand pressure, so that was a success. FWIW, I have statistically short femurs with a length off 44cm at 185cm tall, but with a 48.26cm torso and 193cm ‘wingspan’ so I essentially have very short femurs, but longer arms and torso. On the last day of a team training camp I decided to try running my seat to an older and more forward position. My climbing instantly improved and I was hitting normal numbers once again.

    So what would one take away from all of this? I’m saving up for the video fit, but times are tough financially so I’m trying to make it work on my own. So with your position my bike seems to handle a tad bit better, but even after several months of adaptation the power is not there on climbs which leads me to believe that somehow my leverages have been affected. I’m back to square one and wondering what a morphological freak such as myself should do to try and remedy this problem? When I was competing in weightlifting I used to use a much closer stance on certain lifts because I was much more quad dominant and my short femurs allowed me to squat upright without my knees exceeding the ball of my foot and causing undue stress. My only guess is to perhaps try a longer, flatter saddle that requires me to move around a bit more? I’ve entered bike fit hell and I’m not sure which why to tip things.

  42. And here is the second part of my saga that did not get posted.

    I was originally fitted on a Specialized Toupe, but the wings poked my hamstrings, which was annoying and the nose was a tad small so I switched to the Romin. I ran them in the same position from what I could tell and ended up getting lower back issues months later. At first I thought it was too much reach or too little stack so I changed both of those, but still nothing.

    That’s when I stumbled upon your site and decided to try the balance test method. I figured that perhaps the kicktail on the Romin was not allowing my hips to cantilever backwards and was thus causing my lower back some discomfort. The general shape felt fine so I went on and did the tests.

    I noticed that I could hold my pelvis stable under effort in almost any position, but that my cadence would rapidly increase to hold it. I moved it further and further and further back until it was almost a good 25mm further back. I lowered it as well, but it also felt as if I was now sitting more on the nose of the saddle. It seemed to work well enough and I used the position for a few months, but I noticed the following:

    1. A quadrant analysis of my ride and race files showed more Q2 pedaling indicating that I was using more fast twitch fibers.
    2. My average cadence was a full 10 RPM below normal and I couldn’t seem to climb at my normal 85-90 RPM. In fact, my power on climbs was nonexistent it seemed.
    3. Higher output intervals required a lower cadence than I normally used. I used to do threshold work at 95 to 105 RPM, but I was now only able to generate the power by pedaling at 80 to 90 RPM. This created problems during races because I had diminished acceleration from turning such a high gear.

    So my second set of questions is based on the body of evidence I have of the two positions. The position generated by the balance test was much more inefficient even though I used less upper body musculature because it put my lower body in a position that required me to utilize a lower cadence and different muscle fibers to generate power. Moreover, I’ve noticed that you said that a seat that is too far back will cause one to lose power on hills due to changes in leverage, but the position was determined by the balance test so being any further forward would have failed me on that end of things. It felt as if I wasn’t able to pedal over the top of the gear and that my quads were not being utilized as efficiently as they should be. Do you think that there is some other variable at work here? I moved the seat height along a constant arc from the bb spindle and also used your seat height test. I did a lot of long, slow rides and recovery rides with the position before starting my buildup to races. It is worth noting that the bike did handle better.

    FWIW I used a more forward balance test-fail position for longer and had none of these issues, but handling was diminished and I had a lot of weight on my hands during harder efforts. Did I accidentally botch my assessment or is there something else that I should perhaps take into account?

    As I said before I spent years weightlifting and am familiar with what it takes to create a neurologically friendly and efficient position for generating force, however, we never created a position that was designed to prevent specific muscles from firing in order to conserve energy to use elsewhere- it just wouldn’t make sense for us. A weightlifter can often create more power with a wider stance, but isn’t more balanced and often uses more postural muscles. The same goes for many other strength sports, and even some endurance sports, such as running, where an athlete has no choice but to enlist postural muscles. Proper running posture often increases muscle activation and neural activity while simultaneously enhancing performance. My last question is that since these activities all require considerable use of postural muscles and stress the optimization of a body’s levers are there certain situations where one can be so balanced that they remove themselves from the optimal leverage ‘zone’?

    1. G’day Karsten,
      On the surface at least, your situation is straight
      forward. Your interpretation of the balance test has pushed you too far back and the problems that have surfaced are the ones I specifically warn about in the post. Moreover, if you had the Romin well back, but felt as though you had to sit towards the seat nose on it, then alarm bells should have been ringing.

      There are 4 possible issues and your problems could be any one or any combination of them.

      If you had to jack the seat so far back to pass the balance test to the point that seated climbing suffered and the other negatives you mention occurred, then there is no doubt in my mind that you are too far back. So why would the seat have to be so far back to pass the balance test?

      Possible reasons are a) Poor general pelvic stability on seat. If the rider is inherently unstable, and more than a few are, then to pass the balance test requires too much seat setback. You are an ex weight lifter so I assume you have reasonable core abilities. Most do but I have seen some who are not good and who heavily use their upper body for stability on a bike. This means tension in the arms, which leads to pressure on the hands which can be interpreted as “too much weight on hands” and cause them to move the seat too far back in an effort to ‘solve’ the problem.

      b) If your cleat position is too far forward, this will negatively impact on
      the balance test. Read the post on cleat position and make sure that you
      have achieved Method 1 cleat position as a minimum. Method 2 and 3 are okay
      if you choose to use them and will have a positive effect on the balance
      test. Method 1 is the mininum.

      c) Poor bar position. If the bars are too high, too low, too close or too
      far away or some combination of 2 of these things, then passing the balance
      test becomes tough.

      As a starting point, I would read the post on Bike Fit Hell and take the
      advice to heart and start again methodically. Somewhere between your
      original seat position and the one you ended up with is where you need to
      be.

      1. Thanks, Steve. I actually set my cleats using method one and have since removed and reset them just to make sure that they were on point. I have noticed that I am a very toes-down pedaler under effort- could this have skewed the test?

      2. Yes. The only thing that changes on hills is that I move from the drops or hoods to the tops of my bars (usually) unless the pace is high enough to where I need to get out of the saddle. I almost feel as if the Romin locks me into a specific groove, whereas the Toupe that I was on before allows me to rotate my pelvis forward to obtain a larger hip angle. I set the Romin up with the nose a few degrees down and also with the center completely level and I still got this feeling. The nose on the Toupe is rather narrow so the SLR was my next logical stop

      3. G’day Karsten,
        While I’ve no doubt that some seats are better than
        others for individuals, I can’t help but wonder if the problem isn’t the type of seat so much, as where it is placed and how you are sitting on it.
        For you to have to push the seat back so far that performance suffers just to unload the upper body means that you are not stable in a more reasonable position. Do you have any obvious pelvic asymmetries on the bike?
        Are you tight in the hip flexors?
        Do you move around on the seat a lot?

      4. Replying to your questions first-
        I do have an asymmetry, but I’m not sure if its pelvic. A retul scan shows that my left side is a bit forward of my right under load, but its not that much at the hips (15mm or so I believe) yet is more pronounced at the knee. I also feel better with my right cleat a bit more forward than my left one so perhaps there is a femur length discrepancy.

        My hip flexors are most likely tight from working an office job, but my flexibility tests didn’t reveal any impingements. In fact, I tested to be extremely flexible, especially in my hamstrings. I have done a lot more stretching and mobility work on my hip flexors and glutes in the past month just because I feel that sitting all day shortens them and changes even my walking posture.

        I do not like to move around on the seat a lot, however, I do effectively move because I like to rotate my pelvis under effort. I end up on the nose more because I tend to roll my pelvis to open my hip angle which causes me to occupy more room on the saddle and change where my sitbones (not technical I know) sit on the saddle.

        Now for my recent update. My fitter offered to re-evaluate my last week free of charge and I took him up on the offer. The first thing we did is try an array of saddles, including my much used Romin and another old favorite- the Toupe (my shop is a Specialized dealer, but also sells SMPs and had other saddles on hand). It was a tight debate between the SLR and the 143mm Toupe, but I settled on the Toupe. The SLR we had was a padded gel model and perhaps an unpadded model would be better, but I have something that works.

        The saddle change immediately felt better and my pelvis felt less constrained so we then addressed the setback/position issue. We noticed that my position seemed to be very forward and I felt really unbalanced under the higher output efforts so we experimented by moving the saddle back. At the same time my knee angle and hip angle were very closed and we moved the saddle upwards until I felt as if I was laboring through the stroke and pushing each leg through the bottom with considerable effort and then we lowered it slightly.

        In the end I moved from 85mm to 115mm of setback and from a seat height of 775mm to 800mm. My stem was shortened from a 130mm to a 110mm and my drop increased from 95mm to 115mm but my back angle stayed the same and my handling feels better with my hands more under my shoulders. I have had a week to get used to the new position and haven’t had any of the weird difficulties I had in the past, especially with climbing. While I’m doing lots of base work right now I still ride at tempo quite a bit and I do not feel the need to have to push a really big gear at 75-80 RPM and climbing doesn’t feel like I’m losing power.

        So that leads me to inquire what you think might have gone wrong before? My saddle is further back now than it was when I had problems with the Romin and its also higher so it doesn’t seem to be an issue with either height nor setback. Do you think that perhaps the saddle shape was not conducive to my riding style and anatomy? I know that people notice that some pros often ride on the nose of their saddle on their pereneum, but if you look at a lot of the top TT guys such as Cancellara and Wiggins, they obviously ride fairly far back on their road bikes and with drastically different saddles, however, they appear to actually rotate their pelvis rather than roll it forward to open their hip angle. Perhaps not being able to rotate my pelvis might have artificially lengthened my pedal stroke and prevented me from opening my hips under load?

      5. G’day Karsten,
        Assuming the changes that are positive at the moment stay
        positive over time, I can’t tell you why you were having problems before other than in the most general terms because I can’t see you. However, if your seat was moved up 25mm and back 30mm at the second attempt at fitting you and that you feel better for it (at least for the moment) I can only assume that the original fit was very poor. Those are significant changes.
        If you were too far forward (and too low) before, that will destabilise you and need significant upper body effort in an attempt to regain stability. People who sit too far forward almost always have to move further forward under load to maintain stability and I suspect this is what you were doing.
        As to your comment about a lot of pros riding on the nose of the seat; pros aren’t immune from having poor positions either and many do.

        I hope for your sake that you are now on the right track, or at least on a better track. Best of luck.

      6. Thanks. I do notice that I used to feel like I was sitting on a bar room stool and that I’d want to go more upright during efforts, which is odd for someone that supposedly has good flexibility. I now feel more like my seat supports my hips and my effort is channeled entirely to increasing pedal force. It also makes running more drop feel a more natural. The hip angles and leg angles aren’t too different with both setups and I think that perhaps being more forward still produced an OK looking pedal stroke in terms of knee acceleration and all general joint angles because my body compensated by rotating my lower back. I feel less knee acceleration now than when my saddle was lower, which leads me to wonder if perhaps it can also increase if the saddle is too low because the hip opening is greatly reduced thus making it awkward to come over the top of the pedal? Any thoughts on that?

      7. G’day Karsten,
        I’m about the last person you will get talking about
        joint angles as I don’t subscribe to that kind of approach to fitting. To answer your question; if you have a feeling that you are having difficulty being smooth over the top of the pedal stroke, the possibilities are –
        Cranks too long

        Seat too low

        Bars too low.

        Seat too far back

        Or any combination of those things.

    2. I’ve also recently changed from a Specialized Toupe to a Specialized Romin saddle as the Toupe just wasn’t working out for me on longer rides due to soft tissue pressure from the raised bump behind the nose of the saddle. Having read your tale of woe I though I’d share my experience thus far in trying to replicate the same on bike position with the Romin saddle that I had with the Toupe.

      With both saddles I was fitted by the same bike fitter / physiotherapist, who uses a combination of on bike pedalling observations, particularly of the pelvis, and KOPS to determine bike position. Compared to the Toupe I found that seat height decreased just a few millimetres but saddle setback measured from the nose to the centre of the BB decreased about 10mm to 4.5cm (I’m somewhat vertically challenged at just 167cm). So despite the Romin being almost identical in length to the Toupe it appears to position me further back on the saddle than the Toupe. Lining up the shoulders of both saddles – one on top of the other as recommended by Steve – also results in the Romin’s nose being further forward than the Toupe’s.

      I was surprised to read that you felt you needed to push the Romin saddle further back than the Toupe. I set mine up just a tad nose down. I have read that some people have set it up such that the middle third of the saddle is flat but for me it puts too much weight on my hands. I found the “just a tad nose down” position means I don’t have a lot of weight on my hands however when I’m tucked down in the drops I don’t have any soft tissue pressure…unlike the Toupe.

      Hope this helps and good luck resolving your bike fitting dilemma.

      1. Where did you measure seat height on both saddles? I might try a Romin again in the future with my higher and further back position, but since I just bought a new Toupe it will be a while. I find the nose of the Toupe kind of stinks if you move up and onto it during efforts, but its no worse than the Romin. The main feature that attracted me to the Romin was that it has more lateral curvature, which I felt was a bit more ergonomic with my proportions. All widths of the Toupe seemed to give me saddle sores, which have come back.

        All of this has got me re-thinking the Romin, but my fitter would kill me if I made that suggestion at this point. The Toupe is comfy and its working at the moment so there is not much else I can do.

      2. I measured seat height from pedal axle to top of seat in line with the seat tube with the crank arm lined up with the seat tube.

  43. In the article you show a picture of a guy with short torso length. This specific position is very identical to my most comfortable position. But I have been discouraged from riding that way, and try and stretch my back more.

    I can’t reach my toes, have limited flexibility and have troubles finding my balance point when rotating my pelvic forward. I’ve read in one of your books, that tilting back to the rear of the sitbones can be problematic in terms of saddle sores.

    Would you also, in general, discourage riding like the guy in this image?: http://www.stevehoggbikefitting.com/blog/2011/05/seat-set-back-for-road-bikes/short-torso/

    1. G’day Kasper,
      I wouldn’t discourage you from riding like that is that
      is all that you are capable of. I would encourage you to work towards improving your ability to extend your spine. The bike isn’t the place to modify how your body functions. Doing so is a job for your off the bike time by taking up an all of body stretching regime. If so, and with time, you will be able to extend your back more with ease and there will be a performance pay off in terms of improved ability to breathe under load.

      1. Steve,

        What are some of the stretches that should be concentrated on in order to help in the ability to extend your spine?

        Thanks

      2. G’day Chalmers077,
        While I stretch a lot I’m not a stretching expert
        but for what it’s worth, the yoga downward dog stretch works well for me. If you are inflexible in the glutes and hamstrings and want to concentrate the stretch to the spine, perform it with knees bent as well as the more conventional straight legged version.

  44. Hi Steve

    Reading your comments of late now has me sitting with 6cm or so of set back on a Roubaix style frame with bars about 15mm below the saddle – arms just working so a relaxed upright position on the hoods as body and frame dictate. I can move freely from around the bars supported by my core and the transition to standing is a pretty much an instantaneous launch. Are these signs of a good balance and the right setback? Am I on the right track?

    Cheers
    Chris

  45. Hi Steve – So balance is ok, cleats are at 14mm on a size 46 shoe, seat height is getting there – things seem to be taking shape in the upright on the hoods position ie fast, comfortable, etc. But since making these changes the drop position is much harder on the quads with the effort to maintain speed leaving me in that “stair vulnerable” condition later that day/next day. The obvious difference is body extension is less in the drop as although lower my hands are effectively 20mm further back but would that be a cause? Is there a more generic reason why quads would work harder in the drops than being more upright?

    Many thanks
    Chris

    1. G’day Chris,
      I would give the position a trial for several weeks before
      you give up on your quads. If the change in position has moved your seat forward and loaded your quads more, often they need time to learn how to cope. Normally this takes a few weeks of regular riding. If the story is still the same in 3 – 4 weeks, then there is a problem with some aspect of the position.

      If the quad tiredness is focused to the heads of quads just above the knee, then seat height maybe too high.

      Or if you are riding hard immediately post position change, then that is the likely problem. As How To Avoid Bike Fit Hell suggests, don’t smash yourself for at least a couple of weeks after a positional change of any degree.

      1. Hi Steve

        Must confess to a muppet moment here! Somehow in setting the cleats I completely miss-measured the 1st MTP position after thinking I had already stuffed up the position. With a cup of tea and peace and quiet I set the cleats methodically to Method 2 showing my last stuff up had the 1st MTP only 4mm ahead. This final change had introduced instability throughout the leg movement with all the problems you know about. Now properly set balance is restored and quad involvement feels in the right area, at least not trying to correct for various sins. I can again now move around the bars with no great change in effort, saddle position etc

        Back to square one then but for all the right reasons!

        Cheers
        Chris

  46. Two questions.
    1. Is it likely that using this “balancing method” will tend to place the seat further backward than most other recommendations?

    2. I have been running my measurements through various online calcualtors as well as trying KOPS, and my setback is recommended to be about 7-8cm.

    However when I try balancing it’s more likely that I should be around 10/11cm. I have a size 56 CAAD10 (2011), my seatpost setback is 25mm, and my Fizik Antarez saddle is almost all the way back. Handleabr drop is around 8cm with alle the spacers in and reverse (96 degrees) stem (110mm). I’m 184cm with 91cm inseam, saddle height from BB is 795mm.

    Two things are working against my logic here: Regarding weight on hands, I need abnormally long setback. But I also have limited flexibility, which in my head, should call for shorter setback to open hip angle?

    1. G’day Kasper,
      In your case I don’t know. With fitting clients, I move
      nearly as many seats forward as backward relative to the position they had before a fitting..

      As to how the balance test compares to online calculators, I don’t know. I don’t place any credence in online calculators and don’t check them out for comparisons.

      Re your question. Are you having a problem riding strongly with the 10cm setback?

      If not, persevere.

      But if you are having a problem, then likely something isn’t right, whether it be setback or some other factor of position.

      Lastly, if you are inflexible, does that also mean you are unstable on the seat?
      If you are, then many who are unstable tend to position their seats too far back using the balance test because of their inherent instability.

      1. Steve hi,

        I stumbled across your site a few days ago and it has been a revelation! Too bad we are so far away!
        I have unsuccessfully tried my luck with the so called 3D fits twice already and unfortunately I don’t seem to be able to find the right fitter using the right approach.
        I would appreciate if you could recommend a fitter in the Washington DC area.

  47. Steve,

    What is the reasoning for the UCI saddle limit of 50mm behind BB? Is there any benefit of a more forward position? Is there any negative effects on a saddle that is too far forward? I just am trying to understand the 50mm rule. You would think that there would be some kind of benefit if they made all riders be this far back, but then then question is, why don’t all riders just position their saddle at the point. Instead you see anywhere from 50mm to 100mm and more in riders in the pro peloton.

    Please let me know. Thanks

    1. G’day Snapster,
      Q:What is the reasoning for the UCI saddle limit of 50mm
      behind BB?
      A: The reason behind the UCI 50mm setback rule is to prevent people using a prone recumbent position. A supine recumbent is when the rider lays or leans backwards and we are all familiar with those style of recumbents. A prone recumbent is when the rider leans forward. I have no problem with the reasons for the 50mm setback rule but think it’s application is a joke. 50mm setback for a 2 metre tall rider is way forward. For a small rider it may be too far back and so on. A rule based on seat tube angle and seat post offset makes more sense to me in the sense that riders of all sizes would have the same proportional limits imposed on them.

      Q: Is there any benefit of a more forward position?
      A: For some yes, for others no.

      Q:Is there any negative effects on a saddle that is too far forward? A: Yes. Read the posts Seat Setback; TT Rider and Ironman Triathlon Position for detail.

      All riders don’t position there seats at 50mm setback because many of them would not perform well. You are trying to understand the 50mm setback rule…………….so are a lot of us.

  48. Hi Steve,
    Would an above average saddle tilt (more than 3 degrees nose up) to feel comfortable passing the saddle set back test be an indication of the saddle too far forward? I have been experimenting with cleat position and I installed the speedplay extender plate (moving the cleats 14mm rearward) and I moved the saddle the same amount forward and then up some. Is this the wrong way of going about it..that is, the change in saddle fore/aft due to the change in clear adjustment OR does it not work that way and I should just redo the balance test? Thanks

    1. G’day Alehlichinc,
      Yes to the seat upward 3 degree tilt. It is likely
      that you are too far forward. Why did you feel the need to move your seat forward because you moved your cleats backward?
      While I’ll stop short of saying there is no connection; there is not a clear cut connection and each should be tackled separately.

      Move the cleats rearward, leave the seat setback where it is, redo the uphill seat height test to establish a new (probably lower) seat height. Then ride for several days like that before redoing the balance test.

      1. Steve,
        I moved the seat forward because I thought that with moving the cleats back my foot would be moved over the pedal and moving my knee further behind the pedal spindle. So what I was trying to do was keep the knee where it was over the foot after I moved the cleats rearward.

        I will do what you prescribed above. I really like the cleats as far back as they will go, as I rarely have any fatigue in the calves and the forward position seems to have reduced the enlistment of the hamstrings. But maybe I over done it because I definitely feel better on the balance test when I am sitting more towards the back of the saddle.

      2. G’day Alehrichnic,
        Forget knee over pedal axle. Work out the seat
        setback with the balance test and you will be fine. Also check your seat height up a hill as per the post on Seat Height.

      3. Awesome Thanks.
        It’s funny how simply you make it sound, when other fitters turn it into rocket science. You are very impressive in what you do Steve. Bravo.

      4. G’day Alex,
        The big picture of bike position is simple. If the feet are corrected properly, sorting out the rest of the position is easy. Any further issues are down to poor function. That can only be corrected off the bike, though it can often be worked around on the bike.

  49. I am curious to see if people have gravitated to using KOPS because it is a shortcut to finding the fore/aft balance point more definitively. It is a measurement where a fitter can drop a plum bob and tell you you are in the right spot vs. having the rider ‘feel’ the balance. In your experience, when the fore/aft balance is found, what is the resulting KOPS measurement?

    1. G’day Jason,
      I don’t know for certain where the adherence to KOPS came
      from. Personally, I think it was the misapplication of running and walking mechanics to cycling but can’t be certain of that. What is the KOPS measurement when a rider has ideal seat setback?

      I don’t know. I don’t measure for it and reject as relevant information. I haven’t owned a plumb line for more than 15 years if that helps you understand how little relevance KOPS has to me when working.

  50. Steve,
    I am curious as to what your findings have been in your fittings with seat set back between those that have a short effective torso length and those that have a long effective torso? I am 6’2 and mildly tight in the hips and back, so therefore look more like the short length torso rider and currently have a 70mm saddle setback, but am curious if it is too far forward as I tend to arch my back in the balance test…but I cannot tell if it is my arch from have a short torso length (like that of first rider above). What have you found with riders about my size that are tight, what is their theme in saddle setback? Thanks

    1. G’day BSiers,
      There are only 4 potential reasons you are arching your
      back in the balance test.
      The first is that your seat is too far forward. The second is that your cleat position is poor. Third that your bar position is too low or too far away. Fourth that you are severely dysfunctional and have poor general stability. I don’t know which or which combination of those things is the most likely. Does any of that strike a chord?

      1. Steve,
        I would go with the first of seat being too far forward because (I know this is not the right way of deciding, but I think it may be an indication) I have my seat pushed almost to the max forward on a 58cm frame which is on the smaller side for a 6’2″ male.

        So I should have an arch even if I have a shorter torso length?

        I will try an push it back 10mm because when I was doing the balance text I experiment by sitting more towards the rear (no where I usually sit) and just from that the balance test felt a little better.

        Also, I saw you mention somewhere that there is a 10mm window that works for saddle set back?

        Thanks

      2. G’day Bsiers,
        I don’t know whether having your seat all the way forward
        is right or wrong for you. I will say that the fact that others don’t have their seats all the way forward is irrelevant. You are looking for best seat setback for you and comparing yourself to others is not the way to determine it.

        Re the balance test; if you have to arch your back to pass it with hands removed from the bars, either you are too far forward or one or a combination of the other things I mentioned in the previous reply is happening. If you feel like you can pass the test with seat 10mm further back, then shove your seat 10mm further back and try.

        Forget your torso length and body proportions as they have next to nothing to do with passing the balance test other than in the most general sense. Measurement or proportions based methods of positioning a rider usually fail because they are the static quantification of someone involved in a dynamic activity. You are not the sum total of your proportions. You are the sum total of your proportions and what you are capable of doing with those proportions. This varies wildly from individual to individual even with similar proportions.

        Re 10mm window; most people have an approximate 10mm range of setback where at the most forward end of the range they can pass the balance test but
        feel like they are about to topple forward. At the rear of that range they
        are rock solid or nearly so. Trial and error within that 10mm range is the
        best way to work out where the rider needs to be.

  51. Steve,
    When completing the seat set back balance test what should the saddle tilt be set at? (for a typical saddle, not something like an SMP) Just wondering because wouldn’t the saddle tilt have an effect on the test itself? Please let me know. Thanks

    1. G’day Alberto,
      This is a tough one because there is so much variety in
      seat shape. However, most seats need to be up at the nose from 1 to 1.5 degrees before they ‘feel’ level.

  52. Hi Steve,
    When transferring my measurements to a new bike for this season I realized that I had to move my saddle back 5mm in order to pass the balance test. My question is this: if I had a saddle height of 79.2mm from the BB up the seat tube (as mentioned in your articles Measure Up) and now I have moved my saddle back 5mm, the saddle height would not be 79.2mm but a few mm lower, correct? (because the reach to the pedal is theoretically being lengthened). Please let me know, it seems self explanatory but I just wanted to make sure, because I left as is and I feel to be reaching with the left leg a little and I think it’s because I didn’t lower it. Thanks.

    1. G’day JOS,
      Generally speaking moving the seat back will increase seat
      height at a rate of approximately 1mm in 3. 3 mm extra setback = 1mm greater seat height. There are exceptions and an accurate answer depends on the angle of the seat rails relative to the angle of the seat upper. For instance, the 1 in 3 ‘rule’ posits that the seat rails are level. If they’re not the answer can vary.

      The other thing is if you read the Measure Up article carefully you’ll see that you don’t measure seat height up the centreline of the seat tube at all. First a mark is placed in the centre of the flat section of the seat rail. Then a rule is laid lengthways along the seat from high point at the rear to high point at the front. Then measure from centre of bottom bracket / axis of rotation of the cranks to underside of rule laid along the seat with the line of measurement passing through the mark placed on the seat rail. This will take the line of measurement some distance away from the seat tube in most cases.

      If there is any doubt in your mind about seat height once you have increased seat setback, redo the uphill test as outlined in the post Seat Height – How Hard Can It Be?

  53. Steve,
    So what I take from your balance test is that being “rock solid” in the saddle with the hands behind on your hips is a bad thing and that you should be a few mm more forward than this?

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