Bacchetta on Seat Height

Photo © Bacchetta

There’s an interesting article on the Bacchetta website that discusses published versus actual recumbent seat heights. [Note: We’re talking recumbent seats as opposed to traditional saddles as on upright bikes. —ed.] For the uninitiated, an important factor in determining whether a recumbent fits a person is seat height measured from the ground. This is not to be confused with saddle height which is the distance from the saddle to the pedals on an upright bike, or seat position which is the distance from the seat to the pedals on a recumbent, both of which determine leg extension while pedaling.

Seat height on a recumbent is critical because it determines whether a person can reach the ground with their feet while seated. Unlike riders on upright bikes, who dismount the saddle while stopped, recumbent riders remain seated while stopped, and must be able to touch the ground to keep from tipping over. If a rider is unable to firmly plant a foot while stopped, they’ll often feel less than fully confident on the bike, particularly in heavy, stop-and-go traffic.

The gist of the Bacchetta article is that there is no one industry standard method of measuring seat height and published seat height numbers are ballpark figures, at best, so it’s important to test ride a recumbent before making a purchase. I couldn’t agree more. Seat height is a critical factor that a person coming from uprights to recumbents might not consider until after the purchase. I can personally attest to the fact that not paying close attention to whether you can comfortably touch the ground, particularly if the bike is to be used for utilitarian riding of any sort, may eventually lead to dissatisfaction with the bike; I have a pile of receipts to prove it. :-)

A lot of this is old news to seasoned recumbent riders, but for ‘bent newbies this is a critical point to remember, particularly if the bike is to be used for utilitarian transportation, a style of riding which invariably involves lots of stops and starts, load carrying, and tight maneuvering.

Bacchetta Article

6 Responses to “Bacchetta on Seat Height”

  • Perry says:

    Oh no! You are back to writing about bents! I feel that a siren song is calling. :^) [is this right for tongue-in-cheek?].

    Best line: “I have a pile of receipts to prove it.”

    I must remember that one. It applies to so many things in my life.

  • Dave Kee says:

    Ah, the joy of riding a recumbent trike. No need to unclip and put your feet down when you stop. The only time seat height becomes an issue is when you have to climb out of the darn thing.

  • andy parmentier says:

    my rule of thumb for recumbent design is what i call the “grandma rule”-if my grandma can ride it comfortably, then i will probably like it too. (however, i recommend everybody see a movie called “HOODWINKED”) in which a particularly athletic grandma (the kind that would probably join extreme mountain unicyclists) blows my rule of thumb out of the water.

  • Alexander López says:

    I saw that movie!! Grandma rocks!!

  • Darryl says:

    A few personal observations about sitting on recumbents:

    I have a Rans Vivo (which is like a Rocket on suspension) with 20/20 wheels which has a more level top tube than other ‘bents. Nevertheless, as the seat moves forward, the height increases which means for a shorter person, there is going to be a sweet spot where the feet can reach the pedals and the ground but maybe not so comfortably. I’m six foot so it’s less of an issue for me.

    Also the angle of the back will affect the ability to reach the ground because the hips/seat pan will have to move to accommodate the limited range of the seat stays or braces. Also the muscles from the upper legs to lower torso are affected which changes the reach to the ground.

    The only time having feet on the ground is really awkward is if I’m stopped on an inclined surface. I not only have to hold tight on the brakes, but it changes the relative gearing/inertia of starting again. For that reason I’ll hop off and walk my bike across an intersection to avoid the embarrassment of a fumbling start.

    The best part of of feet on the ground bikes is the ability to walk the bike in reverse, rapid stops and dismounts, and eating at drive-in without having to get off the bike. Now if I can fashion a food tray on my handlebars, I’d have it made. :-)

    I use my bike for urban riding and commuting which means a lot of stop and go maneuvering. The more I ride my bike the more I appreciate its lower bottom bracket and seat. However, there a only few times when I would want a high racer, besides looking sexier, is being able to see into traffic, see over bridge railings, and look at the diamond-frame geeks in the eye. But putting feet on the ground is an attribute you don’t think of often, but it does make a difference in my riding confidence.

    OK, I’ll keep quiet for a while.

  • randy schlitter says:

    We have been all about standardizing anything to do with seats!
    How about a measurement system for “ground reach”? We tried this with several of our staff today:

    1. Find a strudy bench or table 28″ high or greater, measure and note its height.
    2. Place a 2×4 10″ or 12” back from edge.
    3. Sit on the table with the small of the back against the 2×4 ( it lays flat)
    4. Measure the distance between the floor of the person’s sole, when held perpendicular to the floor, and subtract that from the table height.
    5. This number if using a 10” set back will be your longest ground reach measure, the 12” will be your shorter ground reach measure as in if you do not move off the seat back when stopped.

    We tested this measure against several recumbent bikes, measuring from the seat front or side edges. Everyone who had a ground reach at or greater seat edge measure fit the bike fine, as far reaching the deck.

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