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saddle height experiment

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saddle height experiment

Old 07-24-20, 08:18 AM
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mack_turtle
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saddle height experiment

I tried something a little different last night: I have Shimano road cranks on my bike, so it's possible to remove the NDS crank arm and reinstall it is 180° from the correct orientation. this means the pedals are both pointing down, which would make it really, really difficult to ride (could be done if you're clipped in and "gallup" on the bike instead of spinning), but it could tell a rider something about how much of their natural leg extension they are really using.

I have my saddle set up at 73-74cm based on my 84cm inseam and 175mm cranks. I put my bike in the trainer and snapped my cleats in. from a seated position, reaching the pedals at the bottom of the stroke was really difficult unless flex my ankles and I point my toes down quite a bit. all of my weight was on my taint when sitting on my saddle in this position and leaning forward into a riding position made it worse. I had to flex my ankles and "stand on my toes" to relieve the pressure so I could comfortably put my weight into my feet, but I could feel strain on my calves to hold that position for just a few seconds. I also tried the old "put your heel on the pedal and look for a full leg extension" trick and I could not get both of my heels to reach the pedals at the same time at all. I would have to rock my hips to get each heel to touch the pedal one at a time. I feel like this would imply that a regular pedaling cadence would require that I rock my hips a bit when a pedal. does that make sense?

I lowered the saddle almost a full cm and the pressure and strain to reach the pedals went away. I could sit comfortably with my ankles in a more relaxed angle with the cleats clipped in, and not feel like I was sitting with all my weight on the saddle. then I put the crank arm back on the right way and did a little spinning. I'll have to try it on the road, but it felt like it might be too low at first. It might be that I am so used to the tall position that it felt weird.

Is this a repeatable experiment that anyone else would want to use? or am I just goofing around?
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Old 07-24-20, 10:19 AM
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Many of the "saddle issues" I see people having comes from a too high seat height, which seems all the rage theses days. There is such a push towards high seat height that people over-do it, losing fluidity of pedaling in the process, and causing saddle issues. The saddle issues are not always noticed since many saddles have relief channels, which often masks the issue. The problem though, is that a relief channel doesn't do anything to change the fact with a too high saddle you will be sitting asymmetrically on the bike, which can cause hip pain, knee pain and back pain.

Glad you sorted yours out. Whether or not it is a method others may use, it worked well enough to show you the reality of your seat height. Glad you did the experiment.
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Old 07-24-20, 10:21 AM
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anyone who is interested, please try it for yourself and share your results.
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Old 07-24-20, 11:32 AM
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I'm not sure what this tells you. Seems that just raising or lowering my saddle until I find the perfect spot worked well for me.

On my last new bike, I measured the saddle height to the pedal when furthest away from the seat. Then after a few rides, moved it about 5 mm. Seems good for me. Why do I need to do other things that seem extreme.
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Old 07-24-20, 12:16 PM
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Originally Posted by Iride01 View Post
Why do I need to do other things that seem extreme.
just to clarify, what qualifies as "extreme" to you? this experiment took me ten minutes and I did it while watching TV. I have found over the years that I have a very poor sense of what's called proprioception—the sense of one's own body in space. when I have visited bike fitters, they manipulate something on my bike and ask me how it feels to pedal and hold that position. my response is always "I think that feels right?" and the results don't hold up in the real world. after riding bicycles for decades, many people like me still don't have a frame of reference for how it's supposed to feel. so using this method was a good way for me to reliably find a solid yes/no feeling on the bike, rather than pedaling outside and constantly feeling vaguely like, "I think this feels right, but I am not sure what 'wrong' feels like either." it seems to take the ambiguity and bad habits I have picked up out of the equation, and it only took ten minutes rather than finding out the hard way when I try a big ride with the saddle too high and I can barely walk for several days.
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Old 07-24-20, 01:44 PM
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Originally Posted by phughes View Post
Many of the "saddle issues" I see people having comes from a too high seat height, which seems all the rage theses days.
Do you think that comes from the "easy calculations" that most people find? I think the popular one I find is to multiply your actual inseam by 0.883, but those methods don't take into account pedal/ shoe stack, crank arm length, or bodily idiosyncrasies. I am starting to think that this and simplified methods like it give you a good maximum saddle height, which is not always a good functional saddle height for each rider's body. I consistently get a height of 74cm based on various calculators I have audited out of curiosity, but I have never been able to ride a bike at all with the saddle higher than that. of course, it's possible to ride with it lower, but there's a point where you lose enough efficiency on a too-low saddle that it's actually "too low".
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Old 07-24-20, 02:18 PM
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Extreme to me is having to take the crank arm off, putting it on opposite of it's normal position and then take it off and put it back in it's normal position. Similarly I even think measuring my legs and working a formula to arrive at the height extreme. If that is what it took for you to arrive at your saddle height, then to you it wouldn't be extreme.

For most of us, I'd think that method of putting your heel on the pedal while in the saddle and raising or lowering it till you got a little bend in the knee an easy way to find a starting point. Then if on a ride it becomes uncomfortable, raise or lower the saddle some more. Repeat till good.

It's they way I've done it for over fifty years. I guess I'm too stubborn to see anything else, or understand why others have an issue finding the right saddle height. Pretty much I think they have too much emphasis on finding a magic formula or think that a fitter should get it right the first time with no readjustment as the real world shows it's not quite right. Your method to me just seems another complication. But if it works for you, fine.
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Old 07-24-20, 02:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Iride01 View Post
Extreme to me is having to take the crank arm off, putting it on opposite of it's normal position and then take it off and put it back in it's normal position. Your method to me just seems another complication. But if it works for you, fine.
fair enough. my method neutralizes some variables and takes 60 seconds with a wrench, instead of guessing and finding out over the course of several hours of riding and stopping on mid-ride to make adjustments if you set it up correctly the first time. some people have been blessed with better proprioception than I have, so if this is a shortcut that reliably gives me feedback on the bike in a few minutes rather than a matter of hours (like I said, that's how long it takes for me to notice that something is wrong), I'll pursue it. I respect your experience and years in the saddle are way beyond mine, but I would prefer not to wait for decades of riding experience to tell me what works. if there's a faster way to optimize bike fit in ten minutes instead of ten hours, why not? so far, no one has given me reason to think that this method will get bad results, and it's relatively fast. fact + accurate = efficient.

my problem with the "heel on the pedal" method is that it's impossible to really know if you're able to reach the pedal evenly with both feet, or if you're unconsciously leaning to one side to reach it. putting both pedals on the same level eliminates that variable once and for all in a matter of minutes.
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Old 07-24-20, 08:45 PM
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Originally Posted by mack_turtle View Post
I think the popular one I find is to multiply your actual inseam by 0.883, but those methods don't take into account pedal/ shoe stack, crank arm length, or bodily idiosyncrasies.
Would also need to account seatpost + saddle flex.

Anyway, I currently use the .883 method too. But I'm also using a short crank (150mm). I don't have any problems with it atm. But I did notice if I used the heel method, my saddle would be too low with the current .883 setup with 150mm crank.

I can still maintain the optimum knee angle (25 to 30 degrees) at the bottom of the pedal stroke by simply keeping my feet flat (not pointing down) on the pedals.

IMO, saddle height that is a little bit on the short side might be better if you have good ankle and hamstring flexibility as I feel like I could deliver maximum pedal force and higher cadence at the same time.

With textbook-baseline saddle height (higher), I deliver slightly better pedal force but my cadence is lower. I've only observed this in the many short hills around my place in the city.
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Old 07-24-20, 09:03 PM
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Originally Posted by mack_turtle View Post
fair enough. my method neutralizes some variables and takes 60 seconds with a wrench, instead of guessing and finding out over the course of several hours of riding and stopping on mid-ride to make adjustments if you set it up correctly the first time. some people have been blessed with better proprioception than I have, so if this is a shortcut that reliably gives me feedback on the bike in a few minutes rather than a matter of hours (like I said, that's how long it takes for me to notice that something is wrong), I'll pursue it. I respect your experience and years in the saddle are way beyond mine, but I would prefer not to wait for decades of riding experience to tell me what works. if there's a faster way to optimize bike fit in ten minutes instead of ten hours, why not? so far, no one has given me reason to think that this method will get bad results, and it's relatively fast. fact + accurate = efficient.
It takes me a week to decide whether a saddle height is good. One week is the time my muscles and bio-kinematics would adapt to the new saddle height.

When you make adjustments to the saddle height, pedaling might use different muscle groups and these muscles would not be adapted (flexed) or stengthened enough to take these changes yet. Your efficiency may decrease temporarily. It usually takes one week to adapt and decide whether it's better.

Lingering joint pains and discomfort means you've gone too far!
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Old 07-25-20, 10:04 AM
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'
Originally Posted by mack_turtle View Post
Do you think that comes from the "easy calculations" that most people find? I think the popular one I find is to multiply your actual inseam by 0.883, but those methods don't take into account pedal/ shoe stack, crank arm length, or bodily idiosyncrasies. I am starting to think that this and simplified methods like it give you a good maximum saddle height, which is not always a good functional saddle height for each rider's body. I consistently get a height of 74cm based on various calculators I have audited out of curiosity, but I have never been able to ride a bike at all with the saddle higher than that. of course, it's possible to ride with it lower, but there's a point where you lose enough efficiency on a too-low saddle that it's actually "too low".
A lot goes into it, but the magic measurements are part of it. The biggest part of it is the over-hyped belief that a higher seat height will always give you more power, when it really doesn't. People forget that you have to be able to maintain that power throughout the pedaling circle, and if you set your seat too high, you get an on/off, on/off power delivery, not to mention seat comfort issues at best, injuries to to the spine, or hips at the worst. There is nothing wrong with a measurement as a rough starting point, but as you said, most measurement rules of thumb do not take variables into account, they also do not take individual physiology into account, namely one's flexibility.

I have beat this drum for some time now. I see people posting with issues often that are directly related to this issue, but you cannot convince them. There are a lot of bad formulaic "fitters" out there who by into all the measurements and cannot vary from it when they get an individual who doesn't "fit" the fitting rules, which I believe are the majority of bicyclists.

I was on a tour one week, on the trip from Pittsburgh to Washington DC, and saw another bicyclist, fully loaded riding by, He stopped to rest. I saw immediately his seat was too high, and I mean not a little. He was pedaling severely toes down, was rocking from side to side, a lot, and you could visibly see he was not sitting squarely on the saddle. We started talking and we determined he was a good good ways behind his companions. I mentioned his saddle height and he said he had a professional fitting. I told him all the symptoms of his too high seat height, and he got to thinking about it. He had all the symptoms I mentioned, and agreed he had them. He didn't drop the saddle then, but I really hope he did eventually. He wasn't comfortable on the saddle, and it was apparent by his speed, and from things he said. He needed to drop the saddle at least 10-20 mm.

I am always amazed at how people will have issues with their seat, and will resist the thought of dropping their saddle even 5mm, because, "their seat height is correct," when it obviously isn't based on their symptoms. They would prefer to buy multiple seats costing hundreds of dollars instead of fixing the real issue. It's ridiculous.
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Old 07-25-20, 10:08 AM
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Sounds like a good experiment to me,

but normally some of the weight is taken by the down leg, and most activity is alternating legs, so it might not tell the whole story.

Let us know how it's going after some miles.
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Old 07-25-20, 10:35 AM
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Brilliant idea, since it eliminates the possibility of rocking your hips during testing of the seat height. It certainly makes more sense than believing that leg length calculation results can be accurate to three decimal places. If someone had thought of this a hundred years ago, it might now be taken for granted as the standard method.
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Old 07-25-20, 11:29 AM
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When one does the heel on pedal test, one is supposed to know not to rock the hips while doing it. I have the best experience with that test if I'm riding slowly down the road at a low cadence on the hoods, unclip one foot, put that heel on the pedal, then resume pedaling. I pay attention to my hips and keep the butt pressure as equal as I can. If I lose contact with the pedal at the bottom, saddle is too high. That's how I get my first approximation, which I then refine.

The main thing is to find what works for you. I ride with several excellent long distance riders who rock their hips. That's what they prefer and it works for them. I don't tell them they're doing it wrong. It's worth mentioning that a couple of them ride Brooks, that being effect, not cause.
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Old 07-25-20, 01:33 PM
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I have lowered my saddle by about 1cm and had two rides. this is a SSCX bike, so I enjoy mixing up singletrack, gravel footpaths, and roads. last night I did a quick 10 mile circuit of local trails and roads, including a lung-buster of a gravelly hill. I rode with no chamois shorts, not gloves. and no bar tape. I thought that might expose any fit issues by removing the comfort "cheats" for a short ride, but what it did instead was cause me to death-grip the bar the hole time to keep my sweaty hands from slipping because it was close to 100° and humid. silly me. however, I felt pretty good other than a little pain starting for from to the upper-right of my right kneecap. I had moved my cleats out to widen my stance and keep my heels away from my chainstays, but that was a mistake of changing too many things at once.

this morning, I got properly kitted up and wrapped my handlebar and rode 28 miles of the same kind of terrain. about half of it was unpaved, some of it on some rocky singletrack. I moved my cleats in toward the center and kept them closer toward the back. too many adjustments at once, I know! the seated pedaling position felt very stable and strong and I could easily maintain a 20mph pace on flat road with a 38x16 gear on a 35mm tire. I might still need to play around with the reach/ height of my bar (and wear gloves because sweaty hands suck!), but that's another story.

the old "heel on the pedal while riding the bike at a slow cadence" method probably works well too. I just had a hard time noticing if I was rocking my hips or not. some people are very good at knowing exactly that their body is doing, I am not.

bottom line: while I need more miles, I think this helped get my saddle to a position that really works for me so far. the ambiguity of measuring one's inseam and trying to apply a formula only serves as a starting point and could likely start you out with a saddle that is too high because the formulaic method leaves too many variables unaccounted-for.
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Old 07-26-20, 10:14 AM
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Originally Posted by Carbonfiberboy View Post
When one does the heel on pedal test, one is supposed to know not to rock the hips while doing it. I have the best experience with that test if I'm riding slowly down the road at a low cadence on the hoods, unclip one foot, put that heel on the pedal, then resume pedaling. I pay attention to my hips and keep the butt pressure as equal as I can. If I lose contact with the pedal at the bottom, saddle is too high. That's how I get my first approximation, which I then refine.

The main thing is to find what works for you. I ride with several excellent long distance riders who rock their hips. That's what they prefer and it works for them. I don't tell them they're doing it wrong. It's worth mentioning that a couple of them ride Brooks, that being effect, not cause.
Yes, there are other reasons people rock their hips, not just seat height, but usually you can tell by watching them.
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