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