Steve Hogg Bike Fitting Team

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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?


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)


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.

    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:

      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.

      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

        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?


      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.


    1. G’day Richard,
      Set your cleats as per this post:

      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?


    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.


    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!


      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!


        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.

    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

      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.

      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.

      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.

      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.

      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.



    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.

    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 !

    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.



    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.



      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?


  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

    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?



    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.


      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?


        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’ ?

    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.

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