Sometimes it is quite comical seeing someone riding a bike when the seat is too low or too high. Yet without achieving the optimum height, cycling is inefficient or even painful and likely to lead to knee problems. Just try walking along with your knees continuously bent, as if you're lowering your overall height by 4 inches.
It is important to have a good starting point, as I have tried to show in the above photograph. My right foot is at the bottom of the pedal stroke and just a slight bend in my knee. If my leg was straight, I might feel as if I was getting the right leverage on the pedal but I would be wobbling from side to side on the saddle, plus I'd not be able to reach the ground without stepping forward off the saddle. In the above set-up, I can just reach the ground while sitting on the saddle.
Having a saddle which is too low (and often I see this with casual novice cyclists) is going to be hard work and probably lead to a problem somewhere in the leg, with knees being especially vulnerable. This is a real problem with MTB / Mountain bikes with their relativey high bottom brackets. Having played around in trying to achieve the optimum saddle height on my daughter's MTB, it became very apparent. There's no way she can both reach the ground safely while having the saddle at a height allowing her to stretch out her legs as she should.
There are some other points to consider with getting the right saddle position:
- Consider the angle of the saddle
- The shoes you wear might make a difference (i.e. ordinary shoes, as above, or clip-in types like Look or Shimano SPD)
- Brooks leather saddles take time to break in as the leather stretches and moulds itself to the cyclist's shape. Remember to tension the saddle, as per instructions. Failing to do this could ruin a lovely saddle and have you sitting in an awkward position
- It is worth spending time and a trial-and-error approach to get it right. Go for a short bike ride with an allen key in your pocket.
- Don't be afraid to make smaller changes after a few weeks or months