Uncle!

Since going car-lite, I’ve ridden my bike nearly every day for 4 months, with only a day off here-and-there for illness or smoke-filled skies. It’s amazing how fast the miles add up when you ride every…single…day, even if your trips are relatively short. All of this bike-time finally caught up with me this weekend and I ended up with a case of tendonitis in my knee. Since then, I’ve been off the bike, whining like a baby and hobbling around between ice packs. Fortunately, my work keeps me sitting in one place, so at least I’ve been able to keep busy and bill some hours while I pout and heal up.

This injury got me thinking about bike set-up in general and saddle height in particular. Based upon the various analytical methods for setting saddle height, it does appear I’ve been running my saddles too low, but it’s so hard to say for sure until an injury crops up, and by then, it’s too late. I tend to pedal flat-footed (always have), and even more so on platform pedals, so I thought I was in the “safe zone” with the saddles on my new bikes set a little on the low side (flat-footed pedaling causes the leg to extend further, toe-down pedaling causes the leg to extend less). It may not be that an incorrectly adjusted saddle was the primary cause of my injury, but I have no doubt it was a contributing factor. Ah well, live and learn.

There are a number of popular methods for setting saddle height. None of them are foolproof. All of them will get you in the ballpark. Beyond that, it’s up to you to pay close attention to your body for signs that something is not quite right and make adjustments accordingly (as a grossly over-simplified general rule, pain in the front of the knee indicates a saddle that’s too low, pain in the back of the knee indicates a saddle that’s too high). Most importantly, don’t be a numbskull like me and wait until your knees are screaming “uncle” before you take a pause and figure it out.

Common Methods

  • LeMond Method – Adjust the saddle to a distance equal to your PBH* x .883, measured from the top of saddle to the center of the bottom-bracket
  • Hamley Method – Adjust the saddle to a distance equal to your PBH x 1.09, measured from the top of saddle to the pedaling surface (with the crank at bottom-dead-center inline with the seat tube)
  • Holmes Method – Adjust the saddle so your knee is bent 25-35 degrees with the ball of your foot on the pedal (with the crank at bottom-dead-center inline with the seat tube)
  • Heel-on-the-Pedal Method – Adjust the saddle so your heel just barely touches the pedal with a straight leg (with the crank at bottom-dead-center inline with the seat tube)
  • Hips Rockin’ Method – Keep raising the saddle in small steps (1cm or less) until your hips start rocking while pedaling and then back off just a little

More
Sheldon Brown on setting saddle height
Grant Petersen on setting saddle height
Peter White on setting saddle height

*PBH – Pubic Bone Height. Read this for instructions on how to measure your PBH.

10 Responses to “Uncle!”

  • Larry Guevara says:

    You might have to try a hand cycle or rowbike, then watch out for carpel tunnel syndrome.

    Get well soon,

    Larry

  • Karen says:

    Hey Alan – Sorry to hear about your knee. I’ve had problems with mine also but I usually tweak it doing stupid stuff like stepping off a curb and hyperextending. Anyway, rest up during this heat spell.

    Karen

  • Rick says:

    Alan:

    Is it the mile or the bike? I don’t recall you having any injuries on your recumbent. It might also be age as it creeps up on us all. Get well.

  • Alan says:

    @Rick

    “Is it the mile or the bike?”

    I’m sure it’s a little of both, with the “getting old” component being a larger percentage than I’m willing to admit.. LOL.

    “I don’t recall you having any injuries on your recumbent.”

    I occasionally dealt with overuse knee injuries on the recumbent as well.

  • Pete says:

    I too am suffering from tendonitis in my knee. I’m slowly recovering but still can’t ride everyday yet. I mostly blame it on trying to ride to much to soon but I raised my seatpost as well. Just have to resist the urge to ride! err…

  • Perry says:

    Alan, sorry to hear it. I hope you have a speedy recovery. I am 50 and my body started falling apart about 4 years ago. Nothing too serious but lots of pains and aches everywhere–especially joints. Take it slow and take care of yourself. It’s no sin to take the car or get a ride once every so often.

  • andy parmentier says:

    alan,
    i wear earth sandals, and also neutral soles shoes, like converse all-star low tops. i wear GOODFEET flexible transparent orthotics, being flatfooted. and go for nightly walks with a pair of exerstider walking poles. using these gets your stride through full rotation in the hips and everywhere else, and i JUST figured out a way to use my legs when i’m NOT on a bike, and NOT afforded walking poles. and that is this: i turn in my left leg, as if i were to kick a soccer ball with my left instep, AND “pivot” on the ball of my left foot, to finish the stride. all this because my left leg is longer than my right, and COMPLETELY flat. (or “mostly” flat, like in the movie “THE PRINCESS BRIDE” wesley was only “mostly” dead after being tortured to death on by prince humperdinck.
    and finally, it’s been said that recumbents can overtax the knees. while there is something to this, i have found that recumbents also strengthen the muscles that support the knees-namely, the quads, glutes, and hip flexors.
    and finallier,
    the “in-between” bikes (the crank forwards, electra townies, etc of the world-the flat footed bikes) have that same effect (strengthening muscles that support the knees.)

  • andy parmentier says:

    ..and look into q-rings by rotor? i’ve got shimano biopace. i’ve wanted rotor cranks for awhile. i hear they really save the knees (there’s often a set on ebay) also kneesavers pedal extenders

  • EcoVelo » Blog Archive » Knowin’ When to Fold ‘Em says:

    [...] this year, I ignored the glaring signals my knee was sending and ended up with an overuse injury that kept me off the bike for the better part of 3 months. I would have been far better off to take a couple of days to rest the knee before it became [...]

  • Gene says:

    Sorry to hear about your injury. Have you considered the alignment of your knee instead of the seat height? I had knee problems on my recumbent. I read on some recumbent site about knee savers. They extend your pedals outward and align your leg, knee and hips better. This year I haven’t any knee or hip pain.
    The website is kneesavers.com. They’re about $50 a pair. They come in different lengths, starting at 20mm to 30mm. They really work great!

    Gene in Saginaw, MI.

 
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