Adjusting your saddle height (Road & Gravel bikes)

Watch as Paul and Rosie demonstrate how to set the correct saddle height on a Road or Gravel bike (and what happens when it is too high or too low).

Video Transcript

Adjusting your saddle height (Road & Gravel bikes)

Hello and welcome to this tutorial where we’re going to show you how to get your optimal saddle height on your road bike. So whether you’ve got a road bike or just like this, a gravel bike, any drop handlebar bicycle, this is the tutorial for you.


Okay, so just before I start and introduce my glamorous assistant for this tutorial, the first thing that I just want to cover is the fact that there is a continuity error here, and that is that you will notice that as a gravel bike tyre on the front, and a road bike tyre on the back. The reason why there is just a road tyre on the back is that for audio, I didn’t want to have the gravel tyre up against the turbo train and row roller because it would have been really annoying. So that’s why I’ve just put a road tyre on the back.


Anyway, without further ado, I’m going to introduce my wife Rosie. So, come on in and say hello. There we go. This is Rosie’s bike. This is her Trek Checkpoint SL5, which you rather like. Love it. Excellent. And basically we’re going to set Rosie’s saddle height on this bike, we’re going to do three things.


Number one is we’re going to lower the saddle height. It’s currently set up perfectly for Rosie. We’re going to lower the saddle height, so you can see what happens when the saddle is too low. We’re then going to raise the saddle to get to her optimal riding position. And then finally, we’re going to overextend the bike and therefore overextend Rosie’s leg so we can show you what it looks like, and unfortunately for Rosie, what it feels like to have an overextended leg so that’s what we’re going to be covering in this video just now.


Right, so this is Rosie now on the bike as you can see, and I have significantly, much to Rosie’s displeasure dropped her saddle height. So, what I’m going to do now is I’m just going to show you a couple of principles that we need to understand before we start adjusting the saddle height. So the first thing is where the leg is at its maximum leg extension.


So a lot of people believe that maximum leg extension comes when the crank arm is vertical. It’s not. What you need to remember is that the crank arm needs to be in line with the seat tube and the seat post of the bike. And that is when the greater trochanter which is the centre of the hip socket, is at the furthest distance away from the centerline of the pedal spindle. So that would be our maximum leg extension. With your crank arm vertical, it would be the best part of 10 – 15 degrees on the way back up to the top again. So that’s the first thing that we need to understand.


The second thing is that when we go around the pedal stroke and the way that a modern cycle shoe is designed is that we ride with, as you can see Rosie does really naturally with the heel up, we never want to let the heel drop down. You can see that then the pedal is actually in a raised position. A modern cycle shoe is designed that when the pedal is flat, then the heel is slightly raised, and that will take pressure off the Achilles and the lower calf and give us a really smooth pedal rotation.


So those are the two principles that we need to take on board first of all – where our maximum leg extension is, which is the crank arm in line with the seat tube of the bike, and we go around the pedal stroke, heels slightly elevated. So that’s the first thing.


The next thing whilst I’m here is with Rosie at her maximum leg extension, which is that particular position there, so we can see how the leg at the moment is not extended. Now we don’t ever want to take it to a point where the leg is locked out. That is ridiculous. But what we’re looking for is we’re looking for a nice extension where we can utilise more of the leg muscles. We also know that the leg isn’t extended enough at the moment, because when we start pedalling backwards (and I’m just going to bring the microphone closer).


So if you just start smoothly pedalling backwards. As we’re going over the top of the pedal stroke, you can hear that there is a pause and then an acceleration as Rosie’s foot goes over the top of the pedal stroke. Thank you, Rosie. Now, what’s happening there is as Rosie’s going up towards the top of the pedal stroke, Rosie’s now running out of hip flexion. And what happens is a number of things. Number one, you’re fighting your own hip muscles as you’re going over the top of the pedal stroke. Number two, it’s really uncomfortable here. But number three is that the hip is a lot stronger joint than the knee is so what’s going to happen is the hip going over the top of the pedal stroke is going to bring the knee out in order to give the hip space to carry on over the top of the pedal stroke. And most of the time when you see people from the back when you when you’re overtaking them, or you’ve been overtaken by somebody else, when you see somebody pedalling from the back and the knees out and they look like frogs’ legs, the chances are is that the, the saddle is way too low.


So we need to raise the saddle height up from this position. I’m going to do that just now. And I’m going to show you the difference and you’ll hear the difference and see the difference between a “two low” saddle and a correctly positioned saddle.


Okay, so that’s Rosie saddle height, now done to the correct height. And there we go – an acknowledgement from my wife! So what we can see now is that, again, we’re not locked out. That will be way too over extended. But with Rosie in the correct, crank arm position with the correct amount of heal up on her feet, we can see how we’ve just got a nice natural bend to the knee and to the leg. We’re not overextending the hamstring on the back, we’re not overextending the calf, and we’ve got no pull in any of the sort of ligaments and tendons on the back of the leg. We’ve got no stress in the IT band, and the knee isn’t being pulled out. How does that feel for you as a comparison to before? Much better? Much better? Much better. Yeah, perfect. So that’s all looking good there. And then what I’ll do is I’ll just stand in front of the bike again and Rosie will just go pedal backwards over the top of the pedal stroke. And you’ll be able to see in the camera and you’ll hear through the freehub of the back wheel that there is a much smoother pedal rotation and pedal stroke happening there. So that’s all looking good. Thanks, Rosie. And you know what it’s like Rosie, when your saddle’s too low. How does that How does that feel for you?


Out on the road? It feels like I’ve just got no power. No power. Yeah.


And when you’re overextended, how does that feel as a comparison


That’s just agony on the saddle.


We’ve seen now that the saddle is when the saddle has been too low. We’ve seen now what it looks like when your saddle is at the correct height. What we’re now going to do is we’re going to increase the saddle height This is Rosie’s worst part, we’re going to increase the saddle height. And we’re going to get to a point where Rosie will be overextending. So you’ll be able to see what that looks like as well.


Right, so this is Rosie now, with the saddle height up, just over a centimetre from optimal saddle height. We’re not talking a tonne, we’re only talking 10 millimetres. And that is enough to take it from what Rosie could have ridden for a good five, six hours on the trot to how – long do you reckon you could last on there? Five minutes, five minutes, maybe. Okay. So that just puts it into perspective, what 10 millimetres does to a saddle height.


So, again, going back down to Rosie’s leg, you can see the continuity of the foot angles being identical all the way along. We’ve got that flat pedal, heel up, nothing’s changed there. The crank arm angle is exactly the same place. However, if we now look at Rosie’s leg, we can see that it is now virtually straight, virtually locked out. The IT band is now tightened and pulling the knee out to the side, we’ve got tension in the calf tension in the hamstring. And what is even worse is Rosie’s hip is now being pulled off to the side of the saddle. So it’s adding a massive amount of lateral pressure to the saddle. So I’m just going to take that pressure off Rosie just a little bit – I think you’ll appreciate that.


That there is what it looks like and hopefully gives you a taste of what it might feel like when you’re out on the road with a with an overextended leg and a saddle height that’s too high. And what I’m also going to do, we’re going to do the pedal back as well, so you can hear and see what it sounds like when the leg’s overextended, because it’s the total opposite of when the saddle was too low, where we ran out of hip flexion before going over the top of the pedal stroke and it caused that springy acceleration. What you’ll now see is the same type of acceleration, but now from the bottom of the pedal stroke where that overextension is taking place.


I’ll just stand up again. So you can hear that that, that it’s just almost impossible to pedal certainly can’t pedal smoothly. Okay, that’s great, Rosie, thank you. And taking the pressure of the backside. So hopefully you’ve seen the Saddle, too low, saddle, too high, and saddle in its optimal position. And just remember that a fraction of a millimetre up and down can be the difference between perfection and, and it not being right.


Now, these tutorials are here to give you a good idea and a good starting point so you can take a new bike, go and ride it and experience the best out of it. However, it never ever replaces a professional bike fit by a bike fitter. You can’t fit yourself irrespective of what you hear out there. It’s one of those things that by all means follow these tutorials, follow these fit guides just to give you a really good base and a good start for you to enjoy cycling. But if you want to discuss your new bike getting professionally fitted, then please contact us.


I hope you enjoyed that. Hope you found it useful. And thank you very much for watching.