Saddle Height Methods

Lately I’ve been looking online at bike positioning stuff. A couple of things have struck me. The first thing is that saddle height seems to be trending down with some “physio experts” displaying saddle heights that are far too low. There seems to be up and down trends in cycling with regards to saddle height. When I first started racing in the early 1990’s saddle height was trending up, which had actually started in the late 80’s. By the late 90’s saddle heights were fairly high. Since Froome, they’ve been trending down. Why?

If you’re a TLDR type, here are the video highlights before the read more part (I typed like 2000 words) 😕

I’m assuming seeing a multiple Tour de France winner that rides with a low saddle has led the trend. In the early 1990’s Miguel Indurain was the Tour de France guy. His saddle, by today’s “physio experts” standards would be far too high. I wasn’t able to find a Wikimedia Commons photo of Indurain at the bottom of the stroke but here is one where you can see a somewhat high saddle.

Miguel Indurain Saddle Height

Attribution: Darz Mol, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Compare that to Chris Froome:

Chris Froome Saddle Height

Attribution: Igs165, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You’ll see here that Froome has a completely flat ankling position, bordering on a heels down pedaling position whereas Indurain has a much more toes down position. Some people mistakenly don’t think Indurain has as much extension as he does. I think this is do to him riding 180 mm cranks during the latter part of his career. I’ve noticed that if you go longer on the crankarms the saddle height doesn’t seem as high.

Have These Physios Ever Been to a Pro Race?

Either way, lately I’ve seen videos where some “expert physios” have gone off the deep end and shown saddle heights that are much lower than Froome’s extension as the “ideal saddle height” whereas they’ve shown saddle heights that are less extension as Indurain being “way too high”. This is, in my opinion, dumb.

I woundn’t say Indurain is the highest pro saddle I’ve seen either.

The other funny thing I’ve seen is “bike fit experts” criticizing pro cyclists bike fits … because the “bike fit expert” that rides 5,000 to 7,000 miles a year (maybe) at an amateur level is more knowledgeable than the pro who rides 20,000+ miles in the Giro, Tour, and / or Vuelta.

Then there are all the angles that are being spewed out. One I here is 39 degrees, measured dynamically. This might be an o.k. place to start but to narrow it down to a single degree is kind of funny.

In the early 1990’s the recommendation, based on studies of knee health, was 25 to 30 degrees, measured statically. Another bike fitter back around that time (that did Orthotics and worked with pro teams US Postal and Saturn) recommended 24 to 28 degrees, measured statically. Since this fitter actually worked with pros I would think he might have a better idea of saddle height. Some criticized his height as being a bit high, but it does align fairly well with the knee height recommendations.

So what is the difference between the the 25-30 / 24 – 28 degrees recommendations and 39 degrees. Well, it turns out there have been studies down that show there is a bit of natural rocking that occurs while pedaling (you don’t want excessive rocking but a little does occur) and that accounts for 5 to 6 or 8, depending on the study, degrees between a static and dynamic measurement.

Here is a link to the study showing 8 degrees difference, I couldn’t find the other study (5 to 6 degree diff) but I do remember reading it.

What that means is that while you might be 25 degrees measured statically, it could be 33 degrees measured dynamically. So 24 to 29 degrees statically could be 32 to 37 degrees dynamically which is what my velo fit does actually recommend. As I’m going to cover in another video, the saddle heights produced here can fluctuate fairly significantly (a few centimeters) based on your ankle angle.

So where does that lead us. Should you listen to the “expert physio” online who recommends that you don’t get some knee deceleration b.s. on the downstroke or should you listen to a washed up, fat, former cat. 1 who raced against world and olympic champions (albeit getting his a## kicked by them). I recommend the latter, but, of course, I’m biased.

Anyways, in this long, rambling post, I’m going to recommend some DIY methods and give you some of the pros and cons to each, so with that said, let’s get started!

The Greg Lemond Method

The “Greg Lemond Method” was actually developed by his coach, Cyrille Guimard, but was popularized by Lemond’s cycling book, which is a good read.

The basics behind the method are to take your inseam measurement. To do this get in your cycling socks, without shoes, take a carpenter’s level and jam it between your legs, simulating the pressure of a saddle. Then take a pencil and mark on the wall (or refrigerator) the height at the top of the level. You should wear your cycling shorts while doing this and have a partner help you.

You then take the inseam measurement and multiply it by 0.883. This is the saddle height in centimeters. You’ll measure the saddle height from the center of the bottom bracket to the center of the saddle where you sit. Typically you can line the tape measure up with the center of the seat tube.

This is a good method but there are some caveats, here they are:

  1. Simulating the pressure of a saddle. You have to be a bit tuned in to do this. If you’ve ridden a lot you’ll get the feel of this, but if you’re a noob you might have some issues here.
  2. The stack height of the pedals. When this method was developed the pedals used had about 15 millimeters (1.5 centimeters) from the pedal contact point to the center of the pedal spindle. Shoes at that time had about 12 millimeters from the contact point of the foot to the contact point of the pedal. So, if your pedals had a stack height of 12 millimeters and your shoes had a stack height of 10 millimeters then you’d need to drop the measurement by 5 millimeters.
  3. Crank length – this method was developed with 170 mm cranks (I believe), Lemond used this with 175 mm cranks. If your cranks are way outside the norm of 170 you may want to account for this.
  4. You might add 2 to 3 millimeters to this measurement if your measuring from the center of the bottom bracket to the saddle touching the tape measure on the crank and the saddle to account for the diagonal formed by measuring that way, think a2 + b2 = c2. Interestingly, the Hinault Method (Bernard Hinault was a five time tour winner and GL’s teammate) is to multiply your inseam by 0.885. The difference in the number accounts for the 2 to 3 millimeters.

Ultimately this method puts you in an ideal range. Let’s say you got #1-3 exactly right above, you’d probably have an ideal range of 1 cm below to 1 cm above your calculated measurement. You could fine tune from here, or if it’s working for you without any major issues then just keep it and adapt your body to the bike.

Note: There is also a 0.889 method floating around out there in the Internet ether. Why the difference? My belief is this (which was developed maybe 10 years ago or so) took into account a higher stack height based on the pedals and shoes that was around maybe 10 years ago. (Toe clips and straps used to have a lower stack height than early Look clipless pedals, whereas Time was lower, which is why Lemond recommends to knock off 3 millimeters in his book – he was riding Time at the time … pun intended).

Note 2: You’ll see some stuff on the Internet about how stack height doesn’t matter or doesn’t directly affect stack height and sometimes other magical stuff happens when changing shoes. These “bike fit experts” don’t know what they’re talking about. I remember reading how Armstrong dropped his saddle 7 millimeters when switching from some old-school Look type pedals to new school Shimano clipless. The stack height difference was 7 millimeters …

When I first started racing in 1991 people were setting there saddle height at Lemond + 1 cm. The reason for this is everyone I knew was riding old Look pedals which accounted for 7 to 8 millimeters increase in stack height and maybe another 2 to 3 millimeters for the way it was measured.

The 109% Method

This method yields a similar height to the Lemond Method but takes into account crank length. To figure out this calculation multiply the inseam measurement you took above by 1.09. You then subtract your crank length in centimeters. So, if, for instance, you had an 84 cm inseam and 170 millimeter cranks your measurement would be:

  • 84 * 0.883 + 0.25 = 74.42 (for Lemond)
  • 84 * 0.885 = 74.34 (Hinault)
  • 84 * 1.09 – 17.0 = 74.56 (for 109%)

These are pretty close (2 millimeters difference from low to high). You’ll measure the saddle height from the center of the bottom bracket to the top of the saddle where you sit. So what are the caveats of this one?

  • Stack height isn’t specified
  • actually measuring the inseam has the same caveats as the Lemond method

Drop 10cm Method

With this method, you take the same measurement of the inseam as described above, then knock 10 centimeters off of that, and that’s your saddle height. This is an easy method, and for someone with an 84 centimeter inseam it would be fairly close. Let’s consider someone really tall with a 94 centimeter inseam:

  • 94 * 0.883 + 0.3 = 83.30 (Lemond)
  • 94 * 0.885 = 83.19 (Hinault)
  • 94 * 1.09 – 18 = 84.46 (109% method with 180 mm cranks for a tally)
  • 94 – 10 = 84 (drop 10)

Let’s now consider a shorty with a 74 cm inseam:

  • 74 * 0.883 + 0.2 = 65.54
  • 74 * 0.885 = 65.49
  • 74 * 1.09 – 16.5 = 64.16
  • 74 – 10 = 64

You’ll notice these methods start to diverge when you have an inseam that diverges from around 83 to 84 centimeters. What is interesting is if you account for crank length changes for your height, the drop 10 cm method starts to line up with the 109% method. Perhaps using the drop 10 method with the 109% method and trying to match those based on crank length might suggest an ideal crank length for your height.

The Heel on Pedal Method

The “Heel on Pedal Method” has you sit on your saddle, unclip and place your heel on the pedal at full extension (crank in line with the seat tube). Your leg should be locked out here but still touch and you shouldn’t be reaching with your hip. (You should sit square on the saddle). Things to take into account here are the thickness of your sole at the heel compared to the thickness of your sole under your cleat. For instance, if your shoe is only 6 millimeters thick at the heel and 10 millimeters thick on the ball of your foot (where the cleat is) then you’d find where you saddle is at heel on pedal and raise 4 millimeters.

Eddie B. (a former US cycling national team coach) liked this method but then added 10 to 12 millimeters for optimum performance based on a bunch of tests he ran. This coincides with this method being a little low compared with the other methods. He does recommend that if you’re DIY to only raise the saddle 6 to 8 millimeters, erring a little on the low side as going to high is worse than going too low.

So with the Eddie B. method you’d find the measurement, account for the difference in heel to sole thickness, and then add 6 to 8 millimeters. Aim towards 8 millimeters if you have long feet and 6 millimeters if you have short feet (because you have a slight downward angle of your foot while pedaling). So let’s say the person with a heel thickness of 6 millimeters on their shoe and a 10 millimeter shoe thickness where the cleat is, that person would set their saddle, then add 11 millimeters to that (4 mm shoe difference + 7 millimeters).

Goniometer Method

This is the method where you measure your leg angle statically with a large protracter you can buy online. You’ll measure the angle of your leg when you ankle is in it’s normal pedaling position and line it up with points on the hip, knee, and ankle. From here, you should have a saddle height of 25 to 30 degrees (with performance advantages found at the 25 degrees height). This method is a bit tough because you need to get the landmarks right and have a helper measure the angle. You should repeat this measurement a bunch.

Dynamic Method

With this method, you’d place markers on the key points above, then pedal while filming yourself from the side. This is also hard because of finding the landmarks and filming it.

What is my advice?

Try the Lemond, Hinault, 109%, drop 10, and heel on pedal (Eddie B variety) and see if you’re close to one another. These methods do yield similar results with perhaps Eddie B being slightly low. If they are really close, average them and set it or just pick the one that works best for you. If one is really far off, maybe redo that one again or redo your inseam again (as most are based on inseam). I hope this blog helps!

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