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  1. #1
    JWK
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    saddle height and knee soreness - need suggestions to get it right

    I've had problems with sore knees after 20 miles or so. It never seemed to get worse, but it wasn't getting any better. After a 50 mile ride they would stay sore so that after coming home I would feel it walking up some stairs.

    The last ride I stopped after about 22 miles and raised my seat post a bit. Maybe half an inch, maybe a touch more. I was just going by feel. I got back on the bike and my knee pain was gone. Completely. Well, that's all good, but I'm afraid I might have my seat a little too high now. I'm not sure. I only had another 15 miles left after the adjustment. It was strange how such a small amount made everything so different. Some different muscles in my legs and hip area were a little sore that never were before. Not in a bad way, just in a work-out kind of way. My spin felt very different.

    So I guess for my knees, I need to have the seat as high as possible without other problems occurring. It's obvious to me now that very small amounts make very large differences and I have very little "wiggle rooom" when it comes to seat height.

    So I'm asking for some suggestions on how to monitor whether my seat is too high or not. I know it was too low, so I'm in the ball park. I'm going to mark where the seat is now and make a few more 3mm apart from each other (got that from some bike site) so I can always find where I am right now and lower it (if needed) in very precise, measured amounts. I don't have anyone else to bike with, so I'm on my own. How can I tell if my hips are rocking? Are there any specific kinds of tests I can do while I'm out?

    Thanks for any help.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Northwestrider's Avatar
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    My suggestion is to find someone at a LBS that for a fee will provide a good fit for you to your bike. Other than that, there are several good video's on youtube that can help you do it yourself to a degree.

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    Senior Member Kopsis's Avatar
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    If you get your saddle high enough that your hips are rocking, you should definitely be able to feel it (especially since you've probably had it too low for a while). Simply raise it 3mm at a time until you start to feel your hips rock under moderate pedaling effort at normal (90 RPM) cadence. Then back off 6 mm and do some longer test rides.

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    JWK
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    Quote Originally Posted by Northwestrider View Post
    My suggestion is to find someone at a LBS that for a fee will provide a good fit for you to your bike. Other than that, there are several good video's on youtube that can help you do it yourself to a degree.
    I have had nothing but negative experiences with the local (and even not so local) LBS. Believe me; paying for a fitting would be a joke and a waste of money. Nothing wrong with your suggestion, just the local situation.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kopsis View Post
    If you get your saddle high enough that your hips are rocking, you should definitely be able to feel it (especially since you've probably had it too low for a while). Simply raise it 3mm at a time until you start to feel your hips rock under moderate pedaling effort at normal (90 RPM) cadence. Then back off 6 mm and do some longer test rides.
    OK, it looks like I should make some marks above and below where it is now. Makes sense. Thanks.

  5. #5
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    Generic suggestion : heel of your foot over the pedal spindle leg straight, is adequate height, when the ball of your foot is over the spindle there will be a slight knee bend.

    pointing your foot down will let you pull back, across BDC, a bit.
    Last edited by fietsbob; 06-21-14 at 12:16 PM.

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    JWK
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    Quote Originally Posted by fietsbob View Post
    Generic suggestion : heel of your foot over the pedal spindle leg straight, is adequate height, when the ball of your foot is over the spindle there will be a slight knee bend.

    pointing your foot down will let you pull back, across BDC, a bit.
    OK, I'll try that and see where I am right now regarding the heel over spindle. What does "pull back, across BDC" mean?

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    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    I forget people don't work on their own motors anymore ..

    BDC a common term mechanics use to describe cranks, in engines.. Bottom Dead Center, is the end of the power stroke ..

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    Senior Member Kopsis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fietsbob View Post
    Generic suggestion : heel of your foot over the pedal spindle leg straight, is adequate height, when the ball of your foot is over the spindle there will be a slight knee bend.
    A good way to come up with a starting point, but optimal height will still vary depending on pedaling style. For riders with a toe-down style this may put the saddle a bit too low. For riders with a heel-down style, it may be too high. Still a good idea to road (or trainer) test and do incremental adjustments until you find optimum height for your riding style.

  9. #9
    Senior Member dave42's Avatar
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    I had the opposite situation. I had to lower my saddle until my knee pain went away. It's just trial and error. I can pedal toes down or with my feet flat, or even slightly heels down. A fitter may say that my saddle is too low, I don't know, but it's where I feel most powerful. My saddle is slammed all the way back, too, to keep the weight off my hands.

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    Senior Member Kopsis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dave42 View Post
    A fitter may say that my saddle is too low, I don't know, but it's where I feel most powerful.
    This is the problem with the "fit systems" employed by many bike shop fitters. The formulas get you a starting point, but it has to be adapted to the individual rider's needs and functional limitations. Even if you're not getting the most power possible, what's more important: pain free riding, or an extra 2 Watts FTP? Unless you're racing, the answer should be obvious. The really good fitters know this and have the experience to do it effectively, but really good fitters are fairly rare.

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    JWK
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    Thanks for the advice. This is really helpful stuff and I'm sure I'll get there now. I think I also may need to play with the seat forward/backward until I get my balance down. Of course that's going to mess with my height, so I'll get that dialed in first.

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    Quote Originally Posted by fietsbob View Post
    I forget people don't work on their own motors anymore ..

    BDC a common term mechanics use to describe cranks, in engines.. Bottom Dead Center, is the end of the power stroke ..
    I think it has more to do with context, than it is people not working on their own motors... then again, if you would have just said "bottom dead center" I'm sure it still would have gone over most heads.

    I like the setting saddle height by heel of the foot method, it's worked well for me as well.

  13. #13
    Senior Member Road Fan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JWK View Post
    I've had problems with sore knees after 20 miles or so. It never seemed to get worse, but it wasn't getting any better. After a 50 mile ride they would stay sore so that after coming home I would feel it walking up some stairs.

    The last ride I stopped after about 22 miles and raised my seat post a bit. Maybe half an inch, maybe a touch more. I was just going by feel. I got back on the bike and my knee pain was gone. Completely. Well, that's all good, but I'm afraid I might have my seat a little too high now. I'm not sure. I only had another 15 miles left after the adjustment. It was strange how such a small amount made everything so different. Some different muscles in my legs and hip area were a little sore that never were before. Not in a bad way, just in a work-out kind of way. My spin felt very different.

    So I guess for my knees, I need to have the seat as high as possible without other problems occurring. It's obvious to me now that very small amounts make very large differences and I have very little "wiggle rooom" when it comes to seat height.

    So I'm asking for some suggestions on how to monitor whether my seat is too high or not. I know it was too low, so I'm in the ball park. I'm going to mark where the seat is now and make a few more 3mm apart from each other (got that from some bike site) so I can always find where I am right now and lower it (if needed) in very precise, measured amounts. I don't have anyone else to bike with, so I'm on my own. How can I tell if my hips are rocking? Are there any specific kinds of tests I can do while I'm out?

    Thanks for any help.
    I'm going to try to answer your questions. I've found the basic criterion to be long-ride absence of pain with a high, healthy cadence.

    I don't see a purpose to giving you an optimal saddle baseline (even if I could), since you already have a baseline and with to experiment yourself to optimize it. This is the only method that has actually worked for me over time.

    Traditionally a saddle too high can cause pain behind the knee or in my case along both sides of the the knee. It can also lead to leg-stretching, which results in hip-rocking. You can't always feel this, and a student of fitting told me there is no such thing as zero hip rock. For me, too much hip rock causes chafing across my perineum, which hurts a lot, bleeds, and lasts for several days - so much for a training plan. For practical reasons, the saddle should not be so high that it causes perineal chafing.

    A saddle too low traditionally causes pain in the front of the knee. The reason for this is that the knee does not straighten enough and is over bent when the pedal is at the top, since there is excessive force on the kneecap from the upper and lower leg. This can degrade knee cartilage leading to high pain, surgery, and potentially to knee replacement. Also bad news. Your task is to find a height between these two thresholds of bad news.

    One of my favorite books is Zinn's Cycling Primer by Lennard Zinn. He addresses fitting and sizing in several sections. For saddle height adjustment he recommends a marked seat post, and to adjust up by three mm and down by 2 mm if the upward adjustment is too much. I've had such small increments make a difference. He also offers critiques of the various methods.

    If you want a new starting point, I'd suggest the heel-on-pedal method, and go out riding. If you have pain in front of the knee (it may take a while before you notice it), raise the saddle 3 mm at a time until it stops. If you then develop, even after a while, perineal pain or chafing, lower the saddle 2 mm. If both pains go away, ride on. If one returns, adjust the saddle but use smaller increments.

    As this went on for me, I found I was "good" for longer and longer times/distances. My goal at the time was to pedal for 60 miles in a day, several days in a row. That I achieved.

    If your saddle is still on the high side and you want to give it a good trial, just keep riding. If it's not good, your body will tell you.

    I found that another criterion is to be able to achieve a fast, relaxed spin (I like 95 rpm for lengthy outings) without bouncing up and down, feeling like your legs are flailing, or pain when the foot hits bottom of the stroke. It must touch at the bottom of the stroke, but you should not feel as if you are driving the foot through the pedal. That's a sign of excessive strain on the knee, and it fact it lead to knee pain for me.

    I've offered ways to approach your questions that I discovered when preparing for a tour. I couldn't really start training until I knew I could pedal long without injury. If you can find someone who knows how to prepare competitive cyclists, that might be the person to talk to about fitting you, due to the long training hours that are necessary.

  14. #14
    johnliu@earthlink.net jyl's Avatar
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    Maybe you can have a friend ride behind you and observe how much/little your hips rock?
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    I had the same problem with my knees and found that when I raised my seat, the pain went away. And I've had people tell me my seat is too high. Good for you to listen to your own body - it's your ultimate authority.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JWK View Post
    Thanks for the advice. This is really helpful stuff and I'm sure I'll get there now. I think I also may need to play with the seat forward/backward until I get my balance down. Of course that's going to mess with my height, so I'll get that dialed in first.
    Forward effectively shortens stroke so slightly raise saddle to have same effective height, lower saddle if moving backwards, small adjustments.

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