I bike along New York City’s Hudson Greenway several times a week, and every time I do, I experience joy mixed with despair. I’m happy to see so many people out spinning their wheels, and equally sad to see so many of them with improperly adjusted saddles. Knees high in the air, then barely angled past 90 degrees with every pedal stroke, the remind me of Kermit the Frog but somehow even less efficient.
I constantly wrestle with the urge to say something, just as I do with badly worn helmets, but I’m doubtful I can get the point across as we’re flying past each other — and who wants to listen to some bearded maniac anyway?
The one time I did say something, it was to a mother teaching her daughter how to ride —who kindly informed me that the girl refused to let Mom raise the seat. Some people you just can’t help.
But I’m hoping you don’t fall in that category, and if you’ve made it this far, I’m guessing you’re open-minded enough to let an expert explain why low saddles (like the modest example at the top of this page) are a problem, and how they can be fixed.
Mind you, I am most definitely not that expert. So I reached out to Jason Moeschler, COO of Evil Bikes and a badass mountain bike racer in his own right, to get the truth. Here’s a very short Q&A that breaks things down pretty nicely.
What is the optimal saddle height?
With a clipless pedal, you want a soft bend in the knee — roughly 150 degrees — when the foot is at the very bottom of the pedal stroke. With a platform pedal, place your heel on the center of the pedal axle and rotate the pedal to the bottom of the pedal stroke. At the proper saddle height, the rider’s knee will be locked out at this point.
What are the consequences of having your saddle too low?
First, it makes your quad muscles hurt due to the poor mechanical position at the top of the pedal stroke. The knee bend will be very sharp at the top, and the quad muscle will be unable to push at peak strength. That position combined with trying to push power downward from the sharp bent position can also cause severe pain at the top of the knee cap. Left unchecked, you can experience severe tendonitis.
What are the benefits of having your saddle at the optimal height?
When the saddle is at the optimal height, you get the most bang for your buck out of the leg muscles. We have a lot of muscles involved with propelling us forward on the bike. At the proper saddle height, all of the muscles are being used in the most mechanically efficient manner.
So there you have it. No, riding around with a low seat won’t kill you. But it will kill your efficiency, your knees and your attempt to look cool cruising around on two wheels. So whether you’re dealing with your own bike or a city bike, take a moment to consider Moeschler’s words of wisdom.
Then get a hex wrench — your bike probably came with one, and if not, you can get one for cheap, or stop by any bike shop, where the employees should be happy to help — and get that saddle notched up to the proper height. I promise it’ll make your life better... and maybe even save you a dirty look from a bearded maniac on the Hudson Greenway.