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Saddle Height Changes--Learning to Spin Circles(9 posts)

Saddle Height Changes--Learning to Spin CirclesGreenie
Feb 14, 2002 8:41 AM
I've been playing with my fit on my bike for a while experimenting with different positions. I've noticed from reading, talking to people and watching tapes that the Pros seem to set their saddles lower and farther back than many (but not all) typical recreational or amateur racers. Europeans seem to have lower saddle heights than say us americans.

This is a gross oversimplification of the styles, but I've found for me that using a slightly lower and back position allows one to pedal more circular strokes. On the other hand the higher and relatively more forward position gives a rider more leverage, while taking away power from the bottom of the pedal stroke.

I'm inclined to think that the spinning circles method pays off in the long run, because it is more efficient. When one first starts to ride, the more forward position probably feels more powerful. But this puts strain on the knees, which might lead one to raise the saddle a little over time.

Would anyone like to comment on this topic? I think it might be helpful for many people, since fit and proper mechanics is probably more important than anything else in cycling.
re: Saddle Height Changes--Learning to Spin CirclesSoup
Feb 14, 2002 8:47 AM
Hmmm Interesting thoughts. I've been riding the typical recommended "the higher and relatively more forward position" for a couple years now and I can spin quite well. I've lately felt that I might need to move my saddle back some as I feel like I could get more leverage from both my up and down stroke. I haven't begun to play around with this yet as I'm still mostly cross training.
I'd like to hear more on this though, since I've begun to think the same thing.
Just be careful if you do fiddleGreenie
Feb 14, 2002 8:48 PM
You can mess up your knees and other things if you do it badly. Plus if you move your saddle down, you also need to move it back. Move in small increments like a couple of MM at a time, and read about all the different fit methods.

I was in your position a while back, and did some experimenting before I got serious about fit. I definitely recommend learning about fit first and perhaps talking to some experienced people.

re: Saddle Height Changes--Learning to Spin Circlesjtolleson
Feb 14, 2002 8:58 AM
If you see the thread about Lemond geometry (I think it is on the Components board) there's a related discussion ongoing.

In designing his bike line with a slacker seat tube angle, Lemond has recommended a slightly more aft rider position for more leverage/cranking power. Honestly, I've always retained the traditional KOPs position and haven't experimented.

As far as saddle height, I've only played with it in spinning, and have always perceived much better power (and especially more efficient hamstring engagement) with my saddle height in the tradition high (nearly full extension) position. A lower saddle gives me a quad-burn that feels like it is all quads.
re: saddle height etcRayBan
Feb 14, 2002 9:22 AM
Its odd when I'm on the rollers I feel good with a higher saddle position. When I'm out doors the position seems too high. I believe that its easier to spin circles with a higher saddle. I took it a bit further and compared higher lower saddle heights and distance covered on the rollers doing a tempo ride at a certain heart rate. It turns out the lower position (which matches the lemond formula FWIW) showed a better result. Yes there was what seemed to be a bit more burning but I think thats because more muscles were involved. Everyone is different though....
quad burnGreenie
Feb 14, 2002 8:53 PM
RayBan, did you move your saddle back too? If you check your KOP with a lower saddle it'll change. So also have to move the saddle back from the higher position. The leg bends more and the seat tube is angled.

Oh yeah. I hope we don't inspire people with too low saddle heights to lower them further. I made changes a few mm at a time.

re: Saddle Height Changes--Learning to Spin Circlesallervite
Feb 14, 2002 9:21 AM
Your observations of the US vs. Euro positioning I think are correct (Possibly a Crit position vs a Road Race position). Check out the amount of setback most of the Mapei riders use, especially Tafi.

However, for me, the lower and more forward the position, the faster I can spin. I think this is why time trial bikes are set with such steep seat tube angles. I like the setback position for long climbs though. I also come from the MTB background of slack geometry.
re: Saddle Height Changes--Learning to Spin CirclesDINOSAUR
Feb 14, 2002 10:41 AM
I've messed with my saddles position more times than Carter has Little Liver Pills. I think a lot of it has to do with your STA and the length of your femurs. My Klein has a 74 STA, which favors a forward or neutral KOPS, but I'm more comfortable with a 2CM back KOPS. A rear KOPS gives me more leverage when I climb and I just feel more comfortable in that position.

I would think that you would want to start with a neutral KNOPS and give it a try for a couple of months before making any changes.

I'd use caution when changing a setting in your position. You body gets used to riding in a certain position and when you make a change, however slight, it effects which muscles your use when you are pedaling. Messing with your setting too often is inviting injury (ouch there goes my back again).

Keep track of where you are on your bike and write down your measurements. If you make a change and it doesn't work you know where your were before and can adjust accordingly.

The Pros ride bikes that fit for starters, and I imagine the majority of them are custom made to their specs. Although Armstrong claims to ride whatever they throw at him. The riders that ride Colnagos have their saddles pushed way back as the Colnagos have short top tubes and they need to push their saddles back to dial in their KNOPS.

I like to watch tapes of the European Peloton in action. I note the difference in position of the riders. Two guys can be side by side with their hand on their hoods, one guy will be riding with a lot of bend in his elbow and another guy will have his elbows almost straight. I think anatomy plays a big role, and it takes a couple of years before you find out where you want to be on your bike.

A big factor is flexibility. My position has changed since I came back to the sport three years ago. I wouldn't be able to ride in the position I am now.

I learned one thing and that is this sport takes TIME before you really find out about position and it will change as you advance.

And being the bonehead I am....your frame has to fit you in the first place and it you are making a lot of changes in your set-up and can't seem to get comfortable...chances are you are sized wrong...That's the conclusion I came to..
re: Saddle Height Changes--Learning to Spin CirclesSlipstream
Feb 15, 2002 9:33 AM
The following is a excerpt from an excellent article by Robert Russell ( The full article can be found at:

Rules of Thumb: Saddles, Cranks, Shoe Set-up, et al...

Basically, get yourself comfortable on the bike in the crouched, on the drops riding position. Look down to the wheel and if the hub of the front wheel is obscured by the handlebars, you have a good compromise between comfort and handling. If the hub is in front of the bars then you either need a longer top tube or a longer stem. And vice versa. Or you have very straight or very bent forks! It's not very scientific, but it works for me.

Remember, everyone is different, and your preference may be totally different to mine. What I am suggesting is that you should be aware of the options, and the effect that subtle changes in position will make. Long road races demand a comfortable position and by making the appropriate adjustments I have found that an uncomfortable bike can be turned into a wonder machine that just floats. For me, that was a flatter back, stretched out a little more. It meant a lot less pain and tiredness after a 200km ride! And no, that's not how I set up my criterium bike!

Another rule of thumb (actually a few rules rolled into one) concerns saddle height. Most people set the saddle height by placing your (shoed) foot on top of the pedal and rotating to bottom dead centre. The knee should 'almost' lock. I've stuck by that, with the following variations that work (with care) in different circumstances.

It has been said that the lower the saddle the better the spin, and that sits well with the idea of spinning smaller gears; I prefer small gears mostly, and have used this setup on my criterium bike. Shorter cranks also favour spinning, by the way. On the other hand the higher the saddle the more potential leverage, which is good for bigger gear ratios. There was a trend to a higher saddle in the 80's which saw many riders complain about their knees, or the pain emanating from said patellae. Another Tour winner, France?s Laurent Fignon, was reputed to have acquired a knee injury - that kept him off the road during the Tour de France, by the way - by following this high-set saddle fad!

But if you don't go too far with the idea, and you have long cranks as well to maximise leverage, it's worth a try. It's much more of a road setup, where you want to lope along without care or concern for all the sharp corners and sudden accelerations of a criterium. It's how I'd set up my road bike, if it wasn't in pieces at the moment.

You?ll find yourself seated further back on the saddle when you are loping along in a big gear, whereas you?ll come forward (to spin) on the saddle on a track or criterium bike. In fact, at times you will slide back and forth according to need. That?s OK. Just be aware of what you are doing, consider whether you should be doing something to counteract it, and ask yourself whether that strange injury you just received was related to an inappropriate setup.

Saddles should be flat, i.e. horizontal, although small variations in either direction (up or down - not sideways!) may suit you better. If your saddle slopes downwards towards the front you will find yourself sliding down the saddle as well - which may be OK if you are pushing back, riding a big gear, or riding a short distance. With longer rides you will find that your weight is going through your arms, into the wrists and hands, causing numbness and fatigue. That?s not a good idea. You don?t want the distraction.

And if the saddle points upwards at the tip you may find that you suffer numbness in the nether regions. Studies suggest that males can suffer from impotence due to that sort of setup. I know that when I first took up riding my saddle was ?falling backwards? and it was quite a surprising source of pain. You can get plenty of pain out of a bike anyway, so don?t look for trouble.

Balance should be your goal in setting up the bike.

Experts are the ones to consult, and they can usually be found via good books, good websites or good racing bike shops. Don?t stint on seeking advice.

Pedalling in the round explained

If you can imagine this, let me tell you that the most effective pedaling action is one where you are applying force at right angles to the crank. World Road Champ and Tour de France winner Greg Lemond once described his technique as "wiping mud off your shoe". So when you get to the bottom of your stroke, or just before, you are imagining doing just that - pushing down and then across, finally lifting the foot off the mat and leaving that mud - or something worse - behind. Easy. Now you try it! And remember to balance the effort of your left and right legs?

And count those rotations (or fit a cadence measuring device) as well, to make sure that you keep the revs around 100 per minute. That?s why you?ve got gears, actually. Don?t labour at a slow rate, drop it down a gear and pick up a larger rear cog or a smaller front ring. Don?t miss out a whole lot of gear ratios, just choose the next gear and spin a bit more.

In fact, whilst 100 RPM is probably your most efficient cadence (that?s what it?s called, folks), anything between 60 and 150 is likely at times. Below 60 is grovelling and beyond 150 is for training only!

Correct shoe set-up is vital, too, and difficult to make any hard-and-fast rules about. I think you need to experiment a bit, but a cleat which is positioned under the ball of the foot, such that you can imagine a line of force passing straight down from the knee to the pedal, is a good start. Move it (the cleat) a bit forward and see if that?s better. Too far back and energy is wasted by flexing at the ankle. Too far forward and it hurts the tootsies.

Between 60 and 90 RPM you will get good power from a foot that lifts at the toe at top dead centre, and drops at the toe at the bottom of the stroke. So the heel is down at the top of the stroke and up at bottom dead centre.

However between 90 and 110 RPM the foot should be horizontal, or slightly dropped at the toe. And above 110 the toe will be pointing downwards at all times. Or so goes the theory.

In practice I find myself dropping the heel below horizontal around the 100 RPM mark. I also have trouble remembering all of this in the heat of a race, but it?s something to practice on the indoor trainer, isn?t it?