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The saddle height is the distance from the upper part of the saddle to the heart of the pedal axle (see illustration size 1).

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The adjustment of the saddle serves to enable the muscles to work optimally in the longitudinal reach. As there is only one optimal longitudinal reach, there is only one optimal saddle height. Most of the methods used at present to determine the correct saddle height are far from optimal. We will briefly discuss a few of these measuring methods.

  • First there is the so-called heel-method. The heel of the shoe is placed on the pedal and the saddle is adjusted at such a height that the leg is stretched while the pelvis is still in horizontal position. So far no evidence, empirical nor scientific, has been found to justify this measuring method. More importantly, this method does not take into account the fact that the modern cycling or racing shoe has a heel jump. In reality this means that, as a rule, with this method the saddle is adjusted too low.

  • The second method was developed by Claude Genzling. During the Tour de France of 1978 he measured the body sizes of the cyclists and the respective adjustments of their bicycles. On the basis of these measurements Genzling arrived at the following conclusion: the saddle height ( the distance from the heart of the bottom bracket to the upper part of the saddle) = 0.885 x inner leg length. Two critical remarks, however, should be made about Genzling's conclusion. Nowadays the adjustment of the saddle height demands a different approach, given the fact that in the course of time the cycling sport has evolved from endurance sport to power endurance sport. Secondly, the Genzling formula takes a relative size (see saddle height illustration size 2) and an absolute size (crank length) as starting points. In this method, an incorrect crank length would lead to an incorrect saddle height because the saddle height is the distance from the saddle to the pedal axle (see definition above). In other words: this method is inconsistent.
  • A third method is more scientific and was developed by Nordeen-Snyder (1977). In determining the optimal saddle height, the use of oxygen was taken as a starting point. On the basis of experiments it was concluded that the ideal saddle height corresponded with 1.05 x trochanter height; however, this method does not mention if the thickness of the sole and the height of the pedals are taken into consideration. Depending on the pedal-shoe system that is used, notable differences in saddle height can occur ( illustration size 1). A practical disadvantage is that it is very difficult to determine the trochanter height. Other surveys based on the same method determined the saddle height at 1.09 of the inner leg length (Hamley & Thomas, 1967).

  • Another method (Homes, Pruitt & Walen, 1994) starts from the angle of the knee. When the pedal is in its lowest possible position, the knee should be able to bend 25 to 30 degrees. This method is only applicable when a global indication of the saddle height suffices. Other surveys, however, make clear that an exact determination of the saddle height can have major consequences for energy expenditure.
Gonzales and Hull (1989) showed that an optimal adjustment of the bicycle depends on more than one variable, and that these variables are correlated and interrelated. They are in favor of a multi-variable measuring method because the single-focus approaches described above are too limited and do not lead to individual optimization. However, no general conclusions and recommendations can be made.