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I have been suffering from IT band problems on my outer knee, which I'm pretty sure were caused by raising my seat height too much. I raised the seat on the advice of a friend who said that a higher seat gives more power in each stroke.

By trial and error over several months I have found a (lower) seat height that seems to be acceptable, but I still get occasional twinges if I cycle a lot, so I suspect it's still not quite right.

Is there a well-understood way to correctly determine the best height for a bicycle seat? Are there factors other than seat height that are important to consider?

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Make sure your knees don't go in or out -- toward or away from the center of the bike -- when they are on top part of the stroke, and make sure they don't wiggle around sideways on the power part of the stroke. –  xpda Oct 6 '11 at 2:04
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7 Answers

For a quick fit, the general goal is to keep the seat high enough that you can get a nearly-full leg extension, without 'locking' the knee.

Over a long period of time, if you find that you are having knee, foot or hip pains, try making small adjustments with the saddle, about 0.5-1.0cm at a time, either up, down, forwards or backwards. If the pain gets worse, try the other direction. Give it some time, and eventually you should find a painless position.

A tip I recently got from a friend having a similar problem proved interesting: Those of us who are males typically 'dress' right or left. For him, aligning his saddle with the nose turned slightly off-center (away from the direction of 'dressing') alleviated all of his knee discomfort!

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Probably obvious, but was the saddle turned toward or away from the direction of 'dressing'? Wouldn't want to get that wrong even for a minute. –  Mike Two Aug 25 '10 at 20:39
    
@Mike Two - Ah, I should have specified. Turned away, of course. =] –  Dustin Aug 26 '10 at 19:05
    
Interesting point about dressing - had never found a comfortable position for that part of the anatomy whilst seated on the saddle. And also I find cycling means you tend to not dress one side or the other, but bounce back and forth... –  Rory Alsop Oct 5 '11 at 13:42
    
@Dustin, what is "dressing"? –  Baumr May 28 '13 at 14:09
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Depending on how much you ride, you may want to consider having your bike professionally fit at a bike store.

My wife received a free fit when we bought her Dolce at Peleton Cycles, but they told me they will fit anyone to their bike for about $70. It's pricey, but if you are riding your bike constantly, it may be worth the money.

It took them about an hour to fit my wife's new bike - they measured the angle of her knee throughout the stroke, did knee-foot alignment, adjusted her seat height, repositioned and gave her a new head, did a butt test and got the proper sized seat for her sit bones1, and even went as far as adjusting the angle of her brakes so they were easier to reach. Then, after all of that, they send you home to ride your bikes for a few weeks and then have you come back and tell them what's bothering you, and they adjust it some more.

1 This was the #1 thing I did for my bike that made riding so much more comfortable.

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The best advice I heard on the topic is to sit comfortably on the bike while placing your heel on the pedal. Move the seat up until your leg is fully extended, and then tighten the seat. This way, the leg will be only slightly bent at full extension when the ball of the foot is on the pedal.

You definitely don't want the leg to be fully extended while pedaling, or else you can hurt your knees.

Here's some other guides on the subject:

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When you cycle, you leg should be almost straight when the pedal is down, but not completely. It should have a slight bend in the knee.

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+1 Almost agree; put your heel on the pedal and now your leg should be almost completely straight. –  jensgram Aug 25 '10 at 20:16
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+1 I agree with this. However, could you add more detail to this answer? Why exactly should it be this way? I've always been told this, but no one really has said why. –  GluedHands Aug 25 '10 at 21:32
    
(from memory - not science) -- Its about the extension you get when pushing down with your muscles... The more "straight" you can make your leg, the more power you can get out of your push downward. –  gnarf Aug 25 '10 at 23:31
    
Agree, could use a little more detail. –  Dustin Aug 26 '10 at 19:07
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One other thing to consider is when your thighs are parallel to the ground the front of your knee should be breaking over the axis of the pedal so make sure your seat is set back far enough

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Adapted from Brooks catalogue:

  1. Adjust your saddle up, but not so much that you have to tilt your hips side to side to fully extend the pedals;
  2. Adjust your saddle forward, but not so much that you feel your body thrown forward while pedalling hard;
  3. Adjust the nose of your saddle down, but not so much that you slip forward over your hands.

I find the "numerical bike fitting" methods not to work everytime, and they do not consider rider's preference, comfort and interpersonal variability. Also, on some of my bikes, the best position I end up settling down with is against some widespread fitting rules.

As for me, a good way of measuring saddle fit is to ride no hands: you could be able to do it "almost" comfortably. If it is more comfortable to ride no hands than the normal position, the saddle is too back and/or too nose up. If it is hard to maintain balance, it could be too nose-down and/or too forward.

At last, saddle shape and front geometry (handlebar, fork, etc.) have some effect in saddle adjustment, I think.

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The saddle can be moved forward or backwards too, besides being raised or lowered. Here is a link form Sheldon Brown on the adjustments of a saddle to the rider on the bike.

http://sheldonbrown.com/saddles.html

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